Author Archives: Kelly Owensby

About Kelly Owensby

I have been working with sustainable agriculture community in the Chapel Hill area since 2005. I live in Person County with my partner George O'neal where amongst the tobacco fields and soybeans The Lil' Farm does all its' vegetable growing. I feel very fortunate to be running the RAPP project and to be learning about an involved with the Karen community. Since the project began I have learned about Burmese vegetables such as Winged Beans, Snake Gourds, Roselle and Bitter Melons. So much to learn and do!

Farm Open House!

Open House for email

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Come Support Tri Sa! Share the news!

Tri Sa Market Full Size

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Chapel Hill Farmer’s market accepts Tri Sa!

Freshly tilledLately, I have been thinking back to the Fall of 2010 when our first group of refugee farmers met us out at the Irvin Nature Preserve to scope out the grassy tawny pasture that would soon become the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm.  None of us knew what the upcoming years would bring or even if this project would actually work.  Almost three years later it is Spring again and we are all gathered for the first planting of this year.  Huddled in the warm greenhouse for announcements and a workshop I look around and see the same faces from that first prospective meeting in Fall of 2010 as well as over 25 new faces.  Outside, over 3 acres lay in a beautiful clover/rye cover crop or freshly tilled.  The greenhouse is full of broccoli, lettuce, cilantro, kale, cabbage, etc. and everyone is excitedly starting seeds, carrying trays of plants out to plant and smiling, laughing, talking.  There is a visible familiarity, ease, relief expressed as people emerge from winter, from small cramped apartments to the sun, sky and dirt of the Farm.  Although allSpring 2012 (part 2) 015 of our farmers were farmers in Burma, there is so much for them to learn here in N.C.  The four seasons that we take for granted are completely unfamiliar to our farmers, most of whom had never left their tropical villages until they had to flee to refugee camps in Thailand.  In Burma, farmers tilled land with water buffalo (similar to an ox) and grew mangoes, rice, sesame, hibiscus, snake gourd, etc.  They never had seen a greenhouse, made seedling soil mix or experimented with season extension.  Marketing was a completely different ball game just as they found most everything was upon arriving in N.C. But to see how much farmers have learned from the over 150 hours of workshops and classes they have attended at the Farm over the past 2.5 years is one of the many things that I love about this project.  Ask almost any farmer what the NPK on the bag of fertilizer stands for and even what each nutrient does for our plants and they could probably tell you.  Or watch them seeding cover crop, working in the greenhouse or suckering a tomato and you will know.  Really, to watch the bounty of beautiful fruits and vegetables harvested throughout the year and to see the jungle-like farm rising to the sky a bit each day and I know that this project is really really working.  To top everything off, we have two new exciting bits of news that we hope you will share.  One, is that Tri Sa has been accepted to the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market and will be selling every Tuesday from 3-6.  She will be selling all the NC fruits and veggies that we are most familiar with as well as the crops native to Burma that she is most familiar with.  The second exciting bit of news is that the farmers have been talking all winter about wanting to start their own market, that best fits their schedule and needs.  As a result, we have partnered with the Human Rights Center on Barnes Street in Carrboro and will be selling fruits and veggies every Friday from 5-7 starting in late April.  Stay tuned for more info and please come out and support our refugee farmers at these two markets.  We’ll let you know when those markets open.

Look for Tri Sa at the Chapel Hill Farmer's Market on Tuesdays this Spring!!

Look for Tri Sa at the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays this Spring!!

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Winter News

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Sunny Winter December Workday

We just finished a lovely sunny winter December workday.  We added two new compost stations to the encompass our growing farm, dug an irrigation ditch to drain our very wet lower field, got all of our drip tape rolled up and stored and checked on our strawberries and garlic.  We also found the time to snap this picture as we want to say THANKS to everyone who supported the farm this year. We have had so much amazing community support through CSA members, restaurants, volunteers and so much more.  This project wouldn’t exist without all of your help so thanks from all of us at Transplanting Traditions.  We hope everyone has a lovely holiday and we’ll see you next year.  THANKS!

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Fundraiser Success!

