By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER – ONE OF THE emblems of rural New Hampshire — the roadside farm stand — will be appearing in Manchester and Derry this summer, with a few notable variations.
While the standard fare of tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers will be available, customers will also have their pick of unfamiliar crops such as collard greens, okra, molokia and bittermelon.
And the person selling the goods may have a skin tone different from that of most sun-starved New Englanders.
After five years of growing crops at a 7-acre plot in Dunbarton, refugees will be opening farm stands to sell the produce they grow locally. Officials with the program said it’s the next logical expansion of efforts to keep refugees , many of whom grew up in farm communities, connected to the soil.
“It will be a benefit for both the growers and the public,”said Mukhtar Idhow, executive director of the Manchester-based Organization forRefugee and Immigrant Success.
His organization has received grants under the U.S. Agriculture Department’s National Immigrant Farming Initiative to reconnect refugeesand immigrants, most of whom live in urban areas, with their farming culture.
The marketing effort is funded by a two-year, $75,000 Agriculture Department grant.
The grant will allow farm stand machines to process payments from debit cards, as well as electronic bank transfer cards used in the food stamp and Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.
The site for one farm stand has already been chosen — the Southern New Hampshire Services warehouse on Pine Street. Organizers are in discussion with Manchester housing authorities to open another at Elmwood Gardens.
An area has been identified in Derry, and another must be found in Manchester, Idhow said.
In the meantime, the farmers plan to have a stand at the Manchester farmers market this year. And a community-supported agriculture program that had 15 customers last year will expand to 50 this year.
Idhow said Somali Butus, Bhutanese and Congolese are most heavily involved in the effort, although it is open to anyone.
Five years ago, it started with eight participants; last year 25 were involved. This winter 60 took training, and Idhow expects to have 40 producers on the farm this year.
In fact, he is adding 5 more acres to the effort. In the coming weeks, he will parcel out plots to program participants. Those who are new will likely get a quarter-acre, which can generate $5,000 in produce if managed correctly, said Amy Carrington, a consultant working with ORIS.
Participants with more experience can manage up to an acre.
The Agriculture Department has provided $153,000 in grants for food production. It can help share the cost of farm tools and some seed purchases, and it keeps a full-time production specialist — Anthony Munene, a Kenyan with experience in farming — on the farm.
But some expenses it won’t cover, such as transportation to and from the farm. Part of running a farm is getting the product to market, Carrington said.
“We’re pretty clear. Our program is not a community garden; it’s a business,” she said.
This will be the second year at the farm for Laxmi Mishra, a 57-year-old Bhutanese who moved to the United States from a refugee camp in Nepal in 2009.
In Bhutan, Mishra owned a 35-acre farm where he grew cotton, oranges, rice, grain and had cattle, he said through Dukula Mishra, his daughter and translator. There, the tropical climate allowed for crops to be grown year-round.
ORIS helped him learn about seasonal agriculture, and Mishra is now searching for seed for bittermelon, which he grew in Bhutan.
“He really enjoyed the farming in the U.S.,” Dukula Mishra said. “He wanted to do more, but because of his language barrier he is held back.”
Reprinted with permission
Union Leader Corporation
Wednesday, March 21, 2012