Join UB graduate students Elisabeth Stowell and Veronika Semenova as they speak to local experts, Alex Judelsohn and Dao Kamara about food sovereignty and the health of refugees in the Buffalo community.
Alexandra Judelsohn is a PhD candidate in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan and will start as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University at Buffalo in Fall 2023. Her scholarship explores the role of local governments in the U.S. refugee resettlement program and, broadly, her interests include how the built environment impacts health, particularly for immigrant and refugee populations. Judelsohn holds a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University at Buffalo.
Dao Kamara is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Providence Farm Collective (PFC), where he shares his love and knowledge of traditional foods and farming with the diverse communities and youth who farm at PFC and visitors and volunteers from across the region. He believes that food is medicine, teaching others the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables to support good health and the community and family connections that grow from sharing cultural traditions across generations.
Host/Writers: Elisabeth Stowell, Veronika Semenova, Syed Rahman
Guests: Alexandra Judelsohn, MUP | Dao Kamara, MSW
Production Assistant/Audio Editor: Sarah Robinson
Theme Music: Dr. Sungmin Shin, DMA
Welcome to Buffalo HealthCast, the official health equity podcast of the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions. In this podcast, we cover topics related to health equity in Buffalo, the US, and globally. This season, we'll take a look at food insecurity and health equity on a global scale. You'll hear from experts around the world who specialize in areas like urban agriculture and food contamination, soil science, food sovereignty, refugee health, intensive agriculture, and more. This season's episodes were completed in Dr. Kasia Kordas' Global Health class, a graduate level course offered at the University of Buffalo, and produced by the School of Public Health and Health Professions.
Elisabeth Stowell 0:55
Hi, I'm Elizabeth Stowell, and I'm a grad student at the University of Buffalo in the Environmental and Water Resources master's program.
Veronika Semenova 1:02
And my name is Veronica. I'm also a graduate student in the Microbiology and Immunology Department.
Elisabeth Stowell 1:09
In this podcast, we are looking to explore the relationships between food systems, food sovereignty and refugee health and how they're all intertwined. The International Food Policy Research Institute has a strong and complete definition for food systems. Food Systems are the sum of actors and interactions along the food chain value from input supply and production of crops, livestock, fish, and other agricultural commodities, to transportation, processing, retailing, wholesaling, and preparation of foods, to consumption, and disposal. Food systems encapsulate everything it takes to produce, distribute, consume and dispose of food. The United States Food Sovereignty Alliance provides a definition straight from their global forum defining food sovereignty as the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems. Within this definition, is a statement that people have a right to control the food systems, that the food they consume is a product of.
Veronika Semenova 2:20
When people are displaced, and need to seek refuge in new communities, they often become more vulnerable with inadequate or inequitable access to services and resources that they need to keep up their health and well being. Refugees have the basic human right to health and access to equality and culturally appropriate health services. This means refugees have a right to food sovereignty in their communities of refuge, the right to control and define their food systems to obtain healthy and culturally appropriate food wherever they are.
Elisabeth Stowell 2:57
According to the World Health Organization, today there are over 26 million refugees globally. The good health and wellbeing of refugees is essential. Due to the circumstances that made refugees leave their home, they often are more vulnerable to diseases, injuries, and health complications along their journeys and upon arrival to a new place.
Veronika Semenova 3:20
One of the most important aspects to promoting and developing refugee health is to establish food systems that allow refugees to achieve food sovereignty. There are current efforts being made in the Western New York community, but there's still progress to be made to attain health equity for refugees. Providence Farm Collective out of Orchard Park, New York is a nonprofit organization working with people from Liberian, Ethiopian, and Somali Bantu communities to name a few.
Elisabeth Stowell 3:51
Today we will be speaking with two guests who have experience and expertise in this topic. Dao Kamara is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Providence Farm Collective, a farmer and owner of Grow Your Own, and a community leader for the Liberian Farm Project.
