Planting seeds of understanding in southwest Missouri

MU Extension lends a hand in community gardening.

Published on Show Me Mizzou April 20, 2022

Jennifer Lutes

Photo courtesy MU Extension

While growing vegetables and herbs in their community garden, immigrants, refugees and longtime locals of Noel, Missouri, also cultivate understanding. The gardeners, sharing work and conversation, are overcoming communication obstacles and cultural differences with the help of an area nonprofit and MU Extension.

Noel, a town of 1,800 tucked into Missouri’s southwest corner, counts immigrants and refugees from 17 countries among its inhabitants. Most came in hopes of finding work at a local chicken processing plant or to be near relatives and neighbors who had already emigrated. Regardless of personal histories — some fled wars in Somalia and others eluded gangs in Central America — they now share the task of establishing a new life in McDonald County.

The nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education (RAISE) started the community garden two years ago after running the idea by Extension Specialist Jennifer Lutes, who recruited extension colleagues in horticulture and nutrition. “RAISE had this great idea, and they needed help moving it forward,” Lutes says. The extension team, which still consults with the group, taught the budding horticulturalists gardening techniques suitable to the area’s climate and soils and developed recipes, blending the garden’s produce with the cuisines of various homelands.

As the garden continues developing, so does the social network and cultural competency of the gardeners. RAISE garden coordinator Destiny Akannam promotes the tasty benefits of growing food along with the advantages of socializing while weeding or hoeing. “People tend to stick with their group, which is OK, but we want them to get to know others outside their group and to learn to rely on each other for support,” she says. RAISE also helps connect immigrants and refugees in southwest Missouri to health and social services.

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