It is a late summer afternoon in the Western Suburbs of Chicago and the World Relief Africa Senior Group is meeting for community support. This group is comprised of women and men who have come from areas of violence and instability. Although resettled, the need consistently arises for better food security and access. When handed a basket full of local fresh vegetables, a woman enthusiastically declares “Karibu, karibu, karibu!” -- Swahili for “Welcome, welcome, welcome!”

Many refugees who are resettled to the Chicagoland area come from agricultural backgrounds. The initial resettlement process can be jarring and disorienting for individuals and families. In DuPage and Kane Counties, World Relief helps refugees move from dependence to independence and dignity.

Recently, World Relief has partnered with Renewed Roots Initiative, a volunteer-based nonprofit micro farm dedicated to increasing access to heirloom-quality, locally-sourced, and sustainably grown foods for those who need it most. Located in Aurora, this partnership provides food security and supplementation for local refugees who find accessing food, specifically fresh produce, difficult.

Through Renewed Roots’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Family Sponsorship program, several World Relief families now have access to fresh-grown produce. CSA is a locally based food distribution system that creates a direct link between farmers and consumers. There are currently four families that pick up their produce each week at the Renewed Roots farmers market. Renewed Roots also brings produce baskets to the World Relief office to make it easier for elderly clients to obtain fresh food.

A second element to the partnership is access to a community garden. Renewed Roots offers free access to land for families and individuals resettled by World Relief. So far, three plots have been provided to Burmese refugees. Many newly resettled refugees live in crowded apartment complexes without access to land for growing food. Having been relocated from their agricultural lives in Burma, this land provides an opportunity to do something that reminds them of home. They now have the ability to grow their own food, including fruits and vegetables that may not be available in a local American grocery store. Next year, members of the Africa Senior Group can look forward to plots with raised beds so they can stand while working and reap a harvest of their own.

Looking to the future, World Relief and Renewed Roots plan to expand their partnership to serve more families, like Asili and Abdiqafar, a couple from Somalia who have four children under the age of four. Asili and Abdiqafar met in a refugee camp in Kenya where they waited through seven years of interviews and paperwork before being approved for resettlement in the U.S. During that time they had almost no access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The food provided for them in the camp consisted of rice, flour, oil, and sometimes beans or lentils. They finally arrived in Aurora last December, and already both parents work while a relative looks after their children.

When asked what their favorite foods were, now that they have access to everything they lacked in the refugee camp, Asili and Abdiqafar spoke passionately back and forth in their Somali dialect. But they were not debating their favorite food. “My whole life is now in this room,” Abdiqafar finally said in English, looking lovingly at his wife and children. “My dream is for my children. I hope they will be doctors or teachers, or work for the government. My life was wasted in the refugee camp, but not theirs. Food does not matter compared to that.”