Vietlead -Serving up Vietnamese History & Culture Through Food

Written by Soil Generation member, Lan Dinh

Vietlead is a new-- literally grassroots-- community organization that is serving the Vietnamese community in Philadelphia and South Jersey composed of members who seek to build a community, cultural, and people-centered vision for self determination. Our programs include Resilient Roots Community Farm, OurRoots youth organizing project, and Senior Health Promotion. Resilient Roots (RR) is a half acre intergenerational farm partnered with Vietnamese refugee elder families and high school students from Camden County to build local ownership and resiliency on top of a vacant concrete lot in East Camden! One of our elders Chu Nam said, "I want to work with the young people so they can continue the work after we're gone." RR students also started their own school garden club at Brimm Medical Arts High school where they have transformed the back of their school and abandoned greenhouse! We are so proud of our members Esmeralda Pena, Nyraysia Robinson, and Ashley Pintor who have spoken on panels about Engaging Youth in Food Justice.

Brimm Medical Arts students learning how to plant from elder Chu Xuyen in order to bring back and teach their peers at their garden club
Resilient Roots June harvest! These beds are all built from scavanged wooden pallets!

VietLead also facilitates OurRoots youth organizing project, which includes a chapter that is facilitated in Vietnamese for Vietnamese immigrant students, and two further chapters in Philly and South Jersey that is in English and is multi-racial. This past spring, youth from Philadelphia have been learning about food justice and the it’s roots in the exploitation of land, labor, and culture as well as ways that communities have resisted through utilizing the land itself. Students then went on foot to look at potential vacant lands that could be created into a community garden.

On June 5th, students presented their learning and organizing to their families at a Family Dinner Gathering of which they were central planners from organizing logistics, budgeting, to cooking a 4 course dinner with dishes that represented being Thinkers, Fighters, Supporters, and Growers.

Members busy cooking a 4 course meal (Canh Chua- sweet sour vegetable soup, Rau Muống-water spinach, Thịt kho trứng- carmelized coconut pork and eggs, and Rau Cau-Coconut Jelly)
Presenting around the history and symbolism of this meal!!!

Neary Naom and Minh Phat said, “One of the hardest tasks that we’ve had to do for gardening was to find land within Philly that we can call our own and although it has been troublesome, we are still determined on finding land one day that we can call our own. When we work together in the garden, you can see that this is the true definition of what it feels like be a part of a community as well as what it feels like to feel at home.“ Our families received the information with much excitement and students gathered at least 60 signatures interested in helping find land and building a community garden in Philly!

VietLead is currently fundraising for the 3 youth summer programs that we will be hosting: Resilient Roots in Camden, SumOurRoots-specific to Viet food sovereignty in Philly, and RICE (Real Internships in Community Engagement).

Members sharing how farming has allowed them “A chance to feel at home” where Neary’s father was a farmer in Cambodia and had to flee the Khmer Rouge and Minh Phat whose family were farmers in Vietnam