Asian Garden Provides Taste of Home for Local Refugees

At the East Dallas Community Garden, refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, and Somalia have grown foods from their homelands to feed their families and communities.

Blocks away from the cranes and flashing lights of Victory Park sits a three-quarter-acre patch of land from another world. At the East Dallas Community Garden (more commonly called the Asian Garden), for the past 20 years, refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, and Somalia have grown foods from their homelands to feed their families and communities. They pay $30 a year for a 10-by-30 plot on which they cultivate Chinese broccoli, water spinach, edible loofah, Thai round eggplant, Kafir lime, and lemongrass. The garden is one of six in Dallas supported by the nonprofit Gardeners In Community Development. Its head, Don Lambert, says, “In a sense, this is the only real farmers market we have. It is truly farm to table.” (For more information, visit www.gardendallas.org.) The farmers you see on the following pages are the last of their generation. Many came to this country with vegetable seeds in their pockets. Their children and grandchildren don’t have the same connection to the land. But as long as there are refugees, the Asian Garden will be a place where tradition continues to be cultivated.

Green Pepper: The green pepper has a mild flavor, similar to that of the banana pepper. It is frequently fried with beef or chicken in Cambodian dishes.
Sophorn Moeul, 63
“Living here is okay,” says Sophorn, a Cambodian grower who tends water spinach and green onions, among other plants. “But I’m sad, because I miss my sister and brother who are still in Cambodia.” The food she grows feeds her family of nine children and 18 grandchildren, all of whom live in Dallas.

Nang Ting, 66
Nang’s health has declined in recent years. “She’s a remarkably positive person,” says GICD director Don Lambert. “She speaks loudly and laughs loudly.” Nang and husband Sovourn have been fixtures at the garden for many years. The couple grows bitter melon, bunching onions, and water spinach.
Edible Canna: The edible canna is grown mostly in Vietnam, as well as in the Andes and southern China. The root has the consistency of a potato and is normally baked or boiled. The starch is also used to make cellophane noodles.

Bitter Melon: The bitter melon is grown widely in Southeast Asia. The seeds and pith are red when the fruit is ripe and must be removed before cooking because of their extreme bitterness. The bitter melon is popular fried with beef or chicken or boiled in soup.
Chhuen Chung, 73
Chhuen, a refugee from Cambodia, works at the garden every day. She grows vegetables such as bitter melon and water spinach. Her husband died of a stroke last September, and she wears a ring he gave her on a string around her neck. “I’m alone now. I survive by myself,” she says.

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