Healing Gardens: How Tikkun Farm is Helping Refugees

Pastor Mary Laymon and her husband, Greg York, are the owners and spiritual force behind Tikkun Farm in Cincinnati, Ohio. They’ve welcomed Bhutanese refugees onto the land to farm, and there’s far more than food growing. There is a growing community and the refugees experience a kind of healing as they tend the land.

Tikkun Farm

The summer garden is full at Tikkun Farm, where Bhutanese refugees find a connection to the community and the earth as they work the land together. Photo credit: Tikkun Farm/Mary Laymon and Greg York

Tikkun Farm’s three-and-a-half acre property is tucked into suburban Mt. Healthy, near Cincinnati, Ohio. Tikkun is a Hebrew word that means to repair or restore. Pastor Mary Laymon and Greg York bought the former dairy farm in 2010. While they are slowly fixing the buildings on the land they have welcomed Bhutanese refugees to farm it.

Tikkun Farm’s mission is to be a place of healing, restoration and repair cultivated through meaningful work and spiritual practices. Mary tells how the farmers arrived:

“For six months I had been trying to raise funds to hire a farmer who would grow food on the land and teach the neighborhood children about farm-to-table food. This was in August 2016, and the growing season was well under way but I had received only half the funds I needed. So I prayed for another solution to my farmer need.

“The next day I received an e-mail asking if I would welcome Bhutanese refugees to farm the land. It was the most unusual answer to prayer I had ever received. Sheryl Rajbhandari, founder of Heartfelt Tidbits, a non-profit working with refugees, brought five brothers and their families to look at the land. They asked if they could begin digging the next day!

Tikkun Farm

The Bhutanese farmers arrived with picks and cleared the land by hand. Men, women and children of the families worked together and the land was ready for planting. Photo credit: Tikkun Farm / Mary Laymon and Greg York

“The entire family did indeed arrive the very next day with hand picks. There were grandmothers in traditional dress, four-year-old children with child-size tools, mothers, uncles and brothers. They cleared the land in seven days, adding compost as they planted a fall crop of mustard.”

GROWING MORE THAN FOOD AT TIKKUN FARM

Their first spring planting included mustard, lettuce, sweet peppers, pole beans, pumpkin, cucumber, potatoes, anise seed, chili peppers (five varieties, almost half their garden!), coriander/cilantro, okra, marigolds, globe amaranth, nettles (medicinal for blood pressure), mint, tomatoes and bitter gourd/melon.

In the summer of 2017, neighbors whose property abuts Tikkun Farm gave the farmers their back lot to use, which more than doubled the size of the garden, creating 11 new family plots. After clearing the honeysuckle, burning the brush and trimming the branches to increase the sun exposure, they planted the buckwheat that they harvested in February 2018. They ground its seeds into flour to make bread.

Laymon says, “There are no restrictions on what the Bhutanese farmers can grow. One of the farmers wept as she shared how much it meant to her to be able to farm like she had before she was removed from her homeland. She told me that being removed from the land was like being taken from her mother. That farming here and growing what they choose helps them feel close to home because they cook food that is familiar.”

In the summer the women arrive every afternoon. As their children play, the women carry buckets of compost (50 each day) to till into the garden. In teams, they water, plant new crops, fill their bags with the day’s harvest and then head home to cook dinner.

Tikkun Farn

The women are the backbone of the farming community at Tikkun Farm, arriving daily to tend to the plots while the men are at work. The men join on the weekends and as their free-time schedule allows. Photo credit: Tikkun Farm / Mary Laymon and Greg York

“As I watch them,” says Laymon, “I know these women are the farmers. I see their joy and the way they love the land even on the hottest days. This work gives them life.” She explains that the farmers’ presence has grown connections between the immigrants and the local community. When they first arrived, the farmers were concerned the neighbors wouldn’t like them, but the opposite is true. Their presence has created a greater sense of community on the street. One neighbor walks through their garden exploring what they’re growing. The other neighbor is the one who donated land to them to enlarge their garden.

“These beautiful people bring peace and joy to our farm,” she says. “What a gift they’ve given us.”

Patty Craft is content director for Horticulture. Visit tikkunfarm.com for more info. This article appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Horticulture which you can download here.

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