The Community Producers Program (CPP) provides economic empowerment opportunities for refugee women in Waterloo. CPP has given many people from around the globe 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 the participants’ existing agricultural background, women are able connect to local markets, generate new sources of income and build food security. CPP is an initiative of 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.
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 is during the lunch hour. Providing a meal and child care allows participants to attend the workshop on time and focus on class content. Translation in four different languages enables participation across ethnic groups. The CPP tripled the attendance from the pilot project in 2017.
The CPP is making an impact on the refugee community. Twelve food insecure families who previously did not have access to culturally appropriate food are receiving vegetables weekly from the garden at no cost. The CPP has provided opportunities for members of the Burmese community to assume leadership roles. Judy is a Karen refugee from Burma and one of the coordinators of the CPP garden. Before coordinating this program, she was a stay-at-home mom with little opportunity to advance her educational and job skills. Judy says she has begun to see herself as a leader in her community. She shared that the CPP has given older women in the group the opportunity to preserve an important part of their cultural heritage. Judy said she did not have the opportunity to “connect my current community to our past life in Burma and to our culture.” The garden has made a difference by fostering a sense of community among the Burmese women. Participants work hard doing what they love while spending time socializing with community members. Many have remarked upon how much they are enjoying gardening again.