Veronika Semenova 4:08
And Alex Judelsohn is a doctoral student in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan. Broadly, her research interests include how the built environment impacts health, particularly for immigrants and refugee populations. Her dissertation research looks at the role of refugee-run organizations and resettlement in two major resettlement counties: Kent County, Michigan and Erie County, New York. Prior to her doctoral education, Alex earned a master's in Urban and Regional Planning from the University at Buffalo. She worked as a research associate at the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo, where she collaborated with colleagues across disciplines through the Community for Global Health Equity. She has conducted research in the United States and Kashmir.
Elisabeth Stowell 5:04
So we're just going to jump into some questions with Alex and Dao. So first off, it's important for us to hear a little bit about your story with food systems and refugee health. How did you become interested in it? What started your journey working at your organization or in the research that you do?
Dao Kamara 5:22
Again, I'm Dao Kamara from West Africa, specifically Liberia. I was born as a farmer, grew up as a farmer, and went to school as a farmer. But after the Civil War, in my country, Liberia, I fled my country, then went to the neighboring country, Côte d'Ivoire, where I spent 2 years in a refugee camp. But for the past 2 years in a refugee camp, I lived on handout, because I don't have access to my tradition, or access to my culture, and no access to the culturally relevant food I used to eat. Because being a refugee, I have no access to land, to grow what I need to grow. So when I was selected to come to the United States, I just don't think I was ever going to have access again to my own food and to my own culture. So coming to the United States, I was told I'm going to live the American dream, in which it was true, to take care of my family, send my kids to school, which was successful. But something was still missing because my way of life was still missing. And I don't know how to better be connected to that life. I can only be connected to it through land, and I can have access to the food I used to grow. So my journey to Providence Farm Collective. It was just last year when I started working with Providence Farm Collective. But before working with Providence Farm Collective, our farm with Providence Farm Collective, the first year in East Aurora at the time, Providence Farm Collective was actually leasing our land. And then the year we farmed with them, we were not successful, because the land was not a prime soil. And it was just a horse pasture that we were actually farming on. That year, we grew 3000 pounds of food. And it was actually disappointing. And we had to speak to Kristen, the executive director, to let her know, look, you can find a better land for refugees because we drowned between our jobs and taking care of our family, just for us to be able to grow food. And now we can put in so many hours and take your rigs and we can have a real good produce. It was not looking good. So Kris and her team put together - they were able to farm the land that we're on today called Burton Road. So on Burton Road last year, we farmed, we grew 91,000 pounds of food. So you can see the difference between the 3000 and then 91,000, and today at Burton Road, we have 8 different communities, 275 farmers that grew over 20 different crops that are very culturally relevant to society. So today we have access to our cultural food, we have access our own farmers market, we have access to actually delivering food into food pantry, and we are then now be able to address the food insecurity in the food desert area so that everyone can have access to actually cultural, fresh and relevant food in the region. I think that's my journey to PFC.
Elisabeth Stowell 8:17
Thank you for that.
