HOAS Senior Farming Project

 “My kids are teasing me and saying that I’m getting younger because I’m eating so well” said a recent participant from RaVE’s East African Senior Farming Project.

This population was selected for grant funding because of community need; many East Africans are under- employed due to a lack of linguistic and technical skills crucial in a competitive and worsening labor market.  The cost of healthy foods has been growing and as purchasing power dwindles, people’s diets have been suffering and their social isolation has been increasing.

Participants were recruited from Refugee Women’s Alliance sponsored Ethiopian, Eritrean and Oromo senior lunches.   Positions were stipended to work at the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetland four hours a week for eight months at $8.50/hour.  Total cost of this program was $10,000.

In keeping with RaVE’s goal of having a growing, sharing and eating component as part of each project; participants were taught with a “train the trainer model” on how to manage year round organic food production, how to share their produce and healthy cooking techniques through joyful lunchtime meals.  Planners would like to eventually include an income generation aspect that can mitigate the effects of unemployment.

Evaluation was done through talking circles with the help of professional evaluators and interpreters.  Finding included that this project helped East African seniors to:

  • Socialize through farming, cooking and eating together
  • Reduce political barriers between different ethnics groups
  • Bridge the gap between East African and American culture
  • Have a chance to work and earn money
  • Increase their physical activity levels
  • Reduce social isolation
  • Gain knowledge to work in the future on their own garden and teach others in their community on gardening skills
  • Share their experiences in the US
  • Increase the amount of produce they and their families eat
  • Improve their communication skills

Participants who did agricultural work back in Africa felt they learned to scheduled activities and perform seeding and planting and harvesting in a much efficient and more productive manner. Seniors not involved in this farming activity but part of the 35 seniors enjoying the lunches prepared by these farming seniors, are amazed by the progress their hosts have made and are asking that they too be allowed to join similar farming programs.

As put by one of the leaders of the program “This is about sharing our culture. It doesn’t matter if you are Ethiopian, African-American, or Caucasian.  We all eat.”

To see a recent report on promoting healthy eating in East African communities please visit here.  A special thanks to UW MPH students Angie Wood and Liz Burpee for their work on this report.