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New Roots for Refugee Community

With the rising Indianapolis skyline to the north, community members chat as they harvest colorful garden vegetables. Bright red tomatoes and green beans rise from the ground alongside green spiky produce and a variety of peppers traditionally grown in Burma (Myanmar).

Fleeing from military dictatorship and religious persecution in the Chin State of Burma, many Chin refugees have made Perry Township, on the far south side of Indianapolis, their new home. Since 2000, the Chin community has grown to more than 20,000 people.

Linda Adams, Purdue Extension – Marion County Community Wellness Coordinator for the Nutrition Education Program, serves limited-resource communities looking for access to proper nutrition and opportunities for physical activities. Adams identified the large refugee Chin community in south Indianapolis as a population in need based on census data showing high poverty.

Adams and her Extension colleagues worked with members of the community and partnered with The Chin Center to identify ethnically preferred foods, many of which weren’t available locally.

“This led us to ask if there is a way to make their preferred produce more available. One way to help people feel comfortable in a new community is to have the food from their home country. These discussions also showed a strong community desire to create a community garden,” Adams says. “They were interested in learning about the Indiana climate, timing of planting and harvesting, compost and pruning of trees for fruit growth.”

The community garden property has over 100 fruit trees that weren’t producing because they hadn’t been pruned properly. In early 2020, the Marion County office held two workshops demonstrating how to care for the trees so community members can harvest fruit to eat and share with a local food pantry. Adams and Brooke Alford, Marion County Extension Educator for urban agriculture, also introduced the community to pawpaw, an Indiana native fruit tree.

Many of the vegetables preferred by the Chin community need to be started indoors in March to ensure successful growth in Indiana’s climate. To begin the garden, Purdue Extension’s first workshop taught community members how to start and care for seedlings to transplant.

The Chin Training Garden was built in April 2020 and ready for planting in May. Purdue Extension hosted small work parties following COVID safety guidelines to teach community members about planting, timing, plant selection, irrigation, weed control and more. Workshops and support from Extension continued into 2021 as the training garden transitioned to an allotment garden with 13 Chin families managing their own plots.


Pastor Hre Mang of the Falam Christian Church of Indianapolis, was instrumental in bringing Purdue Extension and the Chin community together to begin the training garden.

“Most of the Chin people come from farming backgrounds, including myself. When we do the farming and touch the ground, it puts me back to my history. In the place I grew up, we had no store; we had to grow and eat our own products,” says Hre Mang. “Gardening is good because people can come together, share history and connect with one another. It helps with isolation and we can save money too.”

The Chin Training Garden is full of produce traditionally grown in Burma, like sour leaf, alongside produce common to Indiana. The community gardeners intend to continue working with Extension to increase production by learning about cool-season crop planting and successive planting through the summer for a consistent produce harvest.

Program Impact:


654 servings of food were harvested in 2021.

Sour leaf and spicy peppers are the most popular crops.


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