Turunesh Gura, 78, piled blackberry bushes into a wheelbarrow.
She was a farmer with her husband back in Ethiopia. Now an urban farm in south Seattle is helping her and other East African seniors find community in a new land.
With support from the Green Seattle partnership, Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Tilth Alliance, the group has been gathering weekly to work at the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands.
In recent years this old plant nursery has been transformed, in part through the work done by these East African seniors.
“They don’t go out they don’t go to senior centers or community centers — because of the language barrier,” Michael Neguse said.
"So what we’re trying to do here is take them out of their houses, to come here to meet other people. To meet other ethnic groups and other languages and come and work together.”
Neguse came to the United States from Eritrea more than two decades ago. His warm and welcoming demeanor suits his role as a community organizer through Seattle Neighborhood Group and this eight-acre urban farm is an important part of that work.
Neguse points to a thick stand of willows shading a creek. It’s part of the farm’s wetlands. “You see these trees? These trees were planted by our seniors,” Neguse said.
That was three years ago, but the fast-growing trees have done their work, beating back invasive weeds. Weeds will always come back, but so does this group of a dozen or so seniors, every Friday for a couple of hours.
“God knows what will happen, but we still keep working,” Gura said as Michael Neguse translated.
Before coming to this country, Neguse said, some of these seniors were teachers, headmasters and police officers. Some fled violence.
This work is an opportunity to make connections in their adopted country and to practice English with native speakers.
“You don’t have to be perfect in English. Just have determination and people will come and help you,” Neguse said. “This gives them a chance to get out for fresh air, to meet other people to learn something new like growing food in this kind of weather.”
The farm is a busy place. All kinds of community groups and school children come here to work and learn.
The food grown on the farm is shared. The seniors always leave with a small stipend and a bag of food. Today it’s collards and chard. Some of the best days, Neguse said, are when they can eat a meal together under the trees.
“Our aim is to integrate our seniors with other groups,” Neguse said. “Come to know each other and work together to bring harmony in the community.”
The kitchen used to be portable. New construction on the property will make that a lot easier. This weekend, two new outbuildings that include a kitchen and classroom will open to the public.