Govt Spends $1.5 Million To Teach Refugees, Immigrants About Farming

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Refugees and new immigrants are learning how to farm in America, thanks to a series of new grants awarded to Christian charities.

Two grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), each totaling $894,392, will focus on placing refugees in agriculture training programs in Kansas and  North Dakota.

The Kansas program seeks to provide refugees with access to farmland through non-traditional leases, teaching the refugees to farm and manage their own businesses.

“The long term goal of New Roots for Refugees is that refugees will farm independently on owned land or through lease agreements at a scale that they desire, achieve and manage,” according to grant summary for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, which received $360,433 from the USDA.

“Most refugee farmers arrive in the US with only basic record-keeping skills and without knowing how to acquire land,” according to the project details. “Through non-traditional land leases, savings requirements, and financial management training and support, farmers will develop the financial and production records that prepare them for taking out loans, acquiring land and achieving business independence.”

Catholic Charities has worked to train refugees around Kansas City, Kansas since about 2004, Meredith Walrafen, program coordinator for the New Roots Refugee program told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The refugee process, though it’s positive, is pretty overwhelming,” Walrafen told TheDCNF. “It’s really wonderful to work with people who were farmers in their own country, who come from communities that were focused on agriculture.”

Catholic Charities works to resettle refugees across the country, but so far, the Kansas City project has not been used to assist Syrian refugees. Most of the people in the program are from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Bhutan, though a few have come from east African countries like Somalia, Burundi and the Sudan, Walrafen said. (RELATED: US Records Highest Muslim Refugee Immigration In 14 Years)

Some funding comes from private donations and partnerships with other non-profits, but the USDA grant is “definitely a great addition to our funding,” Walrafen said. “It’s going to allow us to hire some part time staff that’s really going to be excellent. We’re also hoping to buy some new training materials, and we’re hoping to expand our training program to help people understand what it’s like to start a farm from scratch.”

The Foundation for Agricultural and Rural Resources Management and Sustainability (FARRMS) received $513,959 to recruit a training program for refugees, minorities, women and veterans, into a community garden training program. FARRMS will conduct the programs in the Fargo, ND, area, and will have the assistance of Lutheran Social Services to expand to recruitment to refugee communities, the project summary says. FARRMS did not immediately return TheDCNF’s request for comment.

Recent immigrants in New Mexico and Texas can receive help from the National Immigration Farming Initiative, Inc., through a USDA grant.

NIFI received $513,959 “to assist at least sixty (60) immigrant, beginning farmers and ranchers to start or improve their agricultural enterprises,” focusing on the Paso Del Norte area, which covers southern New Mexico and part of western Texas, according to the project summary. NIFI did not immediately return TheDCNF’s request for comment.

All three grants are part of the USDA’s, “Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program,” which will spend a total of $17.9 million on training programs, forums and research to bring more more people into the aging farm industry. (RELATED: Govt Spends Half A Million On ‘Culturally Appropriate’ Food Stamps)

“We see new and beginning farmers and ranchers as a critical force in sustaining food security, food safety, and many other aspects of agriculture that will become even more challenging as our global population grows,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

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