Corvallisite Grows Fresh Veggies for Immigrant Families

When families move to the U.S. from other countries, they face many obstacles, but one of the less obvious ones is a lack of culturally appropriate food and a sense of community. Sandie Cheung, founder of Corvallis Backyard Community Supporting A-Gap noticed this while participating in work with the Multi-Cultural Center as well as while babysitting for families working on getting their citizenship.  

“I got to know some of the families there and learned that food was hard and what was hardest was the lack of connection and relationship here in the country, for that short amount of time that they are here, either because their spouse is doing a higher degree or work, and food in most cultures outside of the United States is a very comfort connecting thing.” Cheung said.  

When COVID-19 hit, many of the families she had gotten to know, were scared. Some of them had only arrived in January, and they didn’t know how to go to the grocery store or where to get fresh food like produce. Backyard CSA began when Cheung reached out to the community for resources and was given access to 19 beds available for planting.  

With her six-year-old daughter and one-year-old son in tow, Cheung planted and farmed all 19 beds, almost exclusively by herself. There was help from a few volunteers at first, but those faded away as COVID restrictions eased. “We would pack up all our camping gear and all our food, set up a tent and we would be there all day, just turning everything over, planting and weeding,” Cheung remembers. 

Once the food started to grow and produce, she began distributing it to the families. It was all standard food, so the challenge for the families became learning how to cook it. In the future Cheung hopes to be able to provide food that is more accessible to immigrant families. “Eventually we want to be able to deliver food that is culturally familiar,” she says, “like certain eggplants and certain toys for Asian families.” 

Cheung has taken a two-month break for the winter, but she has big plans for the future of Backyard CSA. Her efforts have been rewarded with a Northwest Farmers Union Grant of $2000, which was matched by two local community members for a total of $6000. She hopes to gain volunteers, and possibly a farmer who would be willing to provide part of their land for the program so that all the beds will be in one place, making it easier for her to farm them herself. 

Cheung also plans to look into hosting three cultural literacy events a year, which would allow people from all cultures and walks of life to come together and learn about each other foods and lives, while doing something like cooking or planting. She says it can be difficult for people of different cultures to communicate or interact with one another, and these events would help bridge that gap.  

For more information about Backyard CSA or to get involved, you can join the Corvallis Backyard CSA Facebook Group  

By Kyra Young

Photos Courtesy of Brooke Scott