A Taste of Home: The Story of Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, a PORCH Partner
Pennywort juice. Fried ginger leaf. Fried water gourd. A noodle stir fry called khao soi. A rice noodle soup called kaw naw. These are some of the Karen dishes from Burma that Chapel Hillians were treated to during Transplanting Traditions Community Farm’s recent fall open house and tour.
A partner of PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Transplanting Traditions envisions a world in which all people have access to healthy affordable food, land, education, satisfying work, and a space to celebrate culture and to build strong, resilient communities. Transplanting Traditions farmers are refugees from Burma who grow beautiful, traditional Asian items like bittermelon, roselle, and long beans. Their produce enables PORCH to provide a taste of home to 120 fellow refugee families who are facing food insecurity. With grant funds from Orange County and Duke Doing Good, as well as funds raised through Transplanting Traditions’ Share A Share program, PORCH distributes these locally-grown items from May through October.
Transplanting Traditions began as a small community garden in Carrboro. The U.S. had resettled refugees from Burma around 2006, fleeing them from the world’s longest civil war. About 1,000 of them now call Orange County home. Missing the open spaces of their native land, a few of these refugees were growing vegetables at a community garden in Carrboro, told their friends, and, soon thereafter, Transplanting Traditions was born. The refugees had farmed for a living in Burma, and when they were placed in a camp in Thailand before coming to the U.S., they continued their life’s work.
In 2011, Transplanting Traditions moved to its current location off Jones Ferry Road, part of Triangle Land Conservancy’s Irvin Nature Preserve. But the space was much more modest then, consisting of a field and a barn on 1.5 acres. Today, it’s 8 acres.
The majority of Transplanting Traditions’ farmers want to make agriculture their full-time jobs. The organization provides plenty of education with regard to running a business – and navigating North Carolina’s four seasons, since Burma has more mild winters. Currently, Transplanting Traditions has five advanced farmers operating their own businesses. They lead a CSA and sell at the Chapel Hill Farmers Market and the Carrboro Farmers Market. Another eight farmers grow for themselves and their families, but they also earn income through compensation for the food that comes to PORCH and the Refugee Support Center.
Transplanting Traditions also runs a youth program that focuses on advocacy work and leadership development. In recent years, program members have advocated for Transplanting Traditions and the refugee community by telling stories with audio and visual documentaries, hosting weekly Asian vegetable cooking demonstrations at the Carrboro Farmers Market, and organizing a national youth food justice conference.
On the open house tour, Transplanting Traditions’ new Executive Director and Business Development Coordinator Ree Ree Wei, a recent Guilford College graduate, shared that she has been in the U.S. for about 15 years. She was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Her family was there for a decade, but it’s not uncommon for families to remain in the camps for two or three generations.
Ree Ree has been involved with Transplanting Traditions since 2012, beginning as a youth intern, then becoming the youth program coordinator after graduating from Chapel Hill High School.
“Resettling to this country when I was 8 years old came with both challenges and opportunities,” Ree Ree says in a statement on the Transplanting Traditions website. “I picked up English just a few months after arriving and, like many immigrant children, became the interpreter for my parents for social services appointments, the hospital, bank, and so forth with limited understanding of how these systems work and not knowing the terminology in Karen and English. I am grateful that my parents and the elders have trusted me in supporting our community through our resettlement transition. Because of the challenges of assimilation, my cultural traditions were fragmented by resettlement and as a young person I realized that there was much I didn’t know about my own culture. My involvement in the TTCF youth program allowed me to have autonomy over what I want to know and learn about my community and how to pay it forward. Since then, my heart has been with TTCF. Whatever opportunities came my way, I took advantage of, because I want to carry on the traditions and cultural practices for my generation and future generations of Karen-Americans, and for the elders to be able to recreate homes without assimilation. Taking on this leadership role as the new executive director is nerve-wrecking, but I have faith that the elders, staff, and the community will trust me in the process and will support me in uplifting the TTCF mission to radically transform how we eat, live, and make decisions as a community.”
According to Transplanting Traditions’ website, they work with 155 refugee adults and kids, who have grown over 600,000 pounds of produce to date, representing more than $780,000 in total income.
To learn more about the food they grow, sign up for their CSA, or get recipes ideas, go to transplantingtraditions.org. And please consider making a donation so that Transplanting Traditions can continue this vital work!