Chattanooga garden is shaping lives

Chattanooga garden is shaping lives

August 10th, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

Anne Kanyi, left, and Estar Murage pick vegetables from the Taking Root Community Garden on Friday after its dedication ceremony of the outside of the Chattanooga Youth and Family Development Department in Chattanooga. The garden established in August 2012 was created in conjunction with Neema Resettlement Outreach to help serve the needs of and feed refugees living in Chattanooga.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Near M.L. King Boulevard, there is a garden coincidentally and quietly carrying out the very dream that the road's namesake championed.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed," King said half a century ago this month. "'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

That includes refugees from Burundi -- one of the five poorest countries in the world, according to Global Finance magazine. Refugees who by some chance have landed in Chattanooga.

"They are the victims of civil war, and violence, and corrupt government, so in order to protect themselves and their families, they go and stay at refugee camps," Susannah Murdoch said Friday evening at the celebration of the garden's first harvest.

Murdoch is one of the founding volunteer directors of Chattanooga's Neema resettlement outreach, a group that seeks to help refugees from across the globe -- Sudan, Somalia, Cuba, Colombia, Congo, Chad, Iraq and Burundi -- settle and make homes and lives in the Scenic City.

The garden is a sort of coming-together where community building can happen.

"Food is a universal language," Murdoch said.

And in some cases, it's the only language the refugees have in common. Many of them were brought to America as part of a United Nations agreement, Murdoch said, and many of them are literally strangers in a foreign land.

What Neema, the Swahili word for divine grace, seeks to do is make Chattanooga more than a place where refugees end up. They want to make Chattanooga home.

The garden started off as "just a little idea," Murdoch said.

In other words, just a dream.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at or 423-757-6731.