Alexandra Judelsohn 8:18
Thank you, that was really interesting to hear. I'm Alex Judelsohn. I am a researcher. I am from Buffalo. I'm currently pursuing my PhD in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan. And kind of, I guess my story of how I got to studying this topic, which I guess first off, I'm broadly interested in how policy processes facilitate or hinder equitable and healthy communities. And I think of policy really broadly, you know, not just written laws, but processes, procedures, just guidelines that govern people. And I hope, you know, at the national and community level, I can conduct applied research that really pushes governments to think about who's doing the work in refugee resettlement and organizations assisting people. So I guess about 10 years ago, I came back to Buffalo. And I was working at Grassroots Gardens in Western New York, which is an amazing nonprofit that helps people that want to start community gardens in their neighborhoods, and a lot of the community gardens were on city owned land at that time. I'm not sure what the number is now, but I think at that time, about 15% of land in Buffalo was vacant, and I kind of learned about the growing farmer refugee population while I was in this role that I decided you know, I might want to work at a nonprofit, but thought that I maybe needed to further my education and I met Dr. Samina Raja, who is the director of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University at Buffalo. So it was seeking out research opportunities there and saw through work with community partners that there was little research about how former refugees in the US navigate new environments when someone is in this new home, you know, like Dao said, how do you find culturally preferred foods? Are those vegetables grown here? So we got some funding to conduct a pilot project to explore specifically how people from Burma experienced new food environments and the ways in which local governments supported or hindered their access to culturally preferred foods. And this was an amazing experiences for me, you know, I never really thought about the world of research, I got to work with faculty from urban planning, public health, social work, and medicine. And we had a community advisory group with leaders from the refugee community and organizations that serve refugee clients. And this kind of planted the seed for going further with a research career and that I decided that I wanted to just pursue a PhD. But it was interesting, in that research, people when we asked about food, they kind of looked at us like, why are you asking this question - of more pressing concern or issues like housing, transportation or safety. So this kind of guided, you know, my current work, which looks at the role of local government in resettlement since, while people can move when they arrive in the US as refugees, unlike, people that come under other types of Immigrant Visas, people that arrive as refugees are placed in a specific city. So I can talk about my research more later. But that's kind of how I got to where I am today. But I guess also, in addition to my role as a PhD student, I work as the program manager for the Community for Global Health Equity at the University at Buffalo, which is a research center, and we have a lot of faculty affiliates, and I just want to plug, we have a refugee health and well being -they're called Big Idea Teams, and the two faculty that lead that Melinda Lemke, who's in education and Kafuli Agbemenu, who's in nursing, do amazing work, and I highly recommend looking up their work, and they work directly with different refugee communities.
Elisabeth Stowell 11:55
Thank you very much. It sounds like we have two guests that have a great background in this topic, and we're gonna get a very broad and rounded view of health and food systems.
Veronika Semenova 12:06
Thank you for sharing your stories. Our next question is what food systems and food sovereignty really mean?
Dao Kamara 12:14
For me, as a refugee, and from a cultural background of food, where I came from, food is medicine, we just not eat because we want to eat but we eat because the food has an impact that it makes in our life, in our health. Most of the food that we eat is actually sicknesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, treat your bowel. And for so many reasons that we eat what we eat, we just not eat because we want to eat. So if we become we become refugees, and we don't have access to this food, what happened to us, our health began to decline. So we followed up most of our errors that we brought into this country as refugees and immigrants their health was declining, they were dying, and they couldn't even be able to survive in such an environment where they couldn't find the culturally relevant food that they used to eat. So food was not just something that we can just eat anything. But it's considered to be medicine, and the sovereignty part of food, food has power, because there will be power because the entire world, the only thing they have in common is food. People may not like politics, they may not even like some other social gallery, they may not like this, but there will be no way that we all will be able to ask anything when it comes to food. So food is sovereignty, food is power, with food, food with food, we all can come together and discuss how can we address the food insecurity? How can we address the food desert? How can we address the cultural and relevant food that should be in places than going to a food pantry, you will find canned food, would have found food that is that they consider to be food that they are going to give out to refugees or giving out to immigrant, giving out to the neighborhood but this food is not healthy to human body. So food is something we should consider because it is medicine. It has power to bring people together, and how to address the insecurity of food within our region.
Elisabeth Stowell 14:16
Thank you, Dao, I think you've just given us the perfect example and reason of why so many global health experts and researchers should really care about food and the food that's available to refugees and having land access for them to be able to grow their own food. Thank you.
Alexandra Judelsohn 14:31
Yeah, I don't have much to add. But you know, like Dao said, food is power, everyone has to eat. It's one thing that we all have in common. And I think, you know, in terms of the food system, we often think about this, you know, envision kind of that circular image of the value chain of what goes into growing food, producing food, transportation, sale, and then consumption and the waste, but also like what about the policy environment, and also the cultural norms that are embedded in food, which can, you know, hinder or enable access. I think about the WIC program, Women, Infants, and Children, where a lot of the food is not food that people from other cultures necessarily want to eat like peanut butter. So food sovereignty involves, you know, making sure that food is culturally preferred and appropriate for people. And that those who produce and consume food are centered in this dialogue, and not corporations and people marketing food.
Elisabeth Stowell 15:38
Yeah, so I like that you pointed out that it should not be all about corporations and people marketing food. Next, we want to talk a little bit about the work that you currently do. So Dao, I was wondering if you could tell us about the work, maybe some specific projects or what you specifically do on the farm?
Dao Kamara 15:53
Currently, I'm the Community Engagement Coordinator of Providence Farm Collective, and I'm involved in so many projects. Really, one of my goals is to actually work with the refugees and farmers, immigrants, even blogs and look for us to make sure that they can have resources to be successful in farming. Farming is hard. If you're doing farming, you actually need the support, you need the resources to actually do the work. And most of the refugees and immigrants that we find in the farming field, they may not be educated, they don't have English as their first language. And for them to survive in the farming world, they will need the resources for them to supply. They will need to get the understanding because if you find a landscape in the United States, and from where they come from, there's two different grain seasons. You come from the climate that is very hot and you are coming to the climate that is very cool. And there's some other food or actually some other crop that actually doesn't grow in the cool, in the cool weather it's very sensitive to weather. And for them to be successful, they need the kind of education that you have to give them. The resources so they can be they can be successful in the different seasons when it comes to where they find themselves. So being a community engagement coordinator, I work with a farm director and a farm mentor to provide the resources to those farmers who are actually engaged into producing the food that actaully we all need to eat. Again, I'm already engaged with children, because children are the future. We are in the process where people are aging out and we need new farmers. Now, getting getting new farmers we need a new generation. And farming is a culture - it needs to be passed down from one generation to another generation. So you find there's a disconnection between families, disconnection between generations, the new generation we have today, they really don't know nothing about farming, they really don't have an idea of farming because all they know to farm it means you have to play with the dirt. But it shouldn't be that way. Farming is not just playing with the dirt. You can find a researcher in farming, you can find different careers in farming, what you can do and be part of the family work. So we try to build out this, we try to build a connection between families. So I work with 51 kids, this summer program, and those kids were working alongside their parents. So kids that were actually disconnected to the parents coming on the farm working, they were able to build a connection, they were able to actually understand the culture, understand the value of food that their parents are telling them. This is what I used to live, this is what I used to eat, this is what I used to live in. But just saying it and not just seeing it was a two different thing. So this year, because of the summer program, we found our kids are connected to the food, they're connected to agriculture, and they're also connected to their parents and to their culture, to their communities, to their neighborhood as well. Then I'm working on another program called the Food Aggregation Program. This is where we got funding from Buffalo Bills Foundation. And then we'll pay a fair price to our farmers. Because farming is so hard that you can't just purchase for less. As we can based on the kind of crops and food our people grow. So the money we get from Buffalo Bills Foundation, we were able to buy to buy the food from from our farmers. And then we take the food and put it into the food desert we put it away into into into the food pantry we work with Massachussetts project. So we work with all of them the center so that we were able to place a real fresh food culture relevant within the food pantry that the community can access, not just community alone, but the entire the entire region that actually have no food so that in Buffalo, they will be able to access fresh food, not just canned food, and it was very successful. We had our own Farmers Market on Grand Street that will run from 10am to 1pm. And the Farmers Market served over 700 people this year and it was just different, different different backgrounds of people that came. It was not just only the refugee community, not just only the American not just only the American community. It was a diverse community, that came to there and said look and came to buy the food and came to actually experience it. And one thing we added is the recipe, because most of the crowd that we had gripped we're reading on the web. Now we are working on creating recipes so that if you buy the crops, you will be able to know how to prepare it. You'll be able to know how to take your crops home so you can have interest in what you are buying, not just taking something home that you don't really know. So being a community engagement coordinator, I have to connect all the dots, make sure what we're Providence Farm Collective to measure to, to kind of actually explain to our farmers the policy, the guideline and be able to turn it the mission and vision of Providence farm Collective. Also serve as an ambassador to get out there to be able to check what PFC is all about we are not just another group of people, we are part of the community we are here to share. We are here to invest, we are here to contribute to society. So whatever community we find ourselves in, we are part of the community and we should be as such. That's my role.
