Thistle Whistle is a 15-acre Certified Naturally Grown farm in Hotchkiss Colorado.

The Thistle Whistle

How Digging in the Dirt Improves the Health of Immigrants in America

Growing food at Thistle Whistle Farm helps them learn language skills, too.

As anyone who’s traveled to a foreign country can attest, food can vary greatly from land to land.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that when some immigrants move to America, their health declines because they don’t have access to the fresh produce that enriched their diets in their native country.

In rural western Colorado, a unique program is solving this problem by helping immigrants learn English while they grow healthy food for their families — and it’s giving the farmer who hosts them some new notions about what crops to grow, too.

In the town of Delta, immigrants from countries including Mexico and Myanmar who sign up for ESL classes learn about a program at the Thistle Whistle Farm, located near Hotchkiss, Colo., about 45 minutes away. The immigrants help out at the farm and in doing so, get tips on how to cultivate and grow their own food. Plus, they can practice their English writing skills while taking notes on gardening techniques.

Their ESL and farming teacher, Chrys Bailey, tells Laura Palmisano of KVNF, “A lot of what has brought them to the program is that they are noticing that their families and themselves are beginning to suffer from health issues that they had not suffered from before and they are making the connection that some of their food choices are not serving them.”

Some students bring their children to Thistle Whistle to help out, filling idle summer hours with a productive and fun activity. “My kids enjoy coming to the farm and they like it because they learn about plants and how to grow some vegetables,” Yadira Rivera tells Palmisano.

The participants then take their new found gardening skills back home, planting their own vegetables, even if the only space they have is a couple of pots.

The program, which has run for three years through a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, needs funding to continue.

Meanwhile, Mark Waltermire, the owner of Thistle Whistle Farm, has benefitted from the program too. “They’ve suggested or requested I grow a lot of vegetables and herbs I haven’t heard or tried before and I’ve been introduced to all sorts of fun, new varieties and fun new vegetables that I would otherwise not have been exposed to. So it has changed my diet too. I eat all sorts of things that I previously never knew about.”

MORE: Bringing Bhutanese Village Life to Refugees in New Hampshire

 

 

Source: KNVF

Jenny Shank is a fiction writer and journalist in Boulder, Colo. Her first novel, “The Ringer,” won the High Plains Book Award. Her stories, essays, satire and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, McSweeney's and The Guardian.