Teaching nutrition to refugees in the Salt Lake Valley

Story and photos by ZACH CARLSON

Laureen Carlson is an employee for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program through Utah State University’s College of Agriculture. Carlson’s goal is to help individuals and families, especially those who are lower-income, eat healthy and affordable. Carlson said EFNEP is available in every state and most territories. Carlson has been employed by EFNEP since 2013.

For the past four years Carlson has gotten to know many refugees. Most of the refugees she has worked with are Nepalese, but she has also worked with some families from Sudan and other African countries.

When asked what nutrition was like in refugee camps, Carlson said, “They would get packages that they were so appreciative for. But for example, their protein was lacking.” She also added that they would get meat packed in salt. Salt-packed meat isn’t as healthy but does last longer. “Their diet consisted mainly of rice with small amounts of vegetables,” Carlson said.

Once refugees get to Utah they can get the ingredients that they really need to be healthy and provide for their family from a nutrition standpoint. Carlson said one of the biggest problems she faces is getting refugee families to eat complete proteins. Because most families face dietary restrictions due to their religion or customs, they only will eat goat or yak — especially with the Nepalese. These also happen to be two of the more expensive meats to purchase, so many families go without the proper proteins that they need.

Carlson’s goal is for families to eat healthy, not necessarily eating like Americans. “I always try to be their facilitator using their own bread, yogurt, whatever food and spices they regularly eat,” Carlson said.

Often, she tries to combine common foods here with food or spices that refugees know and eat. Carlson said many families make their own yogurt. She will use this yogurt with fruits to make healthy smoothies. One of her other go-to foods is pizza.

She uses bread that the family makes in place of regular pizza dough. “With almost everything we add spices we wouldn’t traditionally use in American pizza. I use theirs,” she said. “They have these tin containers that have all these different spices. Some of them have even brought those when they came because they are very careful with their spices. I would have them use what spices they wanted on their pizza.”

She would then add cheese that meets their dietary standards. This is to add more dairy to their diet. “I don’t think I went into a refugee home that was getting enough dairy,” Carlson said. She added that some children do get enough dairy, because many refugee mothers nurse longer than average here. Most of the refugee families Carlson teaches breastfeed the children until they are about 3, with one family even nursing a child until he was 5.

Carlson only speaks English, so sometimes there is a language barrier in their communication. When she can, Carlson works with a Nepalese translator, Chandra Sapkota. Sapkota often asks for Carlson because he considers her to work well with the families.

Google Translate is an incredibly helpful tool for her to communicate with refugees who aren’t fluent in English when she doesn’t have Sapkota’s help. She recalls one instance where she was teaching a mother, who spoke little English, how to make tuna casserole for her daughter. By using Google Translate, Carlson could communicate by typing in what she wanted to say in English, then it was translated to the mom’s native language. Because she can’t read, Carlson would have Google Translate “speak” the translated message to her.

“You couldn’t tell her to go buy tuna fish because she wouldn’t know. I left her all the cans, everything, so that way she could go match it in the store,” she said. “So, not only did we make it together but you can’t give her a recipe. We ended up having to make it two different times so that she could go through all the steps. In hindsight, I should have had her do voice recordings on her phone,” Carlson said. This is a new technique she has begun using, where she will have refugees record the steps in recipes on their phone in their own language. This helps them re-create the meals cooked together on their own, because they can grasp the cooking concepts better.

A health and hygiene issue that Carlson faces involves proper dental care. “I never saw a grandparent or great-grandparent that had a full set of teeth. There were multiple children that their teeth had rotted and had to be pulled. That was something we would try to bring up and encourage. We really would talk about brushing teeth and things like that,” she said.

Carlson said it is uncommon for a refugee to eat out a lot and get fast food often, but she has taught some refugees who partake in American food. She taught an African refugee who was extremely excited to be here and eat American food. But then he noticed that he was gaining a lot of weight. Carlson said once he realized how much weight he was gaining he immediately stopped eating fast food and went back to the food of his culture. He began working out to lose weight and is back to where he was before he dove into American food.

Carlson said most of the families she teaches make food from their homeland. Most, if not all of them, cook their own food, typically curry, sometimes three times a day. One indulgence that she has had a problem with is soda pop. They particularly love Fanta Orange.

“There’s something about Fanta Orange,” she says. Many of the refugee families thought that Fanta had juice in it and that they were being healthy. They loved that they were drinking juice and that it tasted so good. Except it wasn’t juice. Even when she went back to visit them later after her teaching with them concluded, some families still consumed Fanta Orange very frequently.

Life is hard for everyone, refugees included. For many refugees, their trials and hardships don’t end once they get to a new country. They instead face a new set of challenges that take the place others. A big challenge that many of them face is eating properly. Through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, Laureen Carlson helps refugees get the nutrients they need without spending unreasonable amounts of money.

 

 

Women of the World: a safe haven for Salt Lake City’s refugee and immigrant women.

Story, photos and slideshow by DEVON ALEXANDER BROWN

Thanks to the steadily rising influx of technology companies, the Salt Lake City metropolitan area is becoming affectionately known as Silicon Slopes, a burgeoning parallel to California’s Silicon Valley.

But it wasn’t career advancement opportunities that brought Samira Harnish, a former semiconductor engineer for Micron Technology Inc., back to Utah. It was the chance to make a difference and fill a necessary void.

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Samira Harnish standing in her office at Women of the World, located at 3347 S. Main St.

Harnish immigrated to the United States from Baghdad, Iraq, in the late 1970s. She studied engineering at Utah State University, but frequently suffered discrimination due to her race and gender. She also endured depression because she felt isolated in her new community and found it difficult to express her feelings. The need for female advocacy and empowerment drove her to establish Women of the World, a nonprofit organization based in Salt Lake City, in 2010.

Harnish knew from an early age that she wanted to help others. As a result she’s amassed over two decades of volunteer experience and before founding Women of the World, she served as a medical interpreter for local organizations like Catholic Community Services, the International Rescue Committee, the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Refugee and Immigrant Center – Asian Association of Utah.

But it wasn’t until her stint as an interpreter that she came to realize the true wants and desires of refugee and immigrant women.

“I actually listened to them to know what they want,” Harnish said. “They say, ‘I wish we had a woman that could hear us and guide us.’ When you are foreign in a country you don’t know anything. You need someone to guide you and to give you advice.”

And as she listened to the desires of refugee women from disparate cultural backgrounds, Harnish said they came to the same conclusion: they wanted a space of their own. Where they could freely share their concerns, interests and dreams without being overshadowed by the men in their lives.

Although Harnish stepped up to meet their needs, for a while she was alone in her efforts. For five years she operated without an office or case managers, simply visiting refugee homes, gathering contacts and securing much needed donations.

Salt Lake City is the nation’s second largest resettlement site for refugee women. It also has the largest proportion of single mothers and women-at-risk of any resettlement community. Four out of five refugees are women and many are survivors of teen marriage, domestic violence and rape. Once resettled they must juggle the effects of these traumas with unique economic and social challenges.

Yet, until Harnish founded Women of the World, there was no local organization dedicated to assisting such a notable demographic. And the women are grateful.

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Thank you letters displayed in the Women of the World office.

Apiel Kuot, a refugee from South Sudan, is one of these women. She said she was stressed and scared when arriving in Utah in the fall of 2016, but Women of the World helped her with winter clothing, a television and other essential household goods. She also learned to start thinking positively.

“I can’t count the things they’ve helped me with because there are so many things I have received from them,” Kuot said in a telephone interview. “And they give me encouragement which is much better than anything else someone can give.”

Now a year later, she is confident and self-reliant and is planning to earn a social work degree.

“There are some women who are at a camp that will soon be in this place, but they don’t know where to go with their issues,” Kuot said.  “I trust Samira and Women of the World and I will tell them because they (WoW) always give me positive things, not negative things.”

The Women of the World office, located at 3347 S. Main St., is considered a second home by women like Kuot. Women hailing from countries like Iraq, Nepal, Myanmar, Iran, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda come there for help navigating community resources and often engage with one another over hot tea and desserts, sharpening their conversational English skills in a pressure-free setting. Most of the women learn of Women of the World through word of mouth.

“We love to warm everybody’s heart,” Harnish said, while preparing a cup of hibiscus tea. “I love the way everybody comes in here and feels comfortable. Some of them that wear hijab, they take it off because they know the windows are tinted and there are no men so they feel very secure.”

Women of the World seeks to empower women by promoting self-reliance through service, education and economic development programs. As a nonprofit, Women of the World operates without government funding, instead relying on charitable donations and an annual fundraiser held the day after International Women’s Day. Harnish says she prefers to operate without federal assistance because it allows her to tailor Women of the World’s services without worry of a pushed agenda.

“When the government gives you the money, they always tell you to go that way or this way, you know, their way,” Harnish said. “I’m here to listen to them (the women) and do whatever they ask.”