Elisabeth Stowell 21:04
Thank you so much, Dao. It sounds like you're doing some amazing work there and really getting out into the community and making the important connections that you need to succeed and to see all the people that you work with succeed. Alex, I wanted to ask because Kristen and Dao mentioned that they maybe previously knew you. Have you worked with Providence Farm Collective or Dao before?
Alexandra Judelsohn 21:26
Yeah, well, I had the opportunity to speak with Dao in relation to my dissertation research. And then, through my role at the Community for Global Health Equity at UB, I helped to organize the annual western New York New American and Refugee Health Summit. So this year was the eighth annual. I was involved years ago when I was a graduate student at UB and then the seventh and eighth annual one I got to help plan in my role and Dao spoke on a panel there this year. And PFC was tabling at the event. So it was great to collaborate on that event. And I think it's a pretty unique event to our region. I've heard some people from Rochester really excited about it, I would love to expand it in the future and make it bigger.
Elisabeth Stowell 22:20
Awesome. That's cool to have two guests that have already been connected through this community in this topic.
Veronika Semenova 22:26
Can you please speak to us a little bit about your own research on food insecurity and refugee health? Are you doing any current or recent research? And what are the results telling you so far?
Alexandra Judelsohn 22:40
Yeah, sure, I can speak a bit to a project I worked on. This is probably from about 2016 to 2018. And we call the DDFAAR - Dealing with Disparities and Food Access Among Refugees. So at the time, there was pretty limited literature on the topic, and it was mostly from public health, nutrition and anthropology. And scholars kind of found that former refugees find it difficult to maintain nutritious diets in their new home country and their resettlement country. And while people might continue to eat more whole healthy foods that they ate prior to arrival in the US, acculturation, especially with younger generations might impact food norms mimicking US foreign populations. And you know, for example, I think one study found that amount of packaged foods and snacks was higher among Somali mothers than the native born populations. But the issues with a lot of these studies is that they largely emphasize the role of the individual, they don't really consider the structures or the systems at play. And obviously, food access is not completely dependent on individual choice. That's a small facet of it. Where do people live? Can they drive to a supermarket? You know, not that supermarkets are the only places to shop. But are small grocery stores in their neighborhood either available? Are they more expensive? Do they accept SNAP or WIC? So these studies didn't really explore how planning and policy kind of mediate the experience of accessing food. And we kind of found that people you know, I would say, like, our main findings were that people, you know, people definitely were kind of surprised when we asked about food, like I said earlier, other issues like housing and transportation and employment seem to be more pressing. I think also, I learned a lot in how important language was, so like I mentioned earlier, we had a community advisory group, but some things just didn't translate well. Like one question in particular was, do you still think about like, do you eat processed foods, but in my mind, processed foods are the foods that are in packages in the middle of the grocery store, but the people we were interviewing thought of processed foods as something like a prepared meal that maybe you would go out to eat, so there was definitely something that were disjointed, that people basically said that they had access to culturally preferred foods. But there were definitely some issues of access in terms of, or yeah, access in terms of land was a big one. A lot of people wanting to grow food but didn't know 1) if they were renters, if their landlords would allow it. And then there was the missing piece of kind of lead issues and safety of growing in the city. And it just really showed that kind of local government was pretty disjointed from the needs of this community. And that, you know, the city might create food inequities. So my current research isn't on food sovereignty and resettled refugee populations that have kind of broadened it. But I hope to go back to this area of research someday.
Veronika Semenova 25:51
Thank you for your insight, and thank you for expanding this specific field of research.
