In shadow of Cincinnati convent, new lives taking root

CINCINNATI (AP) — Mary Tamang bows close to the Earth, pulling gently on the asparagus shoots. The plant's been unattended for months, until this Saturday morning.

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Tamang pulls again. The roots appear.

She hands the asparagus to a fellow gardener at St. Clare Convent in Springfield Township. Later, he will replant it in his plots, one of 105.

The decade-old Franciscan Ministries community garden is just blocks from bustling Vine Street, tucked among homes and lawns and trees.

This land sits squarely between two disparate communities — Wyoming and Hartwell — in the heart of Greater Cincinnati.

On this Saturday morning in spring, the majority of gardeners on this acre are refugees, some of the 12,000 Bhutanese who have resettled in Cincinnati. Most, like Tamang, came to this country after spending years, if not decades, in Nepalese camps.

And most of the food grown here is essential to these households, part of a tedious, hard-fought effort to sidestep steep grocery store bills. Those bills are growing this year, especially for fruits and vegetables.

Tamang's garden, a 20-by-40-foot plot, usually provides about a quarter of what her five-person family eats.

But what Tamang has, she shares.

She will bring bags of corn and cucumbers, beans and greens to her next-door neighbor. She will use the pumpkins and peppers to make dishes for people at her church.

Since her first season here in spring 2011, her garden has fed 50 people.

Tamang arrived in Cincinnati that winter. There was snow on the ground. But by the time it melted, she was on this rolling hill blocks from Vine Street, putting down new roots. Now, growing food for her family is what she calls her job.

Tamang's family were farmers in Bhutan. Those fields 8,000 miles away are the backdrop for her muddy memories. She was 11 went she entered the Nepalese refugee camp. She was 31 when she left.

She learned to grow there. She filled buckets with dirt for greens, cilantro, tomatoes. Nothing too big, but each green leaf and ripe fruit meant one less moment of hunger.

Tamang will grow greens, cilantro and tomatoes at her garden this summer, too. She'll dedicate rows to lauki, a sweet squash, and karela, a bitter melon, both varieties native to her home region.

She will tend her tidy garden maybe two or three times each week in the coming months. She'll often take a bus from her home Downtown. It will take her close to four hours round trip.

Today, Tamang's driven the family car. She's transferring the seedlings she started at home, some in old instant noodle cups.

Tamang bows once more toward the Earth. She crouches closely to the tray of seedlings. She examines the buds, softly touching a leaf.

And then she sits, just for a moment, as if in admiration for what it will become.

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Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com

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