Refugees and established community members gather at the Tampa Bay Garden to plant and tend crops, all the while breaking down barriers, getting to know one another, and learning to understand each other.  This garden, which is located outside of St. Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church, provides community members with the opportunity to grow vegetables and fruits for sustenance and sale.

According to Amira Salama, Executive Director of Coptic Orthodox Charities, pastors Joseph Germain and Berhanu Bekele started the garden almost four years ago when they noticed that many refugees were leaving the state because they couldn’t make a living. They wanted to find a way to help refugees settle and find community, and the garden – where Burmese refugees, for example, grow papayas, chili peppers, lemongrass and other vegetables – provided an answer.

Thanks to fundraisers and $10,000 from the Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the pastors bought tools, plants and chickens. Now, with a grant of nearly $85,000 from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Germain and Bekele – himself a former refugee from Ethiopia – hope to expand the garden and chicken operations to develop a fish farm, thereby engaging even more refugees, and providing them the know-how to start microbusinesses selling crops, eggs and fish.

“How nice it will be for the whole community to have access to healthy fish not loaded with chemicals,” said Salama. “And everything we’re growing is organic, too, which benefits all of us. It’s a huge project…but little by little, we’re helping the entire community to eat healthier.”

In addition, the Tampa Bay Garden along with Coptic Orthodox Charities and a coalition of immigrant and refugee-serving churches, agencies, and programs hosts regular community workdays.

Janet Blair, Community Liaison for the SunCoast Region Refugee Services Program offered through the Department of Children and Families noted, “It benefits all of us when refugees integrate and thrive, and working together in the garden is one way to achieve that.”

The Tampa Bay Garden is quickly becoming the hub of the community and a way for newcomers and long term residents to connect through a shared interest – healthy and delicious locally grown food.

For more information, contact

Amira Salama

Executive Director

Coptic Orthodox Charities, Inc.

[email protected]