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The Land of Dreams, where refugee families reconnect with familiar farming

New Canadians in Calgary have a place to sow their seeds and grow community.

The Land of Dreams farming initiative was created by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) in 2019.

When Syrian refugees came to Canada starting in 2015, the team at CCIS wanted to find a way to make them feel more at home.

“We knew that [the refugees] were farmers, and they lived in small villages” said Fariborz Birjandian, the CEO of CCIS.

“This is something they’re familiar with.”

Planning took two years, but the CCIS was able to open 30-acres worth of farming area in southeast Calgary in 2019.

Birjandian was also careful to respect the land and consult with local Indigenous leaders, incorporating their culture and practices.

“[The Elders] came in, they blessed the land, they gave us some advice,” he said.

“The design of the whole is based on the Aboriginal method, the Aboriginal culture.”

For the refugees, this “urban farming” initiative is a way to get in touch with their roots, connect with other families, and even practice their English.

It’s also a way to beat isolation, and improve their sense of community.

“We work [with] each other, we help each other,” said Ahmad Alkhalaf, one of the many farmers at the Land of Dreams.

There are circular plots throughout the area, and families have the opportunity to grow many different types of produce and herbs. | CONTRIBUTED

Farming food, knowledge, and relationships

Coming to a new country and transitioning between living in a small village to a large city can be difficult for refugees.

Having a space dedicated to a familiar practice in their new home allows participants to connect with their roots and with other people in similar situations.

The food harvested from the land goes to the farmers, though there’s no official structure in terms of who owns what. Families will often share their harvests, especially if they’re the only one growing something.

The farming is similar to what the refugees knew, but as with everything, there are limits. Alkhalaf said he had “more land” than the 30 acres offered, and is unable to grow things like cumin due to the weather.

However, Alkhalaf is still proud and happy to be farming again. He’s also glad to get the kids out of the house.

“We need to open a new door or a new window for our children to go outside,” he said.

They haven’t been at school for two months.

“We need to open something to go outside with our families.”

Fariborz Birjandian talking with Sam Nammoura, a local blogger.

The Land of Dreams adequately fills this need, and they don’t plan to stop with farming plots.

This year, Birjandian says they’re bringing in eight beehives, and mentioned the potential for greenhouses as well.

The Land of Dreams gives refugee families a place to engage in farming, and teach their children about it in the process.

“Hopefully it will become a place where [the refugees] can go and feel good about themselves,” he said

“Some of these women haven’t been out of the house in two months, so you can imagine how good it felt.”

Even with current restrictions, the land is open as it is easy to keep the two-meter physical distance.