Elisabeth Stowell 25:56
So maybe you can both talk a little bit about the scenario of food systems and food sovereignty that you see in Buffalo now, or in Erie County, and maybe how it compares to, like places you've researched, or been, if there's similarities or differences between the conditions of food sovereignty for refugees in Buffalo, or in other places.
Dao Kamara 26:20
So it's like you know, I've been, I've been in Buffalo, but for the past year, so for us to actually get what we need, we actually used to order food we used to kind of order food from our culture from Philadelphia, from Minnesota, from Iowa, Des Moines that's where we found some of the crops that were actually really needed, were kind of very difficult for us to find that kind of food, in Buffalo. Even if we could find that food in Buffalo, we could sometimes find it in the Chinese store, if we find it, it is very costly, it costs a lot. And because it costs a lot, we cannot afford to buy the food to be able to to feed our families. So people just stay away from it. But as now we have access to learn, to PFC, we got 8 different communities that got grant funded who are now becoming available to the community in our region. And because of the difficulty of getting food, again, I'm gonna say because of the difficulty of getting food here in Buffalo, is actually brought a decline in the health of our elders. Because most of our elders take food as medicine, they just not go to hospital very often, and reason they don't go to hospitals because of because of their health because of the food they eat. But then there's another barrier called the language barrier. Because many people thought that because we say language barrier. So everyone had a specific language, there are certain language that is not written that people really don't speak, we call it dialects. And because of those dialects, and people don't understand it, it's not part of the written language. doesn't have interpreters. So people really don't go to hospital they stay away from them, because people don't understand them. Again, there was the community organization have come into place because refugee agency might help us for three months then after three months. How do we - how do any committees do as an unfamiliar system that really they don't know about and that's when the community organization come into place. So having community organization is actually applause to all that gave us power that we can be able to organize to help our people access their own food system, give them information where to farm fresh and culturally relevant food, how can they be successful in the Department of Social Services going to hospital? How can we how can we be able to provide them an interpreter both in language and in that dialect? And so on this lot, there's a lot of love when they come they come to us with our community and our environment? So there was a big difference between food in Buffalo and there's no food and now we try to work on that to see how we can close the gap.
Elisabeth Stowell 29:00
Thank you for that answer. Alex, have you seen or done research in any other areas outside of Buffalo that have differed from what you see in Buffalo? Are there similarities?
Alexandra Judelsohn 29:12
First, I would say that I do think in Buffalo, while maybe policy hasn't moved as quickly as I think it should have, there are amazing organizations. PFC, obviously, but, you know, PUSH runs some gardens. I think they're on the west side of Buffalo where people can rent plots, Grassroots Gardens of Western New York does amazing work and also Massachusetts Avenue Project. And we do have a Food Policy Council at the Erie County level. And there is a food systems plant for the region called Growing Together. So I think, you know, those are all things that are kind of ahead of other areas. I haven't done in depth research in other locations, specifically on food. For my dissertation, I'm looking at Erie County in New York, and also Kent County, Michigan, which is where Grand Rapids is, and just anecdotally, it doesn't seem like they have anywhere near the kind of food infrastructure, especially for refugee populations, like there's nothing like PFC there. But after the project I talked about earlier, we kind of, we wrote a paper and we looked at comprehensive plans, which for nonplanning folks, comprehensive plans are kind of a long range vision for our community. In a lot of places, they're mandated to be written, but sometimes it's voluntarily. And, you know, you hope that is kind of the intention is that it's kind of the hope for the future of a place, but also whose voice is included in the comprehensive plans. So we looked at 10, comprehensive plans. And then if the city had a food systems plan, we looked at that, or maybe some type of health plan, and found that, you know, they don't address former refugee populations, and they definitely don't address the food needs of this population and their cultural assets. And, you know, like being able to grow food themselves. So this was, you know, it's something that's missing, and that needs to be brought to the conversation. So I think, you know, kind of, unsurprisingly, this is, I think, what it looks like in a lot of places that maybe there's more grassroots organizations doing the work, but it's not really in these bigger long term plans yet.
