New Roots Garden

Project Description:

In partnership with the International Rescue Committee (with whom we have a small collaboration already), students will work to establish and develop a community garden for area refugees (primarily Burmese), tentatively named “the UMBC New Roots Garden.”

Students in this project module will study the status of political refugees in the U.S., especially those who are relocated in the Baltimore region, through the local IRC chapter.  Students will also learn about various refugee and immigrant garden initiatives around the country, and in particular, the IRC’s national “New Roots” initiative which seeks to improve nutrition, food security, income, and mental health by connecting refugees with community gardens and supporting their efforts at food entrepreneurship.  Students will learn how decisions about external partnerships and land use are made at UMBC. Depending on the status of this initiative, students may undertake direct advocacy with UMBC decision-makers.  If UMBC approval is achieved, students will also support the physical development of the garden, create educational/outreach materials for the broader UMBC community to understand the project, engage in outreach to faculty and programs here at UMBC to solicit participation and support, and work to develop social support and exchange with the refugee gardeners and the UMBC community. Students in this project will be working with lead student Rosa Rada (who interned with the IRC and initiated this project last summer).

Food system issue that this project seeks to address: 

Food security of the external UMBC community, particularly the refugee population. In general, the project will work to engage this population more directly with the process of growing food as well as unify various groups through food as a cultural commonality.

Project Goals/Objectives:

If granted permission for this project, the goals are as follows:

-Create a sustainable community garden for refugees

-Ensure greater food security for these refugees

-Facilitate a cultural exchange between refugees and the UMBC community

-Allow for endeavors: research, internships, course components, service learning 

Associated Learning Objectives:

-Gain an understanding of the complex hierarchy and functioning of a government institution (a public university in particular) and what role food plays within it

-Develop the skill of effectively organizing students, faculty, and community members to promote food justice in the community

-Gain a wider breadth of knowledge as to the obstacles and success stories of attaining food justice (entailing acquiring specific knowledge and vocabulary on the subject)

-Gain a deeper understanding of food justice issues in the Greater Baltimore area and how they compare to issues faced in other geographic areas or nationally

-Identify and become familiar with key resources and allies in the food justice battle.

-Gain an understanding of what it would take to change the food injustice we witness and experience, specifically how policy can make such a change

Actual or potential partners/collaborators:

-INDS Department

-Health Administration and Policy Program

-Social Work Department

-Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program

-Honors College

-Timmy Global Health Organization

-Various alumni

Current and potential stakeholders or interested parties (both on and off campus):


-UMBC community: faculty, staff, students

-Non-profit refugee organizations

Skills and knowledge that will be useful to the project:

-Knowledge of the Baltimore area food scene and potential non-profit, government, and business sector allies

-Knowledge of the refugee resettlement process and refugee experience

-Knowledge of how to use interpreters

-An ability to effectively, sensitively, and appropriately communicate with the refugee population

Resources (books, AV, people) for the project:

Other non-profits in the city committed to food justice or serving refugees, businesses and foundations that award grants, local government, former refugees, and community members.

Budget and budgetary considerations:

As of December 2014, the IRC verbally committed to a full funding of the project including physical garden construction materials and interpreters.

Probable communication/outreach needs and opportunities:

Communicating with the refugee population, most whom speak very little English, will pose unique challenges. Engaging this population with the UMBC and broader community may also be difficult.

Preliminary needs and issues concerning the long-term sustainability of the project:

UMBC administrative and landscaping support will be needed to start the project as well as to ensure it lasts. Continued support by the IRC via energy and funds will be necessary to achieve sustainability.

Likely or possible challenges this project may encounter:

-Lack of administrative approval and support

-Unexpected changes within the IRC Baltimore office

-Lack of approval for use of land on UMBC property

-Refugee transportation/means of getting to UMBC safely


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