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New Roots Community Gardens
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We are thrilled to be partnering again this year with Wasatch Community Gardens on a virtual version of their 2021 Urban Garden and Farm Tour. In this special series of videos, we’ll be showcasing some creative, experimental and downright beautiful urban gardens and farms in the Salt Lake City community. Come with us as we take a virtual peek over the fence into our neighbors’ backyards!

 

New Roots Community Gardens

Our last stop on our Urban Garden and Farm Tour is at Harmony Park Garden, a community garden for both Wasatch Community Gardens and New Roots gardeners. Gopal, a New Roots gardener, gives us a tour of his garden plot, while New Roots Community Garden Specialist, Sierra Govett, tells us about the New Roots program. 

New Roots is a project of Salt Lake City’s International Rescue Committee (IRC), a non-profit organization that provides assistance and resources to refugees in helping them resettle and thrive in their new home and communities. New Roots is a food and land access program for refugees and new Americans. The goal is to nurture and cultivate nutritious foods and cultural heritage, while providing farm and garden access, garden resources and assistance, as well as fresh, organic food sources to refugee families and communities. 

Check out the video below to take a peek into Gopal’s deliciously intriguing garden plot as he shows us what he likes to grow and what he does with these mealtime staples. Also learn more about the successful New Roots program! 

A Garden to Grow Tradition

Before we get into the success and reach of the IRC’s New Roots program, we first wanted to jump into Gopal’s New Roots community garden plot. Gopal and his family are from Bhutan and carrying on traditional cuisine and culinary practices is an important part of their everyday life. Many of the vegetables, seasonings, and spices used in the family meals are grown right in his community garden plot!

Gopal has been a New Roots community gardener at Harmony Park for four years. His plot is roughly 4 feet wide and about 20 feet in length, and is equipped with drip irrigation set on a timer. He typically grows tomatoes, cucumber, okra, daikon root, potatoes, cabbage, mustard greens, pumpkins, long bottle gourd, and a variety of different eggplants, beans, and peppers.

New Roots' Harmony Garden

Harmony Park Community Garden

Growing Vegetable Staples

Gopal loves fresh vegetables, and enjoys trying new varieties and experimenting. He told us that he loves eating fresh cucumbers, using potatoes in curries, and making “pickle,” which in Nepali cuisine is a side dish with a base of onion, chili pepper, oil, salt and cilantro. Gopal likes to add daikon radish, saag and the occasional tomatoes to pickle. He’ll also preserve some of his garden vegetables by fermenting and drying them.  

In all his garden goodness, he shared with us some of his garden staples he regularly grows and incorporates into family meals. 
 

Thai Chilis, Capsicum annumm. 

These small plants produce a lot of chilis, which might be why Gopal prefers them. “Chilies are like everyday life for us. Without them we would have no taste,” says Gopal. He’s growing about a dozen of these small Thai Chili plants in his garden plot, but still buys more at the Sunnyvale Farmers Market. 

Thai chilis in Gopal's garden.

There are over 70 varieties of Thai chilis. We couldn’t determine the specific variety Gopal is growing. No matter the specific variety, these tiny chilis pack a punch! Thai chilies range between 20,000 to 100,000 in Scoville Heat Units, depending on variety  — the common jalapeño pepper ranges from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units, which means this tiny little pepper can be up to 15 times hotter than a jalapeño!

Gopal says Thai chilies are normally ready to pick as soon as they take on their blazing red color, but he’ll also pick and eat them when they are green. Gopal says he’ll typically add 4–5 of them in a curry dish, but if eating them fresh with food, he’ll add just one or two chilies. 


 African Eggplant, Solanum aethiopicum. 

There are many different African eggplant varieties, and depending where you are in the world, they each have a different name. As a group, African eggplants are referred to as bringle, brinjal, garden eggs, bitter balls, mock tomato, bitter tomato, or Ethiopian eggplant. 

African Eggplant

African eggplants being sold at Sunnyvale Farmers Market.

The small fruits can be white, yellow, green, or red and have smooth, glossy outer skin with a crunchy pale inside that becomes tender when cooked. Similar to tomatoes, they can be prepared and eaten many different ways; fresh, pickled, dried, or cooked in stews and sauces.

Gopal grows 2 varieties of African eggplant in his garden, but like Gopal, we weren’t able to determine the exact cultivar for one of them.

Note: New Roots supplies and grows the African eggplant seeds and seedlings for distribution to their New Roots gardeners and farmers each year. The original seed source was from a Burundi New Roots farmer who supplied seeds!  

The ribbed, green variety that Gopal grows is called N’goyo, Goyo Kumba, or bitter balls, and are often harvested when they are still green. The fruits of this variety are quite bitter and starkly different in flavor from the more commonly grown Italian or Japanese eggplants.

Gopal told us the smooth, egg-shaped variety is the more popular of the two.  But Gopal doesn't have a preference and enjoys eating both. He’ll often cook the green, bitter N’goyo in a curry dish with potatoes. We weren’t able to get Gopal’s recipe for this dish, it might be a family secret, but we found a Nepali curry dish with potatoes and African eggplants you might enjoy trying here
 

Saag or Mustard Greens, Brassica rapa.