Despite many obstacles (hurricanes, car wrecks, laryngitis) all of us at the Farm feel like the Fundraiser was a great success and we want to thank everyone who came out to support the project.  We would especially like to thank Vimala and Rush of Vimala’s Curryblossom Café for opening their arms and doors to us after Hurricane Sandy de-railed our original fundraiser date.  Also thanks to The Lantern restaurant for their amazing raffle donation as well as Barbara and Rike Peevey for their Asheville Rose vacation getaway donation.   Additionally the staff and board members of the Orange County Partnership for Young Children.

As many of you know, this non-profit project has less than a year of funding under its current grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.  Over the next 10 months, we will be doing our best to seek additional funds in order to keep this amazing project thriving.  Please let us know if you have any ideas.  We really can’t let this work go unfinished.

Vanessa Patchett’s farm photo documentary project will stay up at Vimala’s for a while so if you haven’t seen the pictures, go get a bite to eat and check out her beautiful photos (all the photos on this posting are hers).  I feel that her pictures do an excellent job of catching the spirit of the farm and she spent a lot of time at the farm this summer documenting.   Also, let us know how you felt about the traditional Karen Burmese food served at the Fundraiser.  I am guessing it was for most, the first time eating Karen food. I know that our amazing farmer cooks were very proud to not only grow the food that we served but also to cook and share a piece of Karen culinary culture with their new community in N.C.  We will put the recipes up soon, so stay tuned.

Thanks again everyone, your support really meant a lot.

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Fundraiser has been re-scheduled to Sunday November 11th from 4 -7 at Vimala’s Curryblossom Café

The event will remain the same with traditional Karen Burmese food, dancing and music as well as a photo documentary show by Vanessa Patchett.

If you have already bought tickets and can’t attend the new fundraiser date let us know if you would like a refund.

Big thanks to Vimala and Curryblossom Café for helping us out in a pinch!!!

You can still buy tickets here on the blog.  Follow instructions using the post below.

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We are so excited to announce our first Farm Fundraiser which has be re-scheduled to Sunday November 11th starting at 4 pm at the Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe! Come listen to live traditional Karen folk music and dancing, drink hot hibiscus lemongrass tea and other libations, learn about Karen culture and Burma and enjoy traditional Karen appetizers with ingredients sourced from the Farm and enter a raffle to win a Lantern Restaurant six course dinner with wine pairings for two. Please tell friends and family and help us to sell tickets. We need your help to get the word out about our first fundraiser. It will be a fun, causal and beautiful afternoon.

Tickets are $15 and you can buy tickets on the blog using the Make a Donation button.

Here are detailed instructions:

1. Just click on the Make a Donation button and enter $15

2. Hit Update Total

3. Put in credit card info or pay with paypal

4. Hit Donate $15 USD Now

5. Done

6. You will get an email confirmation in the next 24 hours with tickets to print out.  We’ll also have a list of attendee names at the event.

7.  If you want to buy 4 tickets just put in $60 bucks in the donate box. We’ll do the math and send you 4 tickets via email confirmation.

Tickets can also be bought at the event for $20

If you need additional info, email me at

We can’t wait to have you join us!

You might wonder why we are having a fundraiser. As the Farm has expanded and as we admit new families to the program (we still have a waiting list!) the expenses to run the farm keep increasing. We also are facing the reality of our current grant funding running out in one year. The farm has become an integral and fundamental part of the Karen community and offers our refugee farmers a chance to fulfill a dream of one day becoming an independent farmer. We know that the project can’t end! We won’t let it end! So, we would love to have your support at our fundraiser. Thanks!

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Karen Wrist Tying Ceremony

This morning Nicole and I attended the Traditional Karen Wrist Tying Ceremony.  We had been hearing about this event out at the farm for the past couple of weeks but because of language barriers I had a sort of fuzzy idea of what to expect.  I knew it would involve elders from the community tying white strings around the wrists of Karen youth as a sort of blessing and that there would be singing and dancing and (of course) mountains of food.  But beyond that I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When we arrived, the auditorium at Carrboro High School was filled with several hundred Karen families all dressed in their colorful and intricately woven traditional longyi.   Longyi’s are long cotton cloths that are tied or wrapped and worn like a skirt.  Both men and women wear longyi’s although the method of wrapping and the patterns and colors differs for men and women. Traditionally, Karen women would use looms to weave longyis for the entire family and they take great pride in the design and beauty of the cloths.  One of the farmers, Zar Ree, has a traditional loom that she still uses and apparently there are specific weaving songs that the women sing as they work on their looms.  I found a Burmese saying that goes: “Men who cannot read are like the blind; women who cannot weave are like the crippled”

