Hi everyone! I don’t know about you, but it feels like summer is knocking on our doorstep today. Our southern heat and humidity have just about knocked me out for the day. Luckily, this past weekend wasn’t too bad. I took advantage of the beautiful weather on Sunday and headed over to Karen Community Farm at Oaky Grove in Wendell, North Carolina to try some Thai shaved ice and browse their farm stand. I originally came for a snack but left with a sense that the farmers embody family love, cultural celebration, and organic, sustainable farming practices.
On This Page:
The Karen Community Farm’s Mission
I was able to drive to this farm in just 13 minutes from central Knightdale, NC. The Karen (pronounced Kah-REN) Community Farm at Oaky Grove is located at 5800 Turnipseed Road in Wendell, NC. The Farm Stand is open on Sundays from 2 pm- 6 pm. According to their website, this nonprofit farming community has the following goals:
“1) Provide land access and resources for Karen refugee farmers to grow culturally appropriate Asian food for their families and community.
2) Provide the education that is a key to success for these farmers learning to grow in Piedmont North Carolina.
3) Provide guidance for farmers that want to start their own farming business.
4) Provide support for the Karen Community in North Carolina.
5) Preserve historic farmland. This farm is located on Oaky Grove, a historic farm circa 1818, helping to preserve precious farmland in a rapidly developing community.”
Started in 2018, this farm is the first type of refugee farm in Wake County where the intent is for Asian farmers to grow their own, sustainable, chemical-free Asian produce and flowers.
The Karen Community: A Story of Resilience
To truly understand the significance of the Karen Community Farm at Oaky Grove, it’s important to understand the challenges and hardships that these farmers and their families have lived with.
Karen refugees are a group of people who belong to the Karen ethnic minority in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The Karen people have a long and complex history, marked by conflict and displacement within their homeland. Due to political persecution, human rights violations, and violent armed conflicts between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Myanmar military, many Karen individuals and families have been forced to flee their homes. The conflict in their region has resulted in the displacement of thousands of Karen people, leading them to become refugees in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, India, and the United States.
Many of the Karen refugees who fled to the US have become US citizens. Additionally, many of the farmers who work at the Karen Community Farm have a farming heritage and maintained gardens in refugee camps to help feed their families. Farming at Oaky Grove allows these farmers to maintain and celebrate their culture and heritage.
Learn More About Karen Community Farm at Oaky Grove
I would love to go more in-depth about the farm’s history, but I think I’m better equipped to share with you my experience on the farm this past Sunday. The vast majority of the information above has been paraphrased from the Karen Community Farm at Oaky Grove’s website. For additional information on the current farm tract and its potential expansion, Oaky Grove Farm and its owner Dr. Talmage Brown, and for additional information about the Karen people, I strongly suggest visiting their site! You can also follow their Facebook page for up-to-date postings on their farm stand and special events.
Finding My Way to the Farm Stand
I drove up to the farm’s entrance, which was relatively easy to locate thanks to the farm stand sign right at the front. Locally, this place shouldn’t be too hard to get to based on its proximity to I-87 (This will be even more accessible once I-540 is complete). After entering, there were signs placed along a gravel pathway that showed you where to park. I parked right behind an old farmhouse building. There were a few other visitors there that day dining in the bamboo house, which was built by the Karen farmers and their families.
The Farm Stand: Garlic, Thai Pork Meatballs, and Gladiolas, Oh My!
I walked up to the farm stand to admire all of the fresh produce and beautiful flower arrangements by Kree’s Flowers. I was warmly greeted by the farm manager, Jenn. She pointed out the food specials on their board that day (Thai shaved ice and Sai Kraw – Thai pork sausage). She also pointed out a special dining event hosted by the farmers on the farm with a multicourse, homecooked Thai menu. The proceeds from the event will go toward thatching the roof of their bamboo house. I really hope they keep offering special events and special dining experiences because the menu sounded delicious!
Jenn introduced me to a few of the farmers (and chefs), including Htoo Saw, Kee Lar, and Kree Paw Sain. We talked about the produce available at the stand that day which included lettuces, cucumber, carrots, pea shoots, garlic, and other various herbs.
Touring the Karen Community Farm And Learning About Asian Produce
Htoo Saw then graciously gave me a tour of their farm. He explained how each farmer has a plot where they can grow whatever produce they choose that’s compatible with the NC piedmont climate.
He walked me through the greenhouse and showed me the rows of drying garlic. I had never seen garlic straight from the ground before!
We then went through his fields to browse all of his vegetables and herbs. He primarily focuses on growing Asian produce, such as but not limited to ginger, water gourd, iron vine, Thai hot peppers, Thai holy basil, kaffir lime, and wattle.
Not only did I get to see all of the plants growing, but Htoo Saw encouraged me to taste any herbs that I was interested in trying. I got to try so many new flavors that I have never experienced before. Every plant was meticulously kept in neat rows. I felt like I could feel his love for the earth and his culture’s food in everything I saw and tasted.
Seeing Rows and Rows of Beauty
Right behind Htoo Saw’s plot was Kree Paw Sain’s plot of flowers (of Kree’s Flowers). She had rows and rows of beautifully blooming floral varieties. What stood out to me were the huge, gorgeous blossoms of her gladiolas. There were so many delicate, bold, seasonal flowers all blooming at once and ready to be brought together for Kree to create another one of her stunning bouquets. All I know is that if I were getting married, I would contact Kree in a heartbeat. Her arrangements are strikingly beautiful.
Enjoying Farm-Fresh, Homecooked Thai Food at the Farm Stand
After touring the farm, I came back to the Farm Stand for my purchases. I picked out some lettuce, a bouquet, and then ordered a Thai shaved ice. Thai shaved ice was a new adventure for me- something I’ve never had before. I had a choice between red or green syrup, but I wasn’t sure which one I should choose. Green was Kree’s personal favorite so I went with that one.
It was the perfect way to cool off from the sun. There were all sorts of different ingredients in the shaved ice. I was encouraged to essentially just mix them up all together and eat it. The textures and flavors were new to me, but I enjoyed it! I also couldn’t help but try a sample of the Sai Kraw (Thai pork sausage). It was served with a fresh, crispy cucumber and cabbage garnish. The sausage had a warm, crispy skin on the outside of them and it was so tender. It tasted amazing!
I enjoyed eating all of the food in the shade of the bamboo house. I had a chance to chat with Kree about her son (our children are close in age). Kree’s husband Daniel was there and talked about using fresh ingredients in his new restaurant, Sushi Time in north Raleigh. Jenn also sat and chatted with the farmers about their distribution plans for their crops and brainstormed ideas for expansion. It felt like an open, caring, kind group of people who want to share their love of their culture as well as their unique, individual gifts with the rest of the Triangle community.
Appreciating the Beauty of Karen Community Farm
I stood back to just take a moment to soak it all in. Experiencing seeing the beauty of the flowers and plants. Tasting the fresh herbs and trying some amazing new foods. Hearing the wind blow through the field and the bees happily buzzing along, pollinating everything in sight. Then feeling the sun shine down on me. That moment brought a rush of gratitude for this awesome gem of a farm and organization. For a moment, being here feels like being in a completely different world. But then I stop, blink, and come back to see the natural beauty of Carolina farmland. And I realize I am home.