New Roots for Refugees cultivates hope in a corner of the metro 

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"To see our farmers from Burma get picked up in Juniper Gardens and then drive them through Mission Hills to the Brookside Farmers Market — they would ordinarily never be in Brookside. But they're there and providing a service. There are people there that just love to get their food," Pollock says.

The land is helping farmers find their place.


Sitting on a black-leather couch with her granddaughter, Angel, balanced on one knee, Maku Gurung is surrounded by family. Gurung's husband, Nar, who can't work because of a bad back and diabetes, sits next to her in the townhome they share with her son and daughter-in-law. There are happy pictures on the walls, smiling relatives with arms around shoulders. But there are no pictures of Bhutan, the homeland she hasn't seen in more than two decades.

"She likes it here, but she loves her homeland," says Bishnu Rai, Gurung's daughter-in-law, who is translating for her on a recent Friday morning.

Nestled between India and China, Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom that has been celebrated for its decision to adopt a goal of "Gross National Happiness" in lieu of a gross national product. In 2006, Businessweek listed Bhutan as "the eighth-happiest nation on Earth." But that hasn't kept its citizens from leaving, and its refugees have often been troubled. The Atlantic published a disturbing article in April of this year, noting the high suicide rate of Bhutanese refugees resettled in the United States — 20.3 per 100,000 people, a rate well above the U.S. average of 12.4.

Gurung, 48, says she had a happy childhood. She grew up in the southern part of the country, with a garden in sight of the Himalayas. She milked the cows in the morning and tended to the rice fields after that. Her family farmed. But Bhutan was riven by ethnic conflict before she could take her place in the family tradition.

In the 1980s, the country sought to hold a census that would fix the definition of citizenship and stop immigration from bordering Nepal. As protests and arrests made news in cities, Gurung's family decided to leave. She says the king said they couldn't stay in their home.

She walked for two days through the jungle to India. Her family was turned away at the border and spent another two days on a bus to Nepal, part of a stream of 107,000 refugees over the next decade. Her family settled in a camp run by the United Nations' High Commission for Refugees.

"In Bhutan, she had her own private home and garden," Rai says. "In Nepal, she had no home but had a community garden."

She lived in a bamboo-and-thatch hut for the next 18 years, until the Nepalese government agreed to issue exit permits that would allow refugees to leave the country beginning in 2008. Two years later, the United Nations approved her application for resettlement and sent her to Spokane, Washington. After a year, she was able to come to Kansas City to live with her son. A friend in the Bhutanese community told her about New Roots; in April 2011, she began farming at Juniper Gardens.

"The garden gave her a chance to learn many things and make friends," Rai says. "She loves being able to talk to people and take home money and fresh vegetables."

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