For more than 200 local residents, pumpkin curry and spicy fish paste were on the menu Sunday night.
The colorful dinner was part of the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm Autumn Fundraiser at Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe on West Franklin Street.
“It’s been amazing because I didn’t know we’d have this big a turnout,” said Kelly Owensby, the program coordinator. “It shows that a lot of people care about the project, and we’re really excited about that.”
The farm helps refugees from the Karen ethnic group in Burma acquire agricultural skills appropriate for North Carolina’s climate and learn how to begin and sustain their own farms.
There are approximately 800 to 1,000 Burmese immigrants living in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
The event featured traditional Burmese dishes prepared by women who work with the farm. The dishes included traditional Burmese flavors like ginger, lemongrass and “looking to the sky” peppers.
“We’ve been cooking in Vimala’s kitchen since 8:30 this morning,” said Owensby. “Most of the produce came from the farm and all of it was traditional Karen food.”
Owensby said the event, which was originally scheduled for October but was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy, hit a number of obstacles.
“We were going to have traditional music but the musician got into a car accident,” she said. “And our translator who was going to help with the question and answer session got laryngitis.”
But attendees didn’t seem to notice as they enjoyed dinner and the unseasonably warm weather on the patio at Vimala’s.
Kari Harris, a student at the UNC School of Public Health, came out to support the organization after helping lead education sessions about grocery shopping.
“As a nutrition student, I think I’m tied to food — good food — and the social equity that comes with that,” she said.
The event also featured an exhibition of photos of the farm by Vanessa Patchett and a presentation about life in the refugee camp in Thailand.
Hsar Ree Ree Wei is a Karen refugee and eighth grader at Smith Middle School. Her family moved to Chapel Hill from a refugee camp in Thailand six years ago and is one of the 26 families that work on the farm.
She helped cook and collect tickets for the event and led the presentation about life in a refugee camp with her sister.
“I feel I should give my time by helping out at events and to share to everyone who are the refugees and where are we from.”
She said working with Transplanting Traditions helps her retain her connection to her Burmese heritage.
“For me it’s a blessing that Kelly would open this program for all of the refugees to help us feel like we are home.”
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