Harnish and the case managers she employs work to help women create resumes, tighten interviewing and job skills, plan for entrepreneurship and acquire mental health and legal assistance. More importantly, they help instill in participants a deeply rooted sense of self-confidence through their practical English program. Launched as a two-month pilot program for six women with no English skills, by its conclusion all six women were able to gain employment.

When discussing self-reliance, terms like education and employment tend to rank paramount. While earning potential is indubitably connected to the ability to provide for oneself and family, Women of the World knows it is only one aspect and it differs by individual.

McKenzie Cantlon, a case manager at Women of the World, worked with refugees in Buffalo, New York, and the United Kingdom before relocating to the Salt Lake Valley. She says the economic and social support refugees receive has been phenomenal in all areas, but she’s noticed a problematic pattern: proximity to services.

In Utah, voluntary agency affiliates like Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee are based in Salt Lake City. That means refugees located farther north or south do not have the same access to essential resources. For this reason, Women of the World stresses self-reliance above all else.

“For some women self-reliance might be having the courage to leave the house and go grocery shopping or taking their children to the park,” Cantlon said in an email interview. “For other women this might mean going to school, getting a job and supporting their children without the help of others. Women of the World works to promote every kind of self-reliance.”

Courtney Bullard began working as a case manager for Women of the World in the summer of 2016. She lived in the Middle East for five years and attended graduate school in London. Bullard said she’s seen tremendous success from refugees working with Women of the World, but true economic independence isn’t always an option. Regardless, self-confidence is the first step to its path.

“There are a lot of barriers that refugees face upon coming to the USA because of how the resettlement process is set up,” Bullard said in an email interview. “We have women who might always rely on government assistance because of their various situations, however, when they advocate for themselves whether it might be asking for higher pay at work or looking the cashier at the grocery store in the eye at the store — I consider them on their way to self reliance.”

Regardless of definition self-reliance does not manifest overnight. Rather, it’s often an arduous journey that requires discipline and dedication. For Kaltum Mohamed, a Sudanese refugee, it’s taken four years to reach her dream of opening a restaurant.

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Kaltum Mohamed standing in front of her food truck “Mother of All.”

Mohamed was resettled in 2013 after years of moving between refugee camps. After receiving assistance from the IRC for 10 months, she met Samira Harnish. Through their shared Arabic language, they quickly formed a powerful friendship.

Harnish said Mohamed approached her early on with the desire to open a restaurant — refusing to allow any obstacles to deter her confidence. However, after attending a few practical English classes she stopped showing up.

“The last day she got really upset and said she just wants to find someone to give her a loan,” Harnish said. “I told her, ‘No one is going to give you a loan unless you finish that program. You go in there and finish.’”

So Mohamed persisted. She now operates Mother of All, a food truck that can be found at The Black Diamond Store and The Front Climbing Club in Salt Lake City.

“They (WoW) help me too much,” Mohamed said reflectively in her South Salt Lake apartment. “And I always tell everyone, don’t give up on the things you need. Continue doing it and face everything with confidence.”

To commemorate the successes of refugee women like Mohamed, Women of the World holds an awards banquet and social mixer at the end of every year. In addition to inspirational stories, small ethnic meals are brought and shared by members of the community and musical entertainment is provided.

This year’s event will be held Dec. 9, 2017, from 2-5 p.m. at the Salt Lake County South Building Atrium on 2100 S. State St. It is Women of the World’s 7th Annual Celebration for women who achieve their goals and is free and open to the public.

 

 

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Many cultures, one table: Thanksgiving dinner with refugee chefs and families

Breaking bread at the International Rescue Committee fundraiser to bridge barriers in community

Story and slideshow by DANNY O’MALLEY

The International Rescue Committee hosted Breaking Bread, a pre-holiday feast on November 15, 2017, to bring the greater Salt Lake City community closer together. Guests enjoyed cuisine prepared by chefs with the Spice Kitchen Incubator, a program that helps refugees launch food-service businesses. The Breaking Bread event was held at This Is The Place Heritage Park and drew nearly 250 attendees including refugee families in the community.

Upon arriving, guests were greeted by volunteers who guided them to one of dozens of tables in the high-ceilinged room. A 10-foot tall curved chalkboard wall stood near the podium, covered in decorative art and Polaroid photographs filling the shape of Utah. A flowery inscription reading “This is the place we all call home” emblazoned the top.

An elaborate video setup occupied a side room, where guests recorded live greetings to welcome newcomers to Salt Lake City. Guests and volunteers flowed around the central seating, filling the mountain lodge-style space with a cheerful buzz of conversation between old friends and new acquaintances.

