Nearly 20 years later, Boise garden program continues bridging gap for Idaho refugees

Global Gardens began in 2004 as a community garden project. Since then, it has helped refugees start their own businesses.

By: - October 13, 2023 4:30 am

Safiya Abdi became involved in Global Gardens in 2011. Her business, “Safari Farms” has made her a familiar face to local residents who frequent the Boise Farmers Market and seek out her carrots, beets, cherry tomatoes and kale. (Courtesy of Jordan Unger)

Safiya Abdi came to Idaho when she was 19 as a refugee of the Somali civil war in 2005. She had lived most of her life in a refugee camp in Kenya, where she started working from a young age to help support her single mother.

Like many Idaho refugees, Abdi found full-time work when she arrived in Idaho, but in 2011, she also started learning how to plant, harvest and sell her own crops through the Idaho Office for Refugees’ community garden program, Global Gardens

Now her business, “Safari Farms” has made her a familiar face to local residents who frequent the Boise Farmers Market and seek out her carrots, beets, cherry tomatoes and kale.

Originally from Somalia, Safiya Abdi grew up in Kenya where she started working from a young age to support her family. (Courtesy of Jordan Unger)

Over the years, Abdi has grown her farm while also working a separate full time job and raising seven children in Boise. Despite her busy schedule, Abdi said she works two jobs so she can give her children a better life than her own.

“I grew up with a single mother, and we grew up very poor,” she said in an interview. “I want to be able to give my kids what I didn’t get when I was little. I want to push them to work hard and show them that the more hard-working you are, the better you will be in the future.” 

While her farm business has become her main source of income, Abdi said her dream is to continue growing her farm. 

“Everything I do on the farm is my favorite,” she said. “Having my customers, being in the fields, being in the sun — that’s my exercise,” she said, laughing. “I love being a female farmer. I love helping customers, and I love bringing fresh veggies to my house.”

The origins of Idaho’s Global Gardens program

Established in 2004, Global Gardens was created to make the transition of moving to a new country easier by giving agricultural opportunities to Idaho refugees. 

Idaho Office for Refugees spokesperson Holly Beech told the Idaho Capital Sun that the program first began when the office saw refugees coming to Idaho with farming skills, but they did not have access to land. 

Oct. 28 is the last outdoors Boise Farmers Market of the season.

“That was a gap that was filled by churches or the city or other partners saying, ‘we have land you can farm for free,’ and now these farmers have access to land,” she said. “It’s helping fill a gap and making sure those skills don’t go to waste. It also helps the local community because there’s a new source of fresh produce.”

Beech said that Idaho refugees, like Abdi, are often multilingual and have a strong, entrepreneurial work ethic. 

“Everything has been taken away from them, and so they have a desire to work hard and to provide for their family here and back home,”  she said. “We have heard from employers reaching back out to us asking if we have people needing work because they’ve seen the strong work ethic.”

Programs like Global Gardens were created to bridge the cultural, linguistic and economic gap that many refugees coming to Idaho face.

Patty Haller was the assistant director at the Idaho Office for Refugees in 2004 when she helped start the program, which was originally a community garden project. 

Haller said in a phone interview that the project was originally intended to help the older refugee population who had a harder time adjusting because they are less likely to seek employment or immediately learn a new language. 

“When it started, it was not focused on people earning money,” she said. “It was just really for sustenance for the individuals and a way to get them fresh air, exercise and learn language in a more comfortable setting.”

Boise refugee agencies did not have existing community plots to accommodate refugee gardeners, so partnerships with Ahavath Beth Israel Congregation and the Girl Scouts of Silver Sage provided plots of land to refugees, she said. 

The largest challenge to the program was the need for manual labor and materials to maintain the garden, as well as farming expertise. Twenty years later, the Idaho Office for Refugees would receive enough grants to fund its own staff to work under the program. 

Global Gardens today

Since 2004, the Global Gardens program has expanded to six farm plots of land throughout the Treasure Valley with over 100 community garden places.

In addition to selling crops at the farmers markets, farmers sell seasonal vegetables through the Community Supported Agriculture program. 

