NEW ROOTS: Story Hill Farm offers refugees chance to grow food, build community

  • Story Hill Farm on Story Hill Road in Dunbarton. The Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success recently achieved land ownership and the ability to provide tenure and equity to New American farmers with support from the community. Courtesy

  • Spring clean up awaits at Story Hill Farm in Dunbarton on Thursday. HANNAH SAMPADIAN / Monitor staff

  • Hannaford presents a check to support ORIS in their efforts to achieve a fundraising goal and enable the purchase of the Story Hill farm land. Courtesy

  • A refugee farmer tends to crops at his plot on Story Hill Road in Dunbarton. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Sunday, March 04, 2018

There’s still seedlings to be planted, winter storm waste to rid and tractors to be repaired, but those caring for the land at Story Hill Farm in Dunbarton are prepared to see both crops and business prosper come springtime.

At the 56.8 acre farm, 14 refugee farmers tend to their own plot of land, which are equally divided into sections. Through the Manchester-based nonprofit Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, refugees are able to farm their own crops and keep 100 percent of proceeds.

A two-year fundraising effort came to an end in December when the organization reached their goal that enabled them to purchase the land at Story Hill Road from current owners, Martha Hammond and Judy and the late Jim Stone of Dunbarton.

Now, with hopes to have the closing finalized by the end of this month, the farmers and ORIS directors are looking forward to their longtime plans of expansion.

“This side will be the shining face of the farm,” said Andrea Bye, ORIS program director, as she pointed to the side of the plot bordering Stark Highway South.

The envisioned future entrance has been newly cleared of trees, and permits have already been approved for an access road, farm stand and parking lot directly off Route 13, Bye said.

And as the new season approaches and ORIS officials address legal and zoning technicalities, refugee farmers stay busy adjusting fee structures and divvying up management roles.

For Sylvain Bukasa, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, managing time becomes more difficult during warm months. He likes being out in the sun in the summertime, he says, and while he usually enjoys visiting the park, involvement in the program has limited his trips there.

“I don’t have any more time to go to the park so I go to the farm,” Bukasa said. “I work there, and then during the time when we start selling, from the farm we go to the market, so its kind of busy.”

Bukasa moved to Manchester in 2006 with his wife and son. Since then he has worked full-time at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, keeping a small garden to provide produce for himself and his family.

In 2011, Bukasa became a part of the Fresh Start Farms program, a branch of ORIS that works with New American farmers to sell their locally-grown crops for profit.

“They told us if you want to do this and make some extra money, you can, because ORIS was trying to help people start a small business,” Bukasa said. “From there we started growing and now we (have) kind of become a family.”

Refugee farmers of Somali Bantu, Rwandan, Burundi, Congolese and Bhutanese backgrounds have plots of farmland on Story Hill Road in Dunbarton.

The growers provide about 40 different crops that are consumed mostly by American customers and 20 different crops consumed mostly by members of the refugee community. Shopping the produce, customers will find zucchini, cucumber and arugula, as well as other vegetables native to the refugee’s home country.

“A big one that’s unique and common across the farm is African eggplant or garden egg,” Bye explained. “It’s the same plant as an eggplant and just has a smaller fruit, more orangey-yellow than purple.”

She said okra is also popular across the different cultures, and then in the Bhutanese community they have some fun looking vegetables such as bittermelon, which she says is like a spikey looking cucumber.

“We have some (vegetables) from Congo, and what we call the sour sour, it’s a vegetable that gets very sour, rich in Vitamin C, I have that,” Bukasa added.

And ORIS directors make sure to help with compost orders and mechanical assisstance whenever possible.

On Thursday morning, farm manager Tom Paulsen was at the farm, starting up the generator and lending his hand in seasonal preparation for the seedlings.

“Starting right now we should be able to start planting and atleast get some seedlings planted, bring in water tanks,” he said. “Everything out here is very labor intensive, people have to hand water its not like you can just come out here and push a button.”

The farmers continue to work hard, and each year has brought expansion to the organization.

In recent years, farmers have been selling to customers at several farmers markets across New Hampshire, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, SNAP accessible neighborhood farm stands in the greater Manchester area, and through Fresh Start Farms’ community supported agriculture, or CSA.

A CSA is where people pay up front for a season’s worth of vegetables. Anybody can sign up from a CSA workplace, community members, church groups, hospitals, or anywhere that has a human resource department or employee wellness programs. Every week the person or company can choose a pick up site to receive their box of vegetables, Bye said.

For the first time this year, pick up sites will expand to Concord, with a location at Kimball Park, on Mondays.

In addition to the added pick-up site, ORIS received a grant this year to expand farmland locations into Concord.

“Now were working with 12 new refugee farmers who have never done this as a business in the U.S. before,” Bye said, “So we will have 26 farmers in total selling through the Fresh Start Farms Program.”

A farm-to-table dinner event with the farmers’ local crops being served is scheduled for Aug. 4 on the Dunbarton farm. The event will fundraise for future projects waiting for completion on Story Hill Road.

To learn more about ORIS or Fresh Start Farms and how to donate, visit refugeesuccess.org.