At the bar, local startup Kiitos Brewing donated a selection of beer from its new lineup. The craft beer operation is a newcomer to the Utah brewery scene, but already setting itself apart as a leader in sustainable business and local collaboration. Natalie El-Deiry, deputy director of IRC, said Kiitos donates spent grain from the brewing process to the East African Refugee Goat Farm, a project benefiting refugee farmers on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. The brewery is located in the Granary District south of downtown, and celebrated its grand opening to the public over the weekend of December 1, 2017.

Food from four entrepreneurs took center stage at the feast.

For appetizers, guests enjoyed Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare, courtesy of two sisters. Suha and Mayada run Olives & Thyme together. Originally from Baghdad, they arrived in Utah in 2012 and started cooking with the Spice Kitchen Incubator in 2015. “Americans like to try new things, but there is nothing like what we make — they don’t know Arabic food here,” Mayada said.

The sisters spent hours in the Spice Kitchen the day before the event, rolling dough and wrapping it around spinach and cheese. Savory pastries, falafel sliders and small rice and beef bites called “kubbah” filled guests’ platters during the pre-dinner mingling. The hors d’oeuvres proved too scrumptious to remain for long — the sizeable serving trays were stripped clean by the time dinner was served.

The entree course was served family-style in huge bowls and deep dishes. Each table was assigned a different cuisine — Burmese or Somali.

Haymar, originally from Burma, runs Januhongsar as her catering endeavor, as well as a specialty grocery store called Sonjhae Asian Market. Haymar has lived in Utah since 2008, and has been with Spice Kitchen since in late 2012. For the dinner, she served a chicken and kabocha squash curry with mixed seasonal vegetables over rice. The seasonal squash tasted like a tender semi-sweet pumpkin, and lent a vibrant orange glow to the plate like a late fall sunrise. Haymar’s mouth-watering dishes can be found often through the rotating Spice Kitchen To Go ordering on Facebook.

Najati, from Somalia, lived in the refugee camps in Kenya before coming to Utah in 2008. She learned Swahili recipes cooking with her mother in the camps. “There were no fresh vegetables, but here there is regional organic food I cook with,” she said. Najati dubbed her catering business Namash Swahili Cuisine, and wants to open a food truck or a restaurant someday. “I am used to cooking for 400 or so people. This event I only have maybe 100, much easier.” For the dinner, she served roasted goat from the IRC goat farm, and vegetable curry over Somali-spiced rice with a hot sauce known as “pilipili.”

To top it all off, the dessert course was capped with an intricately-designed cake featuring the event logo, thanks to M Bakeshop. Michaela started M Bakeshop with Spice Kitchen in early 2017, but has been baking her entire life. “I always loved to lick the bowl, ever since I was young. I could live off sweets,” she said. Born in Austria, she has lived in the U.S. since 1986 and Utah since 1995. In the last two years she has started to experiment with a different process that she calls “inside-out cake,” allowing her to bake delicate hand-drawn designs into her cakes. Because of her precision and care on each piece, Spice Kitchen approached her to add an upscale dessert to the event. “I love seeing the reaction of people to my creations,” she said.

Patrick Poulin, executive director of IRC Salt Lake, welcomed attendees and spoke about the importance of sharing cultures between community members.

Natalie El-Deiry presented awards to local groups that were integral in their contribution to the refugee community. One of the awards went to St. Mark’s Family Medicine for its work on the VeggieRx program, a pilot to help refugees address critical nutrition needs.

This is the second year of the Breaking Bread event. Proceeds from ticket sales, as well as additional in-person donations, will help the IRC continue its work and promote new opportunities for refugees. As the Spice Kitchen Incubator continues to aid more local entrepreneurs ply their palate-pleasing trade, the event is sure to grow. Details about next year’s event, as well as the chance to purchase advance tickets, will be available on the IRC’s website or the Facebook page.

“We need to paint a picture of refugee contributions to the community,” said Natalie el-Deiry in a previous interview. This event is just one part of that picture, growing a closer, stronger community through sharing a table and enjoying a meal together.

Working with refugees in the Salt Lake Valley

Story and photo by ZACH CARLSON

Chandra Sapkota lives with his wife and children in Salt Lake City. Sapkota currently works three different jobs. He works as a translator, he helps refugee families with children under the age of 3  at a local organization called Discover, Develop, and Impact (DDI) and he assists students part time at Cottonwood High School through the Granite School District.

Sapkota began educating people and helping parents while he was living in a refugee camp in Nepal. Sapkota lived in this camp for 18 years before the United States accepted him as a Bhutanese refugee in 2009 — one year after America began taking these refugees in.