Elisabeth Stowell 31:37
Well, it is good to hear that maybe Buffalo is headed in the right direction with policy and helping out refugees. And we're very lucky to have people like both of you that are leading in this right direction.
Veronika Semenova 31:52
Thank you for informing us on the local situation on food systems and sovereignty in Buffalo. Are there other ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the food systems, food sovereignty, and refugee health?
Dao Kamara 32:08
Oh, yes. Surely it does have a real big impact on the refugee population in Buffalo, because of the lack of fresh food or culturally relevant food, you find out that a lot of the refugees in Buffalo during the COVID, could not even access, could not access the food that was coming from FeedMore. People will go to FeedMore to get food for their families, but at the end of the day when they're grabbing food, the food ended up in the garbage can. Because they're definitely not used to canned food, not used to plastic food. And the food is not actually fresh - it's not culturally relevant to them. And they get it from FeedMore just as a food for COVID-19. But it made no impact to them. And it was very difficult to even find their own cultural foods in the store. Because of the pandemic, there was shortages of food everywhere. And they couldn't access the kind of food they need. And it was kind of very difficult for a lot of our people to survive through the pandemic because there's lack of medication, people cannot go out but at the same time there's no food that we have that will help them to actually maintain their health. So they begin to decline in their health. People even that through the pandemic lack of because of not being so healthy. So the COVID-19 actually was a huge impact of the refugee and immigrant population. And that's why when PFC came here, right before after the pandemic, people began to say no, we need to jump on board. We need to be able to achieve the full system. We don't have to be in this country to live and to live on canned food. Can we be able not just providing food just for the refugees and immigrants? But how can we be able to provide food for the region and food that will be that will be culturally relevant and fresh food in the food desert era where you cannot find, you cannot find a WalMart, where you cannot find Tops? Or where you cannot find the real grocery store, where you cannot find Wegmans. What can we do to produce such a food because the food that you find in Wegmans, in Walmart, you cannot find that food in our neighborhood, in a poor neighborhood. And if we really don't pay attention to address the food insecurity. After the pandemic, we're still facing the food insecurity as we still go on but we need to work together on how to be able to address it on a regional level, not just on a small scale.
Veronika Semenova 34:42
Thank you so much for that. Next follow up question is what really reduced those negative outcomes caused by COVID-19 in this specific sector?
Dao Kamara 34:51
One of the real problems we really need to address is access to land. Access to land. Right now Providence Farm Collective is actually farming under seventy acres of farm land. Under the seventy acres of farmland we actually - I love farming all the land because we have infrastructures on those land, we're about to build up a pavillion, a washstation, a flower station, a commercial kitchen. But on the land that we are actually working on right now, it's community farm and twelve incubator farmers. By 2024, we might be running out of land. What other support? We need support for new farmers actually emerging within Western New York. How can they have access to land on their own? What are the support systems in the entity for the New York State Department of Agriculture that can actually help them to access land, land that will be affordable, land I will stay to be proud to say forever that developers and agricultures will not be able to compete. What can we do to actually be able to support those farmers who are aging out so they can actually be able to pass on those lands to the incoming farmers, what can we do to encourage our new generation that is coming out that they can have interest in farmers who are going to be able to rejoin from even for a department for New York State Department of Education from the resettlement agency to be able to identify immigrants or refugees when they enter this country, not just a trader in factory, but ask them what are the skills that they come with, they may not be educated, but they are from agricultural background where they can be able to contribute to society. Not everyone wants to go into the factory, not everyone would be on a Department of Social Services or cash or cash assistance, but we'll be able to use their skill to contribute to society too as well. So I think although negative impact, we find that and say look, and we have to look at racism too as well. Because racism, it helped to keep people in a poor neighborhood and actually be able to bind people into poverty. So if we all can be able to treat one another on the scale of preference of equality, and look on how to make contribution in this world. And we can work together to address the issue. Everyone will be in a better place.
Elisabeth Stowell 37:11
Thank you so much, Dao. Alex, do you have anything that you wanted to add on this topic?
