Putting Down New Roots

Feb. 28, 2022

Garden volunteers carefully save molokhia seeds.

Earth grant student volunteers carefully save molokhia seeds in the New Roots Garden.


“My father always encouraged my sister and I to be ‘global citizens,’” says Earth Grant student and Engineering sophomore Ani Melichar. Through Earth Grant, Ani is working with people from all over the world, by supporting the International Rescue Committee (IRC)’s New Roots program, an initiative to support recent refugees to Tucson in gardening, food production, nutrition, and generating revenue through farmers’ markets.

At a Saturday volunteer day on a cool winter morning, New Roots garden members and volunteers are clearing out garden beds and planting medicinal flower and herb seeds in raised planters. A few volunteers move to a picnic table to carefully save seeds from molokhia, a small shrub with leaves commonly used in southwest Asian and north African cuisine. 


Ani Melicar in the IRC New Roots garden.

Credit: Carla Vargas-Frank

As with so many community-centered programs, the pandemic has made it more difficult for the New Roots refugee community to stay connected. Ani spent fall semester reaching many refugee families by phone, checking in on whether they had basic needs met, including access to food. Ani and her mentors, program staff Julia Munson and Carla Vargas-Frank, welcome the move back to in-person meetings in the garden this spring, where gardeners discuss garden management in a multitude of languages (with the help of skilled interpreters)!

With her mentors, Ani is developing an in-person workshop for later this season on mental health practices in the garden. She likes the metaphor of “transplanting” – just as a relocated plant needs extra care to adjust to new surroundings, immigrants and refugees often experience stress in the adjustment to a new home, compounded with other traumas they may have recently experienced. This workshop will be an opportunity for participants to calm their nervous systems and feel grounded through sensations like fresh soil on fingertips and the smell of fresh herbs.

What’s next for Ani? Looking to the immediate future, Ani is excited to be studying abroad through the Arizona in Paris program this summer, which contributes towards her French minor. Ani says, “I’m interested and I’m passionate about so many things. I’m grateful for all these opportunities, to pursue lots of different interests and really explore.”

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