The Community Supported Agriculture is an 18-week subscription to Global Gardens produce. To learn more, visit the Global Gardens website

The program has grown so much that Global Gardens farmers sell produce to local grocery stores and restaurants. 

Refugee farmers pay a $200 to $300 fee at the beginning of the year for a fifth of an acre, and that comes with water infrastructure, property maintenance, packing facilities, and access to technical help from Global Gardens staff. Farmers can then plant, share and sell their crops as an independent business owner.

“We keep the infrastructure system in place around them,” said Ben Brock, program manager for Global Gardens, in an interview. “The other thing that we do is provide a lot of technical support, whether it’s helping them understand the Boise market for fresh produce, picking the right kind of varieties out there and the right kind of quality.”

All of the farming is done on donated land, and farmers use organic practices.

“The only thing being put on these plants is water,” Brock said, adding that the program is an example of urban agriculture in Idaho.

Located on the Boise Bench, this farm plot is one of six across the Boise area. Farmers use organic practices on their crops. (Mia Maldonado / Idaho Capital Sun)

According to the Global Gardens website, some of the restaurants who use produce from the program include: 

  • High Note
  • Petite 4
  • Bittercreek Ale House
  • Diablo & Sons Saloon
  • Red Feather Lounge
  • KIN
  • Fork
  • Wild Plum
  • Lost Grove Hyde Park
  • Lost Grove La Pointe

“Boise is a city with agricultural roots, but you don’t see the agriculture in town because it’s all been pushed to the outskirts,” he said. “In the few places where you do see agriculture in the city a good deal of it is being worked by folks that have recently resettled.” 

Global Gardens receives grant funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and KeyBank. 

A look at Idaho’s refugee population over the years

In 2023, more than 1,200 refugees came to Idaho, and refugee arrivals are projected to be 1,050 in fiscal year 2024, according to the Idaho Office for Refugees website

The top countries of origin for Idaho refugees in fiscal year 2023 include: 

  • Congo, 558
  • Ukraine, 292
  • Afghanistan, 132
  • Syria, 62

But Idaho first entered the refugee settlement arena during the Cold War era. 

In 1975, former Gov. John Evans established the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program in response to the need for all states to participate in the resettlement of refugees fleeing communist regimes in Southeast Asia. In the 1980s, those Idaho programs would eventually expand to include Eastern European refugees fleeing oppression in the Soviet Union. 

According to the Idaho Office for Refugees website, refugees who arrived in Idaho in the 1980s included individuals and families fleeing Vietnam by boat, Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge’s policies, political dissents, oppressed workers and persecuted Christians and Jews from the Soviet Union, among groups from many other countries. 

In the ‘90s, Idaho resettled more than 5,000 refugees, of which more than half of those included people from Bosnia and Herzegovina fleeing violence and ethnic cleansing. The other half of refugees arriving to Idaho came from other European countries, Africa, East Asia, Central Asia and the Caribbean, according to the Idaho Office for Refugees website. 

The number of refugee arrivals has since then fluctuated throughout the 2000s. 

In September, Boise was redesignated as a certified welcoming city by Welcoming America, a national nonprofit that distinguishes U.S. cities that have created policies and programs dedicated to immigrant inclusion. Boise is one of 18 cities in the U.S. with the distinction.

Beech said that resettlement programs enrich the Idaho community.

“The refugee programs give us a chance to create the kind of society where we want to live,” Beech said. “I want to live in the kind of world where if I was being targeted, and if I was in danger, strangers would open their arms to me and help me out if they had a safer place. Because we have the resettlement program here, we’re able to be that kind of society, which I think has always been our values to look out for each other and help each other to work hard.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that the last outdoors Boise Farmers Market is taking place Oct. 28, then it will move indoors for the winter at the Shrine Social Club in downtown Boise.


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Mia Maldonado
Mia Maldonado

Mia Maldonado joined the Idaho Capital Sun after working as a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman covering stories related to crime, education, growth and politics. She previously interned at the Idaho Capital Sun through the Voces Internship of Idaho, an equity-driven program for young Latinos to work in Idaho news. Born and raised in Coeur d'Alene, Mia moved to the Treasure Valley for college where she graduated from the College of Idaho with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and international political economy.