Healing through growing

Second year of farm project for Yazidi refugees


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This article was published 15/05/2020 (822 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Five men crouching in a field to plant onions on May 12 were the first Yazidi volunteers working at this year’s Healing Farm Project in St. Francois Xavier.

Bo Wohlers, owner of the land upon which the farm project is situated, was supervising the planting of onions and potatoes that day — two of the largest crops being grown through Project Ezra’s Healing Farm Project. He had used the land near the Assiniboine River for Shelmerdine Garden Centre’s tree nursery until the land was badly flooded in 2011.

The onion bulbs and seed potatoes being planted on May 12 were donated by the Netley Hutterite Colony near Petersfield, Man.

Andrea Geary (Clockwise, from back left) Michel Aziza, Operation Ezra Working Committee chair, and Operation Ezra volunteers Salim Hasan and Majiv Haji are shown on May 12 planting onions at Operation Ezra’s Healing Farm Project. The farm is located on nine acres of land in St. Francois Xavier donated by Bo and Gloria Wohlers.

Wohlers said this year’s plots will include more beans, along with peas, carrots, corn and the tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, okra and eggplants that he has started growing as seedlings at Shelmerdine Garden Centre in Headingley. Three more vegetable plots are ready for seeding this spring, expanding the overall farm area from eight to nine acres.

“He’s (Wohlers is) a mentor,” Michel Aziza, Operation Ezra Working Committee volunteer chair, said.

Operation Ezra is a Jewish-led coalition of multi-faith organizations that has sponsored Yazidi refugees from Iraq to come to Winnipeg since 2015.

Andrea Geary This sign marks the entrance to Operation Ezra’s Healing Farm Project in St. Francois Xavier.

Wohlers and his wife Gloria became involved in helping Yazidi refugees through Operation Ezra in 2019, after learning about their desire to find land fairly close to Winnipeg on which they could grow crops, including vegetables and herbs used in traditional recipes.

Wohlers donated the land, seeds and all the materials and equipment required for the farm project in 2019. He was joined by Charleswood United Church minister Michael Wilson and fellow congregants to help establish the first garden that was meant to grow produce to meet the needs of about 50 government-sponsored Yazidi refugee families.

“Food is a concern for them,” Aziza said.

Canstar file photo Volunteers from the Yazidi community are shown in this file photo taken in May 2019 as they planted seedlings on the donated land in St. Francois Xavier. This year, planting is taking place using social distancing.

Aziza added that another goal of the Healing Farm Project is to give female Yazidi refugees, who may have experienced violence prior to coming to Canada, the chance to engage in growing vegetables as some did in their homeland.

“It is therapeutic for them,” he said.

Organized by Operation Ezra, the refugees are driven to the garden plots throughout the spring and summer so they can plant, weed and harvest.

Last year, almost three-quarters of the production, including about 10,000 pounds of potatoes, were distributed to Yazidi families with the rest either sold at pop up farmers’ markets in Winnipeg or donated to Winnipeg Harvest.

The money earned at the pop-up markets is now being used to pay for fencing repairs, to buy fertilizer and equipment, as well as paying for repairs to a van donated by Winnipeg’s Jewish Child and Family Service.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is restricting the number of volunteers who can work together at one time, Aziza said plans are in place to safely transport about six volunteers at a time to the farm site.

“It will slow things down,” he admitted. “Instead of finishing planting in a day like last year, we’ll do it over a whole week.”

He added that any extra produce grown this year might be sold through a weekly home delivery program rather than at pop-up markets.

The volunteer picnics held at the farm site last year won’t be part of this year’s activities.

For more information on Operation Ezra, see www.jewishwinnipeg.org/community-relations/operation-ezra

Andrea Geary

Andrea Geary
St. Vital community correspondent

Andrea Geary is a community correspondent for St. Vital and was once the community journalist for The Headliner.

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