Alexandra Judelsohn 37:16
Yeah, I mean, I agree with everything that Dao said, and you know, especially at the local level, he said, ensure access to land. Obviously, soil in the city comes with a lot of issues. But, so a large percentage of land in the city of Buffalo is vacant, there should be a process that is not opaque for securing it. And, you know, using city land for agricultural uses is completely valid, it doesn't all need to be maintained for a developer to develop someday. And I just think that local governments need to learn to work with refugee communities and listen to rest refugee voices. For example, in Buffalo, we have an Office of New Americans, there's a new staff person, and I don't know who it is yet. But why don't we create a task force with leaders from different former refugee communities so people can actually directly hear the voices and the issues in these communities and a state level refugee advisory committee to give input. And as to what the refugee community needs, someone I talked to for my research, sat in on, there's a weekly meeting of these nine national - they're called national voluntary agencies (VOADs), that administer resettlement services in the US. And they said that this person said, it's kind of like a Sports Draft deciding where people will go, but why don't we listen, like Dao said, to what people bring with them? Everyone has a unique experience and unique skills. And think about that in terms of where people are going to go, you know, does someone have an agrarian background? Let's go someplace where there might be a program to turn over land from a farmer who wants to retire. And thinking, I guess, more holistically, if the refugee resettlement program, you know, the goal is to set people up for success and well being in their new home, you know, 90 days of support. And this program that really just sets people up to become economically self sufficient is not the right way to do things.
Elisabeth Stowell 39:27
Thank you, Alex, it sounds like both of you agree that there needs to be involvement and support on the government level, but that it needs to come from listening to the actual refugee populations.
Veronika Semenova 39:39
We were wondering about the next steps for you. Where do you see your future work and research heading towards involving food systems, food sovereignty, and refugee health?
Dao Kamara 39:51
As for me right now, with Providence Farm Collective and we are actually working on buying our 37 acres of farmland. We hope to close on our capital campaign, this December 31. And we are also in the process of buying farmland. But I will teach others how can we get more farmland so our farmers can be independent, so they can actually be able to be proud of their own work, they can own a farm land, and they can be part of the growth within Western New York. And we are also working on the future. How can we be able to recruit new farmers, encourage new farmers, because farmers are aging out and we still need food to address the food insecurity. So we're working hard to make sure that we can encourage farmers and recruit new farmers within the regions. But at the same time, we're working hard to see how can we work with doctors and health organizations to know the importance of cultural relativism and fresh food. That those foods can be in schools, those foods can be in the hospitals. So that it can be served, that offers a medicine so doctors can actually be able to recognize that okay. Because it is not just any kind of food should be served by the hospital, but those foods should actually be relevant medicine and be culturally relevant to the patient that actually goes to the hospital as well. So where can we come on a table that doctors are honest in their practices, that they will be able to incorporate the farmers, the farmer versus the food that they work with, a hand in hand we can come together to be able to address this issue. And that's where we are going, I think that's the future that we're working towards right now.
Veronika Semenova 41:37
Thank you for supporting refugee farmers and encouraging them to own their own property. And it's definitely a great point to include medical professionals when it comes to food.
Alexandra Judelsohn 41:50
Thank you so much for the invitation. This was a lot of fun. I learned a lot.
Sarah Robinson 41:56
This has been another episode of Buffalo HealthCast. Thank you to our amazing guests, Alexandra Judelsohn and Dao Kamara. Be sure to visit the show notes to learn more about our speakers and the work they do in our community. This episode was written and recorded by Elizabeth Stowell, Veronica Semenova, and Syed Rahman. Our theme music was written and recorded by Dr. Sungmin Shin of the UB Music Department. My name is Sarah Robinson, your production assistant and sound editor for this episode. Buffalo HealthCast is produced by the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions. To learn more about health equity in Buffalo, the US, and around the globe, visit our website linked in the show notes to find more episodes. Thanks for listening to another episode of Buffalo HealthCast.