I recently got an assignment with Oakland Magazine to photograph an interesting community garden at Laney College in Oakland. The fascinating story, by Anna Mindess, is about the New Roots program run by the International Rescue Committee and you can read it all here. It gives planting space to refugees to grow food together and then share it with their families, and to sell extra produce to keep the program going. Many of the refugees are expert farmers with years of experience growing in their homeland. The assignment had a second level, that I loved and that was following one farmer home, hearing her family’s story and tasting the cooking.
Chhaali Mainali graciously invited Anna and I to sample her cooking and share a meal with her family. We learned how the Mainalis, originally from Bhutan had to flee their country when the King of Bhutan started a “one nation, one people” campaign in the 1980s. Nepali-speaking minorities like the Mainali family fled to refugee camps. They spent 18 years in a Nepali camp with 80,000 other refugees where they had such a tiny space they could not grow vegetables without having them stolen by desperate neighbors. The camp provided minimal rations, but anything fresh was so expensive that no one could afford it. Her husband was able to hold down jobs in India and save money so eventually the family was able to come to United States. Now Chhali and her fellow farmers now grow bountiful yields on the the fifth of the acre plot at Laney College, enough to share a with family and friends. Read more about the IRC here and check out Anna Mindess’ food blog here.