A special thank you to our 2019 Grant Partner, The Community Producers Program, for writing this guest blog and telling us about their work.
The Community Producers Program (CPP) is an initiative of the University of Northern Iowa in partnership with Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy & Resource Center (EMBARC), AmeriCorp VISTA, First Baptist Church, and First United Methodist Church. The CPP works to provide economic empowerment opportunities for refugee women in Waterloo, Iowa and has given many the opportunity to connect with other community members and share their agricultural skills for the first time since resettling to the US. CPP workshops remove barriers and foster the development of skills such as business management, customer service, cash handling, marketing, and food safety. Participants who complete the CPP have the opportunity to participate in the market garden. By combining this educational opportunity with participants’ existing agricultural background, women are able to connect to local markets, generate new sources of income and build food security.
Essential services to ensure participation were made possible by generous support from the Iowa Women’s Foundation. Among these services, lunch, childcare, and interpretation were integral to the success of the workshop. As some of the participants are working full-time, raising a family, and attending English class, the optimal time of day to reach most participants was during the lunch hour. Providing a meal and child care allowed participants to attend the workshop on time and focus on class content. Translation in four different languages enabled participation across ethnic groups.
The CPP is making an impact on the refugee community. After attending the February CPP workshops, eight to fifteen producers work about 12 hours per week in the garden weeding and harvesting produce. The producers agree that the garden provides social benefits as well as economic opportunities. “We like to talk and have fun while we work. We share food when we are done working” participant Nwe Nee said. Another participant, Judy, agreed that one benefit of the garden is family and friends working together. They are proud of their garden. They don’t use chemicals and they do everything by hand. Nwe Nee said, “we have improved from last year and each year we want to make our production more efficient.” CPP participants currently sell produce to two local grocery stores and some community members. In addition, they provide produce for their families and those in the community who have large families and cannot afford produce.