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Gurung is in her third year in the program. Pollock says she is the farm's hardest worker. She also works as a package handler for FedEx. She has a sister in Colorado, a daughter in Virginia and another daughter in St. Louis. She's hoping that they can be closer together in the future. Gurung calls her father, her brother and her sister, who are still in Nepal, once a month. When they ask about life in Kansas, she tells them that everything is relative.
"She says it's better than there," Rai says.
Gurung is part of KCK's changing landscape — one that New Roots' leaders envision as a patchwork of urban farms and farmers, strengthening the community.
"We're seeing blight in Wyandotte County or vacant housing turned into this vibrant place where people are working and contributing to the health of their community," Pollock says.
Off 14th Street and Central, there's a Bhutanese community garden where 40 families have small plots. It's one of three planned community gardens, each centered on a specific ethnic group. The nonprofit Somali Bantu Foundation just received the deed to a property on Third Street from a private donor. The Somalis there are cultivating a patch of ferns (they eat the curls) and blackberries. Another garden, run by Burmese farmers in partnership with a church on Parallel Parkway, is expected to break ground in a few weeks.
"We're changing the makeup and fabric of a neighborhood," Pollock says. "Built space affects kids. When you integrate farms and gardens into neighborhoods, it changes the dynamic."
While those community gardens are intended to help New Roots identify its next crop of farmers, five working farms in Kansas City, Kansas, also have launched in the past two years. Gaw purchased the land in 2011 that would become Ki Koko (which means "two sisters" in Burmese), and her daughter-in-law purchased the adjacent home.
Sitting on the carpeted living-room floor of her daughter-in-law's house, Gaw says if she ever returned to Burma, it would be to visit, not to stay.
"She's happy here because she has more freedom," her daughter, Beh Say, translates. "Back there, she'd be in jail. But it's hard not to think about the way they had to leave."
A 60-year war between the Karen people and the Burmese government left the sisters' family with little choice six years ago. They could flee into the jungle or stay and be killed. They left behind the garden where their grandfather had grown okra and rice and areca nuts.
The U.N. brought Lay to the United States in 2007; her older sister followed a year later. Their husbands both found work at Triumph Foods.
In the sisters' first year with New Roots, their crops struggled and so did their families. They had entered a new culture, one in which the food was packaged. Gaw warned her family not to eat cereal, fearing it was dog food. In time, they came to find catfish in the Missouri River, and they learned to like Kelly Clarkson. But nothing came easily, so they worked harder.
"There, they would just spread the seeds, and it would grow," Beh Say says. "Here, you really have to take care of it."
Now they care for broccoli and beets and tomatoes, seed packets stored in an empty ice-cream tub to remind them what they're growing. They sell at the Overland Park Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and at the KCK Greenmarket on Mondays.
The fruit trees at the entrance to Gaw's lot are her retirement plan. When she's older, she wants only to tend the orchard. She's 52, and that future seems far off. Her days start at 6 a.m. and end close to 10 p.m. She wants to see New Roots grow, especially because her younger sister is a new farmer in the program.