Sarah Sommerkamp is the program manager for Global Gardens, an initiative of Jewish Vocational Service.
The program works with refugees who are familiar with farming or gardening in their native countries as well as those with no prior knowledge.
Through Global Gardens, Sommerkamp teaches participants how to grow plants in Midwestern climates, and provides a way for them to spend more time outdoors, working with their hands, which is good for their health both mentally and physically.
Global Gardens works in partnership with the Kansas City Community Gardens which provides reduced-cost seeds, plants and organic chicken manure to the gardens.
However, many refugees in the program prefer to cultivate plants native to their own regions. One benefit to growing in the Global Gardens is that those involved get to keep one hundred percent of what they grow.
Most eat all of their crop yield, but some will sell their produce to others in their community, and that money is generally used to pay for their portion of the water bill for the garden.
Many of the Burmese gardeners accompanied Sommerkamp to the Ivanhoe Farmers’ Market to sell a portion of their vegetables this year. In the past, growers have sold at the Northeast Farmers’ Market.
Sommerkamp manages four Global Gardens in the Northeast. Three of the gardens are in the Lykins neighborhood; the fourth is in Indian Mound.
The gardeners are from all over the world; primarily Myanmar, Bhutan, Northeastern and Central Africa, and they speak many different languages.
“The biggest and most important expense of our program is interpreters,” Sommerkamp said. “If [the interpreters] don’t understand what we are saying, then the message gets lost.”
Sommerkamp, herself, is not native to Kansas City. Until recently, she commuted to Kansas City from Warrensburg, Missouri, but she moved in September 2018 to live closer to the community gardens that she manages.
Sommerkamp grew up gardening with her family and earned a Master Gardener certification through the University of Missouri-Columbia Extension in 2013.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in French with minors in International Studies and French-English translation as well as a Master of French Studies in International Development with a focus on Food Insecurity.
In her free time, Sommerkamp enjoys being outdoors, cooking for friends and family, and reading.