These easy to grow, leafy greens, which Gopal calls saag, are a type of mustard green with a somewhat pungent flavor. New Roots supplied gardeners seeds for Carolina Broadleaf Mustard, so this is likely the variety that is growing so beautifully in Gopal’s plot at Harmony Park. Like African eggplant, this versatile vegetable can be prepared, cooked, and eaten in many different ways. 

Saag or Mustard Greens, Brassica rapa.

Saag or mustard greens in Gopal's garden. 

Gopal usually grows a row of these saag leafy greens, and prepares them in a variety of ways. He will cut the leaves and cook them in a stir fry. He’ll also dry the leaves and prepare a traditional food that he’ll add to stir frys, curries, soups, and stews. Called ghundruk in Nepali, Gopal prepares the dish by cutting fresh saag leaves and drying them in the sun; he’ll then cut the dried leaves up and add them to a container with other ingredients. He’ll then let it ferment for two weeks to 18 days, after which he’ll take the fermented vegetables and dry them once more. Another dish, called sinki in Nepali, is made with daikon radish and prepared in the same way. Gopal tells us in the video, sinki will keep for a couple of years! 

Gardening for the Whole Family

Gopal loves the communal aspect of Harmony Park Community Garden, and being able to get outside, garden, and chat with other gardeners from around the community. Gardening has not only been a source of readily available organic foods, but an activity Gopal and his whole family enjoy. His father-in-law has a plot adjacent to his, while friends from his community also have garden plots at Harmony Park. 

Gopal

Gopal at Harmony Park Community Garden.

New Roots, A Path to Gardening Success and Fresh Food

Gopal and his family are one of roughly 150 refugee families participating in the New Roots community garden program! But New Roots isn’t just about community garden plots, as Sierra Govett, the New Roots Community Garden Specialist explains. The program has three tiers: the community garden plots, two farms, and three farmers markets where the farmers can sell their produce. Each tier supports refugees in farming and gardening, accessing healthy foods, and building community.

New Roots has 12 community garden sites throughout the Salt Lake Valley. Five of the 12 sites are exclusively for refugees and new Americans. The other seven, like Harmony Park Garden, are in partnership with Wasatch Community Gardens. Many of the community garden locations, including the Sunnyvale Farmers Market, are in neighborhoods the United States Department of Agriculture considers a “Food Desert,” meaning there is limited access to fresh food for the neighborhood’s residents, many of whom are low-income.

Squash Trellis in Gopal's Community Garden Plot

Squash that Gopal Grew!

Hard-to-Find Seeds and Starts

Three times a year New Roots participants are offered seeds, and seedlings are provided for crops such as tomatoes and African eggplants . Most of these seeds and starts are rare, and not what you would typically find at a local garden supply center, but vegetables that would be culturally familiar and desired by New Roots participants. The goal is to ensure New Roots gardeners have the best chance at successfully growing what they enjoy cooking and eating. 

New Roots’ Sunnyvale Farmers Market

The Sunnyvale Farmers Market provides a venue for the New Roots’ refugee farmers and gardeners, local food vendors, and community partners to promote organically grown, ethnically diverse foods. In addition to the fresh produce, the market includes a food pantry, fruit from the Green Urban Lunchbox, free kids lunches from the Utah Food Bank, and activities for kids. You can check out the Market on Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. from June through October. 

What Gopal doesn’t grow in his garden, he can find at the Sunnyvale Farmers Market. He usually goes every weekend, where he enjoys buying cheap, organic produce. He told us there’s no comparison to the fresh foods sold at the farmers market and what he sees at grocery stores.

Squash, okra, and produce at Sunnyvale Farmers Market. 

The Sunnyvale Farmers Market is also part of the Double Up Food Bucks program. Market staff exchange EBT/SNAP dollars for farmers market tokens and match the amount a customer intends to spend up to $30. For example, when a customer chooses to spend $30 from their EBT card, they will receive an additional $30 in Double Up Food Bucks to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables at the market.

Aside from the fresh food, Gopal enjoys the bustle and buzz of the market. He’ll strike up a conversation with a vendor on how they prefer to prepare and cook a veggie or leafy green, or how they use a particular spice or seasoning. He’ll often meet friends there and mingle with other folks from the community. 

Beans being sold at Sunnyvale Farmers Market.

Try Something New! 

For more information on New Roots and how to get involved, visit their website here. We hope this video and blog have inspired you to get outside and try growing some new vegetables in your own garden. 

Thank you for joining us in our Wasatch Community Gardens’ annual Urban Garden and Farm Tour! We hoped you enjoyed the videos and learned more inspirational tips and tricks on gardening. Feel free to leave comments on our Urban Garden and Farm Tour videos and let us know if the information you learned here has motivated you to explore some traditional Nepali dishes, like the popular Ghundruk jhol, or Ghundruk soup!