The opening ceremony involved members of the community carrying the Karen flag and parading down the center of the auditorium to the stage.  On a long table several silver platters were set out as well as white balls of string. The wrist tying ceremony apparently was an important ritual before the Karen embraced religions such as Buddhism or Christianity and is rooted in more animist beliefs. The silver platters contained 7 symbolic items that were used in the ceremony. (The meaning of each item is taken from the website

1:  Glass of cold water. The glass of cold water symbolizes peace of mind and strength, cleansing the body and mind. 

2:  White thread.  The white thread serves as protection from misfortune and evil

3:  Seven rice balls:  The rice represents unity.  One grain of rice is not as strong as a ball of rice.

4:  Seven triangle shaped sticky rice lumps:  The triangle represents solidarity and sharpness

5:  Seven bananas:  The bananas represent loyalty and discipline (this has something to do with the manner in which banana trees grow)

6:  Seven flower branches:  The flower branches signify the Karens ability to settle and thrive and put down roots anywhere.

7:  Seven pieces of sugar cane:  The sugar cane represents moral values and good ethics as well as racial and ethnic tolerance.

All of these items were laid out on several platters on a long table.  Respected elders stood on one side of the table and the rest of us formed a long line to wait for our turn to be blessed.  When it was my turn I put my wrists out with palms up.   Each of the items from the platter were placed in my hands to hold. The string was tied around my wrists and the drops of water placed on my forearms.  A small amount of banana and rice was placed on the top of my head and I was done!  I read that not only does the ceremony keep serve as a protection and blessing but the string ties my spirit to my body to keep separation or wandering from occurring.

Afterwards I lined up to fill my plate with traditional Karen food and then to sit down and watch the traditional singing and dancing.  I felt very lucky to be allowed to participate in this special piece of Karen history and tradition.

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Summertime and the Eno River Festival

Trellised gourd vines

Trellised gourd vines

I think every time I post I mention what a crazy profession farming is.  But the past two weeks of unrelenting heat and drought really remind me of this as well as make me want to yell up at that blazing inferno of  a star we call the sun:  “Tone it down a notch!”  It’s like the sun is on steroids these days and showing off it’s might.

Dear Sun, we are sufficiently impressed with the your might, now please return to your normal life supporting self.

Yours Truly,

Transplanting Traditions

I realized when I moved to the sticky, humid Piedmont years ago that the being outside in the summer felt like what it must be like to be trapped inside someone’s mouth.  But, despite it all, our vegetables are heroically forging forward photosynthesizing their way into greatness.  The farm is starting to look like a jungle with Asian veggies climbing high on intricately designed trellises.  The vines start to form tunnels and secret passage ways and the farm begins to take on an other worldly magical quality.  The strange sight of snake gourds, bitter melons, ridge skin luffas and other veggies definitely add to the affect.  Many of these vines would grow 15 feet or more if we could provide a trellis that high.

In other news, this weekend Transplanting Traditions was proud to have a booth at the Eno River Festival.  Nicole Accordino and all of our Karen farmers did a wonderful job pulling this together.  On both Saturday and Sunday Tri Sa,

Yoe Moo, Tri Sa and Paw Moo at our booth wearing traditionally woven longyi

Khai Nyui, Paw Moo and Pot Hsu made traditional Karen soups to hand out as samples.   These soups were full of the vegetables and herbs we grow on the farm and were, as always, unbelievable delicious.  Nicole and I have been brainstorming on doing a much bigger cooking event out at the farm in the fall so keep your eyes and ears posted for more info.

Traditional Karen Soup

Traditional Karen Soup

Khai Nyui, Erin Walker, Nicole Accordino

Khai Nyui, Erin Walker, Nicole Accordino and Bibi

Long Beans.  You could make a jump rope with those!

Long Beans. You could make a jump rope with those!

Luscious summery CSA box

Luscious summery CSA box

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