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Roots Garden: A History in the Making

City Heights Roots Garden is one of the original sites of a national community garden project. The City Heights Garden is comprised of 89 plots and has been going strong for over a decade. Originally designed to provide resettled refugees families with land space to grow produce as a means of income from the sale of their organic produce. As many newcomers gain skills and integrate into their new homeland, they find other means of supporting their families. Yet they continue to invest time and energy in the Roots Community Garden. Beyond a means of generating an income, it is common space where they can welcome new immigrant/refugee families as they were welcomed and supported upon their own resettlement.

Supporting refugee and immigrated residents to establish roots in the community is a key aspect of the Roots Garden and Roots Farms projects. Community gardeners tend the soil and plants using the skills honed from experience crop growing in their homelands that they were forced to abandon. Gardeners learn practical skills from each other, noting similarities and differences in techniques depending upon their experiences in their home agriculture. Working side by side they adapt their skills and knowledge to the characteristics of the local soil in their new neighborhoods. The garden serves as a common space to gather, feel productive and gain a sense of purpose. It also serves as a gathering space to cultivate a sense of belonging of community membership. Camaraderie among its gardeners allows them to share their resettlement experiences with others who can truly understand the burden and sadness of leaving home. Their special bond is a type of kinship used to encourage support each other to take advantage of new opportunities with optimism and to celebrate accomplishments (in and beyond the garden space) with joy. In a similar way, the plants in the garden and the gardeners themselves are both growing roots, producing fruit, and thriving.

I recently visited the Roots Garden in City Heights a richly diverse neighborhood of San Diego that is home to many refugee families. The community garden is in an urban area, surrounded by local commerce and adjacent to a very busy highway. Yet, once you enter the garden itself it is a peaceful and serene place. As a collective the garden is a cohesive plot with vegetation of varying hues of green and yellow peppered by shots of vivid color creating a multi-sensory landscape. As you walk around the individual gardening plots, the specific features of the plants including differences in size (large and small), shape (climbing vines, low bushes, tall stalks), texture (rough, smooth, prickly) and scents (pungent, sweet, citrusy) come into focus. The garden offers a range of types of plants as diverse as their gardeners. I couldn’t help but recognize the connection between the natural ecosystem where diverse plant life coexists and the human ecosystem that supports and cultivates the diversity of gardeners’ human life to thrive.

To compliment the above City Height Roots Garden photo essay, I generated a creative text combining original poetry with lyrics quoted from songs about refugee/immigrant life. My goal is to honor the resilience and achievements of refugee/immigrant families of this community.

Growing Roots

War, draught, economic recession

Causing stress and depression

No relief, no hope

Creates drama

Deciding to stay or leave

Families living with trauma

I might be in this bed for the last time

All I really want is some peace of mind

Seems like the blind still leading the blind

Rumours of war on the borderline

When we ask a question, no one knows

Tell me, what the hell are we fighting for? (1)

Families have no voice

Families have no choice

It doesn’t matter that you’re a landowner, no concern for documents

Forced to leave by politics and corrupt governments

Leaving their beloved homeland

Heading for a new land

Fleeing their native country

Means risks to their safety

See us go, as they go, across the borderlines

I can feel the fear hang heavy on the water

Glinting sharply with the pale moonlight

Mothers hold on tightly to your children

The waves are breaking violently tonight (2)

You don't ask why our farms were abandoned

Or of our choice between vida y muerte

Or why we would take such a gamble

Por las esperanzas del Norte (3)

Refugee families seek a new home

To call their own

No longer need to roam

The journey is hard

Waiting for officials to process your life and process your card

One by one

We will come

You make me wait

At the gate

To see your face again

Walked a thousand miles (4)

New faces, world citizens building unity

New places, creating a sense of community

New sights

Purpose and thriving in City heights

Pain and distance can hearts harden

Softened by tending the soil

Healing through natures toil

City Heights Roots Garden

A refugee Eden

Sharing their burden and sadness

Supporting their healing and encouraging their gladness From leaving cherished homeland

To growing community roots in their new land

Special bonds of friendship

Dirt therapy is a kinship

Through this sacred space

I have found a place

Made me a professional

The garden gave me a name

From varied heritage but the same

United with one another

As sister and brother


YouTube video available on 14 Songs about The Refugee Experience Lyrics available on Genius

1 Follow Me by Moxi Raia and Wyclef

2 Émigré’ by Alexa Diane

3 Vayan Al Norte by Eliza Gilkyson

4 1x1 – by Cold War kids



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