Once Sapkota came here to Utah he met a friend who was working for DDI who helped him get a part-time job as a translator. Sapkota began to work his way up the corporate ladder and began to get more hours. He quickly became a full-time employee going into homes and doing what Sapkota referred to as “parenting.” This means that he helps the parent give their kid a better childhood, hopefully leading to a better adulthood and life.

“The DDI focuses on education and parenting,” Sapkota said. He goes into homes that have children up to 3 years old and helps the parent raise the children while honoring their culture. How Sapkota helps the family honor their culture varies from background to background, but with most cultures it involves making sure that they eat the proper foods to get enough nutrition without compromising their values on what foods are acceptable.

DDI works with families of all incomes and ethnic backgrounds in the Salt Lake Valley. Sapkota specializes in refugee families that typically fall beneath the poverty line. “I visit and work with 11 different families and spend 90 minutes with each of them,” Sapkota said.

One of the biggest unseen challenges that refugees face is not only getting enough food, but also getting healthy food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, undernutrition has been reported in many cases with refugees. The CDC also stated that “although undernutrition is often associated with refugee status, concerns are increasing about overweight/obesity among refugees resettling to developed countries. Overweight and obesity are frequently assumed to be associated with assimilation to a U.S. lifestyle (increased availability of high-calorie foods, reduced physical activity), compounded by lack of nutritional education.”

This is where Laureen Carlson comes in.

Carlson is a frequent collaborator of Sapkota’s, working together to help Nepalese families. Carlson is an employee of the Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), whose goal is teaching people and families, particularly those who are lower income, how to eat healthy on a budget.

EFNEP is available in every state and most territories, according to Carlson. EFNEP is funded in Utah by Utah State University in Logan, through its agriculture department.

She met Sapkota while teaching a Nepalese family with whom he was working as a translator. Sapkota contacts EFNEP and asks for Carlson to come and help these families with nutrition. He requests her because she is good with the families and everyone else working for EFNEP in the Salt Lake area has quit, citing low pay for their leaving within the last five years, according to Carlson.

Carlson said she has taught roughly 20 different refugee families about nutrition, most of them from Nepal. She said it has been quite a culture shock for her as well as the families she teaches. She said, “One of the things that surprised me the most was how many people live in these small living spaces. You’ll oftentimes have three or four generations of a family living in a two- or three-bedroom apartment.”

Another aspect of living that astounded her was the sleeping arrangements. “A lot of these families do not have enough mattresses for everyone. In some cases, everyone sleeps on the floor with blankets. One family had couches along the edge of their living room where they slept in shifts,” Carlson said. “Family members who worked the night shift would be sleeping on the couches during the day, then the rest would take the available couches when the others went off to work.”

Laureen Carlson with the cute puppy of a family she was teaching in Kearns, Utah. She is an avid dog lover.

Carlson said that one of the hardest parts of working with refugees is helping them eat healthy while also honoring their traditions and customs. When working with Nepalese families she said that most of them want to eat goat, lamb, or yak, which happen to be some of the more expensive types of meats. “Our goal isn’t for them to eat like us. Our goal is for them to eat healthy and affordably,” Carlson said.

What can be especially hard for some refugee families, Carlson said, is making food for everyone in the family. Carlson said that in every refugee family she has taught nutrition to, the children receive free breakfast and lunch from their schools, due to the family’s low-income status. Carlson said the kids really like the food here and ask her to teach their parents how to make it, which can cause problems at home.

“The kids like some western food like tuna casserole, and the parents are willing to make it for them. The problem comes in with the grandparents and great-grandparents. They only want to eat their home food, which is understandable, but sometimes the kids don’t. A lot of these families don’t have the money to make two separate dinners, so it can lead to a sort of rock and a hard place,” Carlson said.

Sapkota has been an active member of the refugee community in Utah since he arrived here, but Carlson is a much newer addition to the community. As Carlson works with the refugee families she becomes closer and closer with them, with her even being invited to some family parties and functions. Sapkota and Carlson both work hard with refugees trying to help them provide for and take care of their family.

Refugees in Utah face poor nutrition; doctors and farmers prescribe collaborative response

Story and photo by DANNY O’MALLEY

A national program that provides fresh produce to refugee patients in need of nutrition has arrived in Salt Lake City. VeggieRx, also known as the Fruits and Vegetables Prescription project (FVRx), empowers doctors to prescribe wholesome nutrition in the form of fresh farmers market produce to refugees at risk of malnutrition or other health concerns like diabetes.

