From refugee camp to co-operative urban farm
The seed of an idea for unique co-operative urban farms in Winnipeg can be traced all the way back to a refugee camp in Cameroon and a former agronomist running from the civil war in his home country of Chad.
Raymond Djimasbe Ngarboui was entering his sixth year living in a Cameroon refugee camp when a special UN delegation visiting his camp stopped to talk with him. They had heard some amazing stories about a refugee who was leading the effort to set up cottage industries in the camp, teaching other refugees how to be self sufficient, how to buy chickens, sell eggs and start small garden plots to grow produce. In a place where just finding clean water was difficult, setting up egg production and farming was astounding.
Not surprisingly the UN delegation asked Raymond if he’d like to find a new country to call home. In 2005, Raymond came to Manitoba where he settled on a life in community development work, transferring his success in the refugee camps to help recent immigrants to Winnipeg. He noticed some things about his fellow immigrants.
“For many months it is hard to get used to the food we have here. People would go to specialty stores to buy foods from tropical areas that they know from back home,” Raymond said adding that it wasn’t always fresh and didn’t taste as good. “And the people were not used to parks and playgrounds so they would remain inside their apartments. But in the summer they needed a place to go.”
Raymond put these two needs together and helped launch the Immigrant Integration and Farming Worker Co-op where recent immigrants can get their hands dirty, get out of their apartments, grow their own food and sell tropical vegetables to other immigrants at a summer market in Central Park. Inspired by this co-operative solution, ACU granted the farmers’ co-op $4,500 to buy shared equipment like a rototiller, trailer and gardening tools.
In the first year the co-operative went from 16 to 28 families. Today they seed, weed and harvest produce from urban plots at the University of Manitoba’s Rainbow Gardens; at a St. Norbert plot; in St. Charles; and in a few private back yards.
“We have a few different nationalities so they all get to practice their English,” says Raymond who is currently the co-op manager.