Burundi is a long way from Iowa – 12,947 kilometers (8045 miles) separate their respective capitals of Bujumbura and Des Moines. But despite this distance, both are regions with many farmers, and there is a certain bond that connects farmers around the world. Iowa, an American state known for its agricultural production, has recently welcomed a number of immigrant farmers from around the world, including Burundi.
With a grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI) has been working with refugee farmers from many countries to grow crops in community gardens, with the goal of helping them to work towards establishing profitable farming businesses.
LSI’s immigrant and refugee incubator farm program in Iowa has a number of components, including “land availability, connections to refugee and immigrant populations, curriculum development, educators and trainers, farm equipment, farming skills and marketing.” While Iowa has a different —and colder — climate than the home countries of most of the refugees in the program, LSI’s program is helping them to adjust their farming knowledge to their new home.
With the help of LSI, refugees involved with the program have started a number of community gardens around the Des Moines area and are working to start more. LSI is also working to connect refugee farmers to opportunities to purchase land, but this may be challenging in the near future. One of the biggest potential difficulties faced by aspiring farmers in Iowa, whether immigrants or not, is the high cost of land. As Iowa’s KCRG recently reported, average land prices in Iowa have jumped by more than nine percent just since last September.
The program’s more than 140 participants are farmers who originally came from Burundi, Sudan, Bhutan, Burma, and elsewhere. A number of these farmers presented at the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference in February.
LSI’s immigrant and refugee incubator farm program may be recent, but it continues a long tradition of small farmers from other parts of the world starting new lives and new farms in Iowa. As generations of farmers who emigrated to the state have in the past, refugees from Burundi and elsewhere are now planting hope in Iowa’s soil.