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New grant to grow fresh produce, health equity for CNY refugees

Four individuals hold a large check in the amount of $30,000 made out to RISE from Excellus Blue Cross.
Courtesy of
Staff from the nonprofit RISE accept a $30,000 check from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Jan. 26, 2023.

A new greenhouse is coming to the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Self-Empowerment, or RISE. The organization's agriculture program teaches refugees from countries around the world how to farm in the upstate climate. A recent $30,000 grant will help the organization grow its resources to expand its efforts and support health equity.

Program Director Anna Zoodsma said the grant-funded plant nursery will let immigrants and refugees raise seedlings during Central New York’s winter.

“Seeds will start in the greenhouse and will be transplanted out into the field once they’re mature enough and it’s warmer weather for those crops to grow," Zoodsma said.

The harvest provides fresh fruits and vegetables to newcomer communities and a chance to make a living with their stand at the CNY Regional Market.

Zoodsma said the greenhouse encourages health equity by ensuring food security.

“I think at a very basic level, in order to live a healthy, happy life, you need to have access to foods that are important to you and that are nourishing to you," she said.

She said the greenhouse will help support both physical and mental health of the gardeners.

“They reflect on connecting to agriculture practices that they did in their home country, where maybe they were subsistence farmers that might not be as common in the U.S.," she said.

The $30,000 grant from Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield will also cover a vegetable washing station and structure for classes on farming in the Central New York climate. RISE has ordered more than 100 kinds of seeds for farmers to start planting. Onions will be the first crops planted at the end of February.

Isabel Flores is a graduate student studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May of 2023. As a multimedia reporter, she helps to present as well as produce audio and digital content for WAER. In her free time, Isabel enjoys working out and listening to all genres of music.