Rice Bowl grants help expand refugee garden at Tukwila parish

  • Written by Mary Louise Van Dyke
  • Published in Local
Seeing vegetables and fruit growing brings life full circle for these refugees who fled their countries of origin and are plunging their roots into American soil. Photo: Courtesy Paul Hardin Seeing vegetables and fruit growing brings life full circle for these refugees who fled their countries of origin and are plunging their roots into American soil. Photo: Courtesy Paul Hardin

TUWKILA – In the early morning, natives of countries such as Burma, Bhutan, Nigeria and Laos arrive at St. Thomas Church in Tukwila to work their 300-square-foot plots in the Namaste Community Garden.

“Gardening is good for health,” said Bhutan native Dal Diyali, who survived life in a crowded refugee camp in Nepal for 18 years before arriving with his family in Seattle in 2008.

Some 100 families grow vegetables and fruit in the garden, which is partially supported by a Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl grant from the archdiocesan Missions Office, according to St. Thomas parishioner Paul Hardin. (This year, the office awarded grants to more than 260 food-related programs around the archdiocese.)

Namaste gardeners
Ganga Rasially, Man Biswa and Padam Biswa show their pride in being able to work in the Namaste Community Garden on the grounds of St. Thomas Parish in Tukwila. Photo: Courtesy Paul Hardin

On his family’s plot, Diyali and his 10-year-old son grow mustard greens, eggplant, beans and pumpkins. Gardeners can grow “cultural products that they have a hard time finding in the grocery store,” Diyali said.

The Namaste garden was created in 2011 by International Rescue Committee in Seattle in partnership with the Tukwila parish and other community organizations, according to Hardin. The garden’s name comes from “namaste,” a “respectful greeting” used by residents of India, said Maggie Gonzalez, Hispanic coordinator at St. Thomas.

Once the land was donated by the parish, parishioners and community volunteers measured and dug the plots, installed a water system, and fenced the perimeter. Expansions in 2015 and 2016 allowed more people to start gardens, said Hardin, who volunteers as the liaison between the parish and the gardeners.

Participants pay $30 a year per garden plot, while this year’s $450 Rice Bowl grant is covering the cost of water and a portable restroom, Hardin said.

Many refugees, particularly elders, can feel isolated and frustrated because they can’t contribute to their families’ well-being, he said. “It gives them a great deal of solace to be in that garden and to be able to produce food for their family.”

gardeners chat
Gardeners pause to chat as they tend their garden plots at the Namaste Community Garden at St. Thomas Parish in Tukwila. Photo: Courtesy Paul Hardin

Programs such as the Namaste Community Garden benefit from the annual CRS Rice Bowl program during Lent. This year, more than $470,000 was collected in the archdiocese, with 25 percent — nearly $119,000 — distributed to programs in Western Washington, said Kelly Hickman, assistant director for the archdiocesan Missions Office.

The office received a record number of requests this year, Hickman said, with grants approved for efforts such as food pantries, gardens, meal programs and Society of St. Vincent de Paul conferences. Most grants were $450, and Hickman often hears from groups about how the money has helped them. 

“When we get the thank-you notes from our recipients, it’s one of the best parts of my job,” Hickman said.