At St. Mark’s Family Medicine, in the Millcreek area of Salt Lake City, patients receive prescriptions for $10 toward fresh produce. They take the prescriptions just down the street to the Sunnyvale Farmers Market, to be used up to four times. The market also accepts SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which can double the amount of vegetables carried home by refugee patients. The Sunnyvale Farmers Market, an endeavor of the International Rescue Committee through its New Roots farming initiative, is open on Saturday afternoons from July to October every year.

Refugees who are newly resettled face a myriad of challenges, but nutrition and diet are often the most pressing.

Ze Min Xiao, director of the mayor’s Office of New Americans in Salt Lake County, said even the idea of a supermarket can be a challenge to newcomers. Often when a refugee arrives, “suddenly they’re buying processed food, and it’s more expensive and not as good for you. Obesity and lack of vitamins are a problem,” she said.

The transition to the American diet and food culture can be jarring for some. Many refugees struggle to find food they recognize. Familiar ingredients may grow plentifully in other regions around the world, but varieties here in Utah may be nonexistent or prohibitively expensive.

For example, according to cost of living data collected by Numbeo.com, fruit and vegetable prices are anywhere between two and 10 times greater in the United States than in Syria and Somalia. And that’s just for ubiquitous produce like apples, oranges and potatoes — anything remotely exotic is exponentially less likely to be carried by local grocers.

Because of programs like VeggieRx, farming initiatives like New Roots and medical outreach through St. Marks, the avenues to help alleviate issues of nutrition and unfamiliar culture are opening wider. The innovative practice of prescribing access to vegetables packed with nutrients is a direct result of addressing the needs of the refugee community, Xiao said. “We can identify some answers they bring as New Americans,” she added.

Similar programs are already coming to fruition all over the country. VeggieRx was started by Wholesome Wave, an organization centered on increasing accessibility to nutrition and health resources. First piloted in Maine and Massachusetts in 2010, the success on the East Coast has allowed Wholesome Wave to partner with organizations in 48 states as of this writing, as well as Washington, D.C., and the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area.

Fiona McBride, senior communications associate for Wholesome Wave, has been with the organization since 2014. “We’re really proud of our growth and impact,” she said in a phone interview. “In 2015, we helped about 150,000 people. In 2016, we reached over 550,000.” She expects that growth trend to continue.

The benefit doesn’t stop at the limit of the prescription value either. Refugees and other low-income families are more likely to buy lots of veggies once they get a little, giving an economic boost to the farmers at the market. “We’ve seen that for every $5 in vouchers, they spend an additional $15 on fresh produce,” McBride said. “Our case workers have said that the families can’t believe what they’re getting.”

Patients in greatest need of nutrition are often children. “It’s really powerful to tackle and prevent problems with diet and health starting young,” McBride said.

St. Mark’s Family Medicine is a program with the Utah Healthcare Institute. Diane Chapman, a nurse practitioner involved with the program, said the link between diet and chronic disease can’t be emphasized enough. The majority of patients she sees are refugees. “It’s my primary professional focus and passion,” she said in a phone interview. Often, she said, clinicians have “little context” for a diet that refugee patients might be familiar with. “Dietary change can be difficult for anyone.”

The VeggieRx pilot provided the opportunity for refugee families to align their diet with food similar to that of their countries of origin, at little to no cost. The pilot ran from September to October 2017, through the end of the farmers market season. Chapman said the program goal was to enroll at least 50 patients, which was met, and now the data can be assessed by the Utah Department of Health.

According to a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, healthcare costs related to diet are over $950 billion a year. This is especially dangerous for low-income families including refugees.

Fiona McBride said that’s what the VeggieRx program is all about — spending less on healthcare by treating preventable diseases through nutrition. “We’re really trying to show the power of produce to improve personal and environmental health. The money we save in avoiding extremely expensive health problems could transform the country,” she said.

Utah’s pilot of the program is in its infancy, so the exact impact is yet to be seen at the local level. But it has a huge pool of organizers invested in seeing it thrive. The International Rescue Committee, the Utah Department of Health, Salt Lake County and St. Mark’s Family Medicine have made good headway together. Thanks to everyone involved, refugees can eat healthy and avoid burdensome long-term healthcare costs.

Keep your eyes peeled for updates from the Utah Department of Health in early 2018.

Refugees planting new roots in Utah

Story by SCOTT FUNK

War. Persecution. Death. Three things that many people in other countries across the world have to face on a daily basis. They go through life living in their homeland in fear. They’re left with two options: Stay in the country and risk death, or flee for survival. Many choose to stay, but many choose to become refugees.

Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services and a Somali refugee himself, said, “Becoming a refugee is the most difficult process a human being can go through. When you’re in your country, you either face the hard condition of leaving, or you die. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but when you don’t have a choice, you just want a new place to survive.”

According to a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert included in the Utah Refugee Services Office 2016 report, 1,200 refugees have been resettled in Utah annually by the CCS and International Rescue Committee.

The refugees who are resettled in Utah can choose from different programs to help them adapt to a new culture. One option is the New Roots Program, organized and managed by the IRC.

The New Roots program has the moto: “The food is local. The story is global.” Its purpose, according to the website, is to “enable refugees to celebrate their heritage and nourish themselves and their neighbors by planting strong roots – literally – in their new communities.”

The program consists of three parts: Community Gardening, Micro-Training Farm Program and the Sunnyvale Farmers Market.

Community Gardening Program

This program is designed to help the emotional well-being of the refugees as they try to adjust to a new country, culture and way of life.

Central Park 1. Photo credit New Roots SLC

In this program, plots of land (approximately 14 feet by 20 feet for 100 total square feet) are reserved for local refugees and their families throughout the Salt Lake community to grow crops from their home country and to come together as a community. Alex Haas, community garden program coordinator, said it is their opportunity to not only work, but also to provide for their family while connecting with others who may come from the same circumstance. There are 15 different gardens throughout the valley that refugees have access to.

Also within this program, Haas said, is the opportunity to meet as a group to develop skills and become accustomed to the new society they are in. Within these adjustment groups refugees can discuss their feelings, learn skills such as how to deal with anger, stress, depression and ultimately become self-sustained as they build a new home.

“The purpose of our community gardening program and adjustment groups is to help refugees become self-sustaining moving forward,” Haas said.

He also said in a phone interview that the gardens are a way to remind refugees of home and that they give them “a sense of comfort, while they enjoy cultural foods, and while they build a community of wellness.”

Micro-Training Farm Program

The next step in the New Roots program is the farming aspect. After resettled refugees have participated in the community gardens for a year, they have an opportunity to work on larger plots of lands at the Redwood Road Micro-Training Farm, located at 3060 S. Lester St. in West Valley City, to continue their farming.

Local refugee farming at the Redwood Farm. Photo credit New Roots SLC

Jordan Bryant, manager of the IRC’s New Roots program, said in a phone interview that the farm is maintained by generous grants and donations. The farmers pay different amounts for seeds and plants from their heritage, and tools to grow them to bring their home to Utah.

Currently, Bryant said, there are about 33 farmers who are there on a constant basis. These farmers, each of whom were once strangers, develop a community with one another as they work together to grow and sell their crops at local farmer’s market.

Although it is not the main source of income for their families, the refugees rely on the farming as a source of income for their families. At the same time, they continue to develop relationships and friendships with the other refugees around them.

“It’s more than just a job,” Bryant said. “It’s that they gain access to their home and people to socialize with.”

Sunnyvale Farmers Market

Local refugees buying produce at the Sunnyvale Farmers Market. Photo credit New Roots SLC

The Sunnyvale Farmers Market, located at 4013 S. 700 West in Salt Lake City, gives the refugee farmers the opportunity to provide for their family by taking the food they grow and selling it.  It is also an opportunity to bring food from cultures around the world to the refugee community.

“The farmers market is a great opportunity for income,” Bryant said. “Although it’s not their main source of income, for some it does provide a substantial amount for their family. It also is a community benefit by providing food from the countries of the refugees that are in the community.”

Escaping persecution is a long journey. But after choosing to leave their home to survive, the New Roots program has given refugees the opportuntiy to bring a piece of their culture to Utah.

 

Salt Lake City’s farmers markets draw loyal consumers

Story and slideshow by JOSH SOUTAS

Experience all that the Winter Market has to offer.

 

“We never miss a market,” said Salt Lake City local Paula Butler. Her friend, Lori Martin, added, “We come every time.” Butler and Martin are just two of the many consumers who wander around the Winter Market at 10 a.m. every other Saturday from November until April looking for locally grown produce.

The two said the combination of fresh produce, and the get-together that the Winter Market has become, is what keeps them coming back.

“It’s now as much of a social event as it is a grocery shopping event for us,” said Butler, who is also a regular at the summer Saturday Market. “Not only do you know what you are buying is healthy and good for you, but it is fun to come and meet the farmers who grow and are selling their own local products.”

