Julie Riley began working with refugees at a quaint Mountain View garden at McPhee Park, officially named Fresh International Gardens, in 2007. This year she has been working with a group of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese, who fled their home country of Bhutan after years of poverty, repression and civil war.
"Some of the people I have talked to, who are a part of this program, have said 'men came with guns. They burned my house. I had to flee with two babies on my back,'" said Riley.
According to Riley, the program provides opportunity for "Anchorage's newest residents" to make change, practice their English and become part of the local community.
On one July day this summer, Anita Gurung and her family were among the gardeners. With smiles on their faces, they pulled root vegetables out of the ground to sell at a local farmers market
When the gardeners harvest the plants, they listen carefully to Riley. She is a horticulturalist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, and she suggests how much to put in each bundle of their product and suggests prices at which to sell them. The program is administered by the CES and Catholic Social Services Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services.
Gurung said she's not sad about leaving Bhutan, but her parents are. She said they left their homes, their land -- "everything."
"My son was just born in 1990," said Bhai Subba. "The Bhutan government, they say that after two months you guys have to leave. They say if we don't maybe they gonna kill. And then we just leave."
The gardeners sell the fresh vegetables and herbs in the parking lot of the Northway Mall in East Anchorage from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Wednesdays, and at the Spenard Farmer's Market from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.