Document Type


Publication/Presentation Date

April 2021

Conference Location



Background: Refugees’ experience of integration into a new country and culture is often different from other immigrants. Many refugees are moving to escape torture, war, persecution and other hardships that require them to leave their home country. One concept of resilience refers to the ability to adapt and adjust to physical, emotional, and psychological stressors. The purpose of this qualitative research was to explore the relationship between gardening and resilience for refugee women (Bhutanese, Hmong and Karen) living in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.Methods: This qualitative study design, combined focus groups and face-to-face interviews with Bhutanese, Karen, and Hmong women gardeners. Working with professionals who shared the same language and ethnicity, we recruited women from local community gardens from July to October 2018. Trained facilitators conducted one focus group with each ethnic/language group. They then followed with individual interviews to facilitate data triangulation. All interviews were digitally recorded, translated, transcribed into English and entered into Nvivo 12 qualitative software for coding. A multi-ethnic research team used the constant comparative method to identify themes of resilience, hardship and coping among the gardeners. The St. Catherine University Institutional Review Board approved this study.Findings: Thirty Bhutanese (14), Hmong (10) and Karen (6) gardeners participated in focus groups and interviews. Common themes on gardening benefits included social connections with other gardeners, physical exercise, a place for renewing their identity and relieving depression. Growing familiar vegetables and cooking traditional foods also strengthened relationships with family across generations. Although gardening did relieve many of their stressors, it was not a panacea for challenges such as navigating the health care system, transportation, social isolation and adapting to a new country. Some differences arose between the ethnic groups based largely on their years in the U.S., social support networks, and English language skills.Interpretation: Community gardens served as a place of refuge, social connection and self-affirming identity for many women refugee gardeners. Government and community agencies can adopt programs and policies to expand access to community gardens and similar social engagement activities to assist refugees in their transition to living in a new country.