For the past two years, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) Cleveland Field Office has allowed refugees to plant roots in Cleveland… literally.
Through its Flagship Farms program, refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Syria, and other countries of origin have sown crops on the city’s west side, creating a global garden in Cleveland. Last year alone, the program’s 70 participants raised crops that yielded about 1,000 pounds of fresh produce–some of which is sold at the Tremont Farmers Market.
The garden is just one of many services of USCRI Cleveland, an organization that helps with all aspects of resettlement, from navigating American culture to making essential community connections that lay a foundation for success.
While many of the program’s participants farmed in their home countries, the agricultural program places a focus on education — partnering with The Ohio State University to host a 10-week course on basic gardening skills and, more specifically, how to garden in the ever-changing Cleveland climate.
“It’s such an awesome program because we can teach, but participants also learn things from each other and get connected to others through agriculture. That’s the really special thing about this program, you’ll have one plot tended to by someone speaking Ukrainian and the next plot over is speaking Swahili – yet they’re still collaborating with each other,” says Rachel Goforth, USCRI Development Associate. “It really allows for a connection-based experience and provides a sense of community amongst our refugees.”
With the program’s budding success, the participants began to brainstorm additional skills they would find beneficial for both family and business.
One common theme arose: chickens.
Says Kyla Werlin, USCRI’s agricultural program coordinator, “Our clients expressed a want for more: to learn more and to produce more.” Werlin adds that the ”chickens were really a no brainer. We can talk about chickens from both the meat and eggs component and, what’s great is that chickens are allowed in Cleveland per our zoning.”
Based on staff knowledge of the topic, the group also decided to add bee-keeping to the farm.
Only one thing stood in the way of the program’s clients and new chickens and bees — funding.
“Grant proposals are typically very strict and don’t allow for a lot of creativity,” explains Werlin. “We knew that adding chickens and bees was a good step for the farm and for our clients, but we needed a funder who saw that potential and knew the greater impact it could have on our clients.”
The group began researching funding opportunities and came across The Awesome Foundation’s Cleveland Chapter, part of a global micro-grant organization committing to “advancing the interest of awesome in the universe, $1,000 at a time.”
Local architect and community activist Allison Lukacsy-Love founded the Cleveland Chapter in spring 2019 and now leads a board of 25 trustees. All grants are funded through quarterly donations of $100 from each trustee.
“It’s a way for myself and the trustees to feel like we’re investing in the community in a way that has an impact and is also very tangible–we get to vote on the projects we want to fund and see pretty quick turnaround times in their progress,” says Lukacsy-Love. “It’s a great way to invest in our community without being a philanthropist who has endless funds available.”
Each quarter, the trustees come together to review applications, discuss projects, and vote on grant recipients based on evolving personal and community interests. Each chapter of The Awesome Foundation defines ‘awesome’ in its own way —they don’t have to follow national granting guidelines.
“With the urban farm, we saw a sustainable impact. With USCRI building the farm experience to have this outsized impact of teaching agricultural skills and providing mentorship, in addition to giving people skills to even start their own businesses–you could really see the impact of the grant positively spiraling,” she explains.
The $1,000 micro-grant was awarded to the Flagship Farm in March. In just three months, USCRI Cleveland was able to make its chicken coop dreams a reality. Chickens are currently at the farm, awaiting their first batch of eggs, and four beehives are swarming with activity — all thanks to the flexibility of The Awesome Foundation’s funding.
“Their openness facilitates much more creativity than you’re afforded in other spaces. With that flexibility, it is incredibly valuable and makes the $1,000 worth much more than just $1,000,” Goforth says. “To us, that $1,000 just provided endless opportunities for our clients.”
You can help the efforts of USCRI Cleveland by making your own donation of perennials, tools, and gift cards for lumber. For more information, contact Kyla Werlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in applying for a grant from the Cleveland Chapter of The Awesome Foundation? Check here.