Harvest relationships with refugees at Knoxville garden

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A garden in East Knoxville is harvesting more than just plants. Instead, these gardeners are working to grow community. Some of their neighbors come from thousands of miles away.

The Parkridge Community Garden started about ten years ago as a way to bring the neighborhood together and become more sustainable. Bryan Alexander, a Parkridge resident, said there's not many grocery stores in the area.

Now, this garden is run by refugees part of the BRIDGE Refugee Services in Knoxville.

Nikki Eggers teaches African history at the University of Tennessee. She introduced WVLT News reporter Robert Grant to some of the refugees, who don't speak English.

“The difference is he’s safe here. In Congo there’s conflict. He could’ve been shot, people shot at home,” Eggers said. “He likes to grow tomatoes because it’s a good vegetable for your family. People cook with it a lot in Congo.”

Now some of these refugees are using these skills in the Parkridge Community Garden.

“It ties them back to their culture and allows them to use skills that they already have,” Larisa Brass, the BRIDGE community outreach coordinator, said. “And then it really helps them connect with each other and with the communities around them.”

Parkridge is home to the first BRIDGE garden. It started last year, but this year it became part of their program and has since grown with an additional seven plots helping 25 different refugee families.

Brass said the goal is to also help them sell the produce to market as well.

BRIDGE is East Tennessee's only refugee service also with an office in Chattanooga. Brass said they help up to 200 refugees a year transition into life in East Tennessee, including education, housing, employment, and learning English.

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