Refugees Replanting After Irene

Vermont’s African and Asian political refugees are among the countless farmers still repairing their land and replanting crops in the wake of last year’s Hurricane Irene.

Touching down at the end of August, Hurricane Irene was one of the most damaging tropical storms to hit the East Coast in recent memory. Nationwide, the storm inflicted $15.6 billion in damage, making it the sixth costliest Atlantic storm in history (putting it behind massive storms like 1992’s Hurricane Andrew and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina).

In Vermont, the storm ravaged the state, flooding nearly every major river and stream (with some rivers reaching 100-year flood levels), inflicting significant damage on bridges and roads, and damaging farms across the countryside. The flood damaged 450 farms in the state (a total of about 10,000 acres altogether).

Among those hit by the flood were roughly 100 African and Asian refugee farmers living in Vermont. The state is home to a growing refugee population, currently about 1,200, hailing from countries like Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, and Bhutan.

While most refugee farmers do not rely on farming for their sole financial support, the practice carries important cultural and social ties, particularly for many families who depended on managing small gardens in refugee camps in Africa and Asia. Despite these hardships, however, many refugees have developed a resilient optimism, expressing their willingness to repair their fields and continue cultivating ties to their native lands through agriculture.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer