Back to the Land: Refugee Farm Programs Succeed (NYTimes)

Patricia Leigh Brown of the NYTimes today writes about the refugee farm program that began in the Merrimack Valley with the late John Ogonowski of Dracut, who was killed on September 11 when his plane was hijacked. Read her West Coast-based report that references the origin of the program here. Thanks to regular reader and contributor Charlie Nikitopoulos for the tip about this article.

The country’s pioneering refugee farm program, in Lowell, Mass., was founded by Tufts University and continues to thrive.

Visoth Kim, a Khmer refugee from Cambodia, now 63, farms land in Dracut, Mass., owned by the widow of John Ogonowski, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Mr. Ogonowski, whose ancestors were Polish immigrants, made land available to Hmong and Cambodian refugees, teaching them modern irrigation techniques in exchange for fresh vegetables.

Mr. Kim, who witnessed mass starvation in Cambodia, losing a brother, refers to his two-acre plot as “my plenty.” His fellow farmer Sinikiwe Makarutsa grew up in Zimbabwe and now grows maize on land rented from a local church. She made enough money to buy a tractor and rototiller.

Ms. Makarutsa was inspired to farm, she said, after tasting supermarket tomatoes. She uses the Zimbabwean phrase “Pamuzinda” to describe her seven-acre plot.

Roughly translated, she said, “It means ‘where you belong.’ ”