A joyous potluck took place on the Laney College campus over Labor Day weekend, but it wasn’t because the 2013-2014 school year had begun. It was in celebration of the first ever harvest of the garden started last spring on the Laney campus.
Beginning a little over a year ago, Laney partnered with the local office of the International Rescue Community (IRC) on their “New Roots’” program. The project brought together Laney and the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI), which uses the land as a community garden where refugees and immigrants can continue their land-based traditions of food production, and build community.
“The ‘New Roots’ program, within the IRC, is an initiative that basically opens doors for new immigrant communities, refugees, and others in the Oakland community (Phat Beets and PUEBLO) to access land and water to continue their agrarian traditions,” said Zack Reidman, an organizer from the Oakland IRC office.
The Oakland IRC office serves approximately 300 refugees a year, who mainly come from Cambodia, Bhutan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. The IRC helps them get jobs and get situated before connecting with groups like CERI, which assists the refugees build community through many different means.
The new garden at Laney is one of these ways. Many of the people that CERI works with come from farming backgrounds and can easily get depressed when they arrive in the US by the lack of contact they have with the land.
“People get a good portion of their food from the garden,” a mental health worker with CERI explains, “and at the same time, they get the sense of empowerment that comes from literally changing their environment…to reflect who they are.” The garden allows them to literally put down new roots here.
While this garden isn’t specifically for or by Laney (there is another garden that was started earlier next to this one), the Laney community still benefits from it. There are plans for the Wood Technology Department to build a tool box and gazebo in order to better foster community, as well as plans for the Culinary Arts Department to contract with the garden for some of the food used in The Laney Bistro.
The garden was meant as a space for Laney students and members of the greater Oakland community to build community together, to learn from one another, to work together, and to share with one another. If you want to volunteer, contact CERI at cerieastbay.org. If you want to take a gardening class, contact Doug Bruce, Biology Department, at email@example.com.