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A spring evening with a New Farms for New Americans gardening class

A photo of women standing inside a greenhouse, with evening sun lighting the space, and trays of seedlings on tables. The women are smiling.
Elodie Reed
The New Farms for New Americans gardening class on a recent April evening, when they discussed fertilizer, pest control, weed mats and cover crops.

It’s the middle of April, and the sun burns gold across a late afternoon sky. Birds sing in the trees, and velvety catkins line pussywillow branches.

This story was made for the ear, and we recommend listening, if you can.

A photo of several greenhouses lined up in a row, with the setting sun turning trees orange in the background.
Elodie Reed
The New Farms for New Americans greenhouse is located at the Intervale Center in Burlington.

While mud season’s on its way out, there are still some epic puddles to splash through at the Intervale, where the New Farms for New Americans greenhouse is located.

A hand holding an iPhone with a photo of white, ribbed eggplants in a pile, with seedling trays in the background.
Elodie Reed
African eggplants, known as intore in Kirundi.

Just inside the greenhouse door is Alisha Laramee, program manager for New Farms for New Americans, which serves refugees. She exchanges greetings of “Namaste” with an incoming student.

“We have about 40 families who are starting their plants here,” she says.

Among them is Burlington resident Hadija Pedro, who has lived in Vermont for 17 years, and has been growing plants here for 15. She points out the different seedlings lined up in trays on a table.

“This is mboga mchunga, is from Africa, yes, and this too, lenga lenga, is from Africa, like a spinach,” she says. “And this is pepper, and this is lemongrass, yes.”

Hadija says one of the main differences between raising food here versus in Tanzania, where she was before coming to Vermont, is how early she plants the seeds. Winter is a lot longer here.

This is where Carolina Lukac comes in. She’s with the Vermont Garden Network, and with the help of Kiswahili and Nepali interpreters, she explains to half a dozen farmers what the different methods are for growing warm-loving plants in the chilly climes of Vermont.

A photo of a person spraying fertilizer on seedling trays from a bottle with a short hose.
Elodie Reed
Mpfubusa Modeste uses the fertilizer on trays of seedlings at the New Farms for New Americans greenhouse.

Carolina starts with a bottle that has a short hose attached. She dumps in a couple capfuls of fishy-smelling, brown liquid.

“In here is a fertilizer, because these plants are in the greenhouse a long time,” she explains.

Then she fills the bottle with water, puts on the top, and pumps it until it’s ready to spray on the plants.

“They will be here eight weeks, so they need more food,” Carolina says. “And this is one way of giving them a little bit of nutrients.”

After the fertilizer demonstration, students learn about greenhouse pests and how to catch them. Carolina holds up what looks like a small yellow flag on a stick.

“In English, we call this a yellow sticky trap,” she says. “It’s yellow, it’s sticky, it traps insects.”

Students place these in various spots throughout the greenhouse, and they also learn to find aphids on the underside of larger leaves.

A photo of a small yellow flag in a tray of seedlings.
Elodie Reed
The famed "yellow sticky trap" for greenhouse pests.

Then everyone heads outside the greenhouse. Along its edge are folded up black mats, used to suppress weeds. After answering some questions about the material, Carolina leads the class to a plot of tilled soil, with little grass-like plants littered throughout.

“These plants, is a good plant, the farmer grew this, it was seed that the farmer grew, this is cover crop,” she says. “That’s a word we talk about a lot – green manure. It’s a good, good plant.”

She adds: “When we get to the garden, out to the farm in May, we have a lot of seed to grow these good plants to cover the soil in parts of your garden.”

A photo of people by a tilled field, with evening sun glowing through trees without leaves on them yet.
Elodie Reed
The New Farms for New Americans gardening class discusses cover crops, i.e. "green manure."

The sun is now nearing the horizon.

“OK, we are finished for today,” Carolina says.

After parting words of “Thank you” and “Asante,” it’s time to go home.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet digital producer Elodie Reed @elodie_reed.

Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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