COLUMBIA – A least 56 refugees and immigrants browsed the Columbia Farmers' Market and got acquainted with the local food community Saturday morning.
Refugee and Immigrant Day, sponsored by Sustainable Farms & Communities, is a formal welcome and introduction to the locally-grown food offered at the farmers market.
“So many of these people, in their country of origin, they may have been farmers or had open markets,” Dan Kuebler, chair of Sustainable Farms & Communities, said. “They may not have discovered the Columbia Farmers' Market yet.”
Refugees and immigrants from Burma, Iraq and East Africa attended the event.
"We want to create an opportunity to see and learn what kinds of foods we have and welcome them to our community," Kuebler said.
Each attending family was given $10 worth of tokens to spend with any vendor, tickets for free ice cream from Walk-About Acres and a tote bag filled with information about Columbia and services for children, provided by Cindy Mustard at the Voluntary Action Center.
Volunteers worked as translators, greeters and tour guides and were stationed at a welcoming tent, which was outfitted with colorful balloons.
Set Lar, 24, from Burma, attended the event with her 2-year-old daughter and other family and friends.
Lar bought produce such as cucumbers, water spinach and kaffir lime leaves. She also purchased and tasted blueberries for the first time, mixing them in her honey ice cream.
Lar said she liked the farmers market and plans on coming back in the future.
Caryn Boeschen, development coordinator for Refugee Immigration Services, said many refugees and immigrants come from a farming background and could benefit from associating with vendors at the farmers market.
These refugees and immigrants could potentially find part-time or seasonal employment through local growers and farmers, said Don Ginsburg, an organizer of the event and local real estate agent, who has also rented homes to refugees from Africa, Burma and Cuba.
“It’s hard for some of the farmers to find labor,” he said. “It would be a great opportunity for both the farmers and for the refugees.”
Kuebler said Sustainable Farms & Communities will be exploring ways to help connect immigrants to local farmers.
Martha Quentin, case worker for Refugee and Immigration Services, said the farmers market is also an opportunity to learn about American culture and meet some local people.
At the inaugural event last year, about 50 people attended, and Kuebler said Sustainable Farms & Communities expects to make the event annual.