Tukwila’s soil nurtures their bodies, culture

Mansari Rai  tosses soil in her garden plot.  - Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter
Mansari Rai tosses soil in her garden plot.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter

They come mostly from the steep farmlands of Bhutan in the Himalayas tucked between India and China.

They know the soil – it nurtures their bodies and their culture.

These Bhutanese, along with a smaller number of refugees from Burma, have come to Tukwila, with the help of the International Rescue Committee of Seattle, to start a new life of peace and freedom.

On land belonging to the St. Thomas Parish behind Foster High School they've found the place to reconnect with their homeland and build a new community in Tukwila.

"This garden is a small piece of home for them," said Dal Diyali, a caseworker for the International Rescue Committee. "We see a piece of home in our plot; they say it like that."

That land is a community garden, now in its second season, with 66 plots that measure 10 feet by 12 feet each. Last summer was a learning experience for all, including what the refugees should plant.

Planting began a month or so later than desired in 2011, because the IRC and its partner in the project, the Cascade Land Conservancy, still had work to do to prepare the soil, build a fence and bring water to the garden.

And the cold wet spring didn't help either.

All that has changed this year.

The garden is filled with mustard, pumpkins, peas, beans, lettuce and tomatoes, all carefully chosen by the gardeners themselves. They learned what didn't grow well last year, like the corn that didn't have enough time to mature. It's nowhere to be found.

Chandra Tamang knows the soil of Bhutan, with her long background in farming.

With Dayali interpreting, she expressed the happiness she feels now that she has her own garden again, even if it is small, to grow what she grew back home.

"She is very happy to have this plot and she can produce what she feels like growing here," said Diyali, who for many years lived in a refugee camp in Bhutan.

Tamang is growing beans, pumpkins, tomatoes and lettuce. The tomatoes are for salads and the lettuce and pumpkins are cooked as a curry, Diyali said. Rice is the staple for the meal.

The garden is a source of vegetables they can't easily find at a grocery store, Diyali said.

First, they had to find the seed.

Last year, the gardeners planted seeds the garden organizers provided. This year, they bought their own. But that allowed them grow what they wanted, he said.

"They found that specific kind of seeds, especially the mustard seeds, green beans, pumpkins and pea," said Diyali.

This year, the garden expanded from 54 plots to 66 plots. Fifty five of those plots belong to families served by the International Rescue Committee. Ninety percent of those families are Bhutanese, while the rest are Burmese.

Since he was young, Bhawani Kadariya has grown his own food crops.

"He has a close relationship with the soil," Diyali said in interpreting the conversation. "He got the chance to work with soil again; that is why he is very happy."


Garden grant

DaVita, Inc., which provides kidney-care services, has given a $2,215 grant to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) of Seattle for the Tukwila community garden.

The grant is from the KTC Foundation, which is funded by DaVita Chairman and CEO Kent Thiry and his wife, Denise O’Leary, to help fund the community garden for refugees in the process of resettlement in the Tukwila community.

“This garden is a perfect metaphor for immigrants who are looking to plant their roots in the Tukwila Community,” said Ginny Clunan, program coordinator for KTC.

Work party

There will be a work party for volunteers to accomplish a number of projects at the garden on Sept. 21. Details will be available later.


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