In 2009, the International Rescue Committee helped Ram Khatiwoda resettle in the United States from a refugee camp in eastern Nepal, where he’d lived for 17 years after fleeing his native Bhutan. Working as a Nepali interpreter at local hospitals, he saw a lot of unhealthy, unhappy people. “I asked the doctor, ‘Why is this? This is supposed to be the best country in the world. Why are people suffering?’” Khatiwoda says. Unhealthy food was one answer.
Today, Khatiwoda is the garden and market specialist for IRC’s New Roots program, which oversees community gardens in West Sacramento and Arden-Arcade. Some 65 gardeners and 14 farmers work the land. “Farmers,” as they’re called, have larger plots of land and sell their produce at the market, while “gardeners” work small plots and grow for themselves. The farmers also sell more than 1,500 pounds of produce every week to Yolo Food Bank.
The farmers partnered with a New York-based hot sauce company, Small Axe Peppers, which sources peppers at premium prices from more than 100 community gardens around the country, giving farmers a reliable cash crop. In 2019, New Roots sold 1,000 pounds of peppers to Axe. In return, the company sends back bottles of hot sauce for sale at its farm stand.
At the New Roots gardens, refugees can grow fruits, vegetables and herbs from their own countries and cultures—things often not available at local supermarkets. Among the produce grown there: gandana, a type of leek grown in almost every province in Afghanistan; black-eyed peas, which are used in many Iraqi dishes; and Dalle Khursani from Nepal, one of the world’s hottest chilies.
A new garden is being built in Arden-Arcade’s Bohemian Park with plenty of plots available. “We have a great opportunity here for people to come and enjoy,” Khatiwoda says.
New Roots operates farm stands at Kuchenu Farm, 491 Regatta Lane, West Sacramento, Saturdays 11 a.m.–3 p.m., and at Bohemian Park, 3130 Wright St., Tuesdays 5–7:30 p.m.