In its third year, the Winter Market is held in the historical Rio Grande Depot. The train station’s tracks were first used in 1910, according to Utah Communication History Encyclopedia writer Kelsie Haymond. The old train station is transformed into a paradise for consumers who are looking for locally grown produce during the winter months. Vendors, who set up shop where passengers used to load onto trains, give the landmark building a lively atmosphere again.

The market entrance runs through the Rio Gallery, located in the Grand Lobby of the Rio Grande Depot. Shoppers on the second floor get an overhead view of the artwork in the free gallery.

Alison Einerson, market manager of the Salt Lake City Farmers Markets, said in a phone interview that the Winter Market almost exclusively features food vendors who cater to local eaters.

The Winter Market occurs when many vegetables and fruits are out of season. Einerson said that challenge was not difficult to overcome.

“It’s really eye opening to see that there are still so many locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables available, even though it is December and snowing, or February and bitter cold outside,” Einerson said. “There [are] beets, asparagus, parsley, onions, potatoes, and in my opinion our market is home to the best local baked goods.”

Einerson also agreed with market regulars Butler and Martin that many people attend the market not only for the produce, but also for the social occasion that it has become.

It is not surprising to see the Winter Market be successful even though it has not been around as long as the established Saturday Market. Farmers markets have risen in popularity with more than 8,200 nationwide, a 76 percent increase since 2008, according to the USDA.

Steven Mountford is a honey farmer with White Lake Farms. The Genola, Utah, farm has been a vendor with the Winter Market since its opening. It also takes part in the Saturday Market during the summer.

Mountford said he understands why farmers markets have been growing in popularity and size, especially in the last few years.

His explanation? He said people are starting to be curious and are caring where their food is coming from.

“It is important to expose people to the reality of where their food is coming from,” Mountford said. “People are now questioning how their food is getting to them and if it is good for them.”

Mountford isn’t wrong, according to a 2011 food dialogues survey. The survey focused on opinions, attitudes and questions that consumers and farmers had about the state of how food is raised in the U.S. The study found that “consumers think about food production constantly, yet know very little about how food is brought to the dinner table.”

Mountford believes that consumers asking questions about their food and caring where it is coming from is making a difference.

“You get customers asking restaurant owners, ‘Where did this chicken come from?’ or ‘Where did these vegetables come from?’ People didn’t used to ask these questions. And it helps motivate restaurant owners to buy locally,” he said.

Salsa Del Diablo, a Salt Lake City company, has participated in the Winters Market for two years. It also took part in the Saturday Market for the first time in 2015, one of the four Utah summer markets it participated in last year.

The company carries eight different salsa flavors in the summer, and four in the winter. Salsa Del Diablo motivates customers to buy its products by donating 1 percent of profit to adaptive sports in Utah.

Employee Jennifer Lehmbuck said the local markets are what helped the company break through into grocery stores in 2015.

“Farmers Markets open doors for local companies like Salsa Del Diablo,” Lehmbuck said.

Besides the exposure that the market has provided, Lehmbuck said she has seen other benefits of participating in markets.

“These local farmers markets build community. It helps get people connected with their food and lets them get to know where and whom their food is coming from,” Lehmbuck said. Salsa Del Diablo sources the majority of its salsa ingredients from Bangerter Farms, located in Bountiful, Utah.

Michael Pollan, author of “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” and creator of the Netflix documentary series “Cooked,” told “Nourish” that “a farmers market is kind of like a public square, and there is a nice social energy. At the farmers market, city meets country. People learn about where their food comes from and the people who grew it.”

Market Manager Einerson said this growth in community is one of the main benefits of a farmers market. It supports the local farmers and vendors.

Winter Market Transitioning to Summer Saturday Market

 The Winter Market at Rio Grande closes for the season on April 23, 2016. But Einerson and vendors are looking ahead to the Saturday Market, which will be taking place for the 25th time this year. “It has been a staple of the community here in Salt Lake City,” Einerson said.

Many of the Winter Market vendors, including Salsa Del Diablo and White Lake Farms, will return for the weekly Saturday Farmers Market. They will be joined by dozens more who did not participate in the seasonal event.

Einerson said the time off in between the markets seems seamless to staff as they work throughout May to approve applications, finalize vendor lists and assign locations in Pioneer Park.

The summer Saturday Farmers Market, along with the Arts and Crafts Market, run June 11 through October 22, 2016, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“It doesn’t seem like a long break to us because we don’t stop working. But I am sure the public miss it,” Einerson said.

Indeed, for locals like Paula Butler and the Lori Martin who “never miss a market,” the month and a half without a farmers market is too long.

Interested in finding a local farmers market near you? Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for a list of farmers markets near you.