Steven Hebbard is a farmer called to work alongside communities on the margins of American society. In 2008, after years of teaching, community gardening, and reading about the challenges facing communities in poverty, Steven made a radical shift into the world of organic farming. He began his education through an internship at Boggy Creek Farm, the oldest urban organic farm in the country. Training under Carol Ann Sayle, Steven went on to become the Central Texas Director for TOFGA and to start Genesis Gardens, an organic farming and gardening ministry at the Austin non-profit, Mobile Loaves & Fishes. During his six years running Genesis Gardens, Steven led thousands of volunteers and a core team of homeless and formerly homeless farmers,to develop a 4-acre organic farm and animal husbandry program at the Community First! Village in East Austin. After passing the program into very capable hands, Steven continues to live at the Community First! Village, where he grows his personal garden veggies, fiber, and dye plants with his wife Bethany and his formerly homeless neighbors.
Steven sits on the steering committee for the Sustainable Agriculture program at the Elgin campus of the Austin Community College. He was part of the successful efforts lobbying on behalf of the Cottage Food Bill with Judith McGeary of the Food and Ranch Freedom Alliance. He received his PDC with Geoff Lawton in 2014 and has been a practitioner of permaculture principles in his approach ever since. He is a teacher and farmer, passionate about the unique power of food to bring communities together.
Wandaka Musongera, New Leaf Coordinator
Wandaka Musongera was born in Democratic Republic of Congo but had to leave at age nine due to war. His family lived in Uganda for seven years as refugees. Life wasn’t easy there. He didn’t go to school for the first two years due to lack of school fees but finally got a scholarship from the missionaries and worked extremely hard to make good grades so they could continue supporting his studies. He started working as a materials recycler at age eleven to contribute to his family’s income.
Wandaka’s family came to the United States in July 2013. Things weren’t as he expected: the weather was terrible, he still had to work long hours and the social culture was very different. But slowly he says he is adapting to American life and knows, after having lived in three countries, that in every place there is good and bad.
Wandaka got his first garden at age seven and looked after goats and pigs. He loves soccer, nature and travel and has finished two marathons. He’s enrolled in ACC studying political science with plans to teach.
He’s excited for his work at New Leaf and has this to say about it, “I love my role at MRC. I believe in its mission and it gives me an opportunity to work with folks from around the world which has helped me develop and grow as a person. I have learned to love and appreciate different cultures.”
Krishna Bista, Grower
Krishna is from Bhutan, where she grew rice, corn, ginger, cows, goats and chickens. She fled to Nepal before being resettled in the US in 2010. She began gardening with MRC in 2013 at the Festival Beach Community Garden and began working at the New Leaf Farm in March 2018. Krishna’s favorite things to do include cooking, working in her backyard garden and gathering with her big family. She lives with her husband, four sons, daughter, two daughters-in-law and one grandchild.
Lal Chhatri, Farm Apprentice
Lal grew up on a family farm of about 30 acres in Bhutan before fleeing to Nepal. He did not go to school because he began working on the farm at age seven taking care of livestock and raising rice, corn, potatoes and hibiscus for tea. He also grew bamboo which he used to build houses for himself and others and shelters for his livestock. Lal arrived in the US in 2011 and now lives with his wife, son, daughter-in-law, grandson and nephew. He says he is happy to be in the US because he had lost everything when he left Bhutan and feels like he has started a new, safe life here. He was surprised by how welcomed he was in the US and enjoys participating in community events with the local Bhutanese community.
Dewaki Dahal, Grower
Dewaki was born in Bhutan and learned farming from her parents who owned about 35 acres for crops and animals, including cows and buffalo that were used for ploughing. In 1991 she moved to Nepal for safety and lived there for 19 years before arriving in the US in 2010. She now lives in Austin with her husband and four daughters. Dewaki has gardened with support from MRC in a plot at Festival Beach Community Gardens since 2011 and began working at the New Leaf Farm in March of 2018. She says she is happy to be able to work with friends and earn money by farming. She also likes to cook and feed her community. Her favorite crops to grow are cucumbers and okra.
Ambar Mahat, Farm Apprentice
Ambar was born in Bhutan where he learned to farm on his family’s fields. They raised ginger, hibiscus, corn and cattle. He later fled to Nepal, where he finished high school before moving to India for work as a security guard and then back to Nepal to work in a refugee camp and support tourists climbing Mount Everest. Ambar arrived in the US in 2011 and has worked as a security guard since then. He began gardening with MRC in 2013 and started work at New Leaf Farm in March of 2018. He lives with his wife and two daughters and next door to his parents, whom he helps care for. Ambar is also active in the Bhutanese community and uses his fluent English to help others with paperwork and appointments, as well as teaching traditional dance and organizing cultural events.
Pavitra Rai, Farm Apprentice
Pavitra grew up in Bhutan caring for crops like corn, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and rice as well as livestock. She then moved to Nepal to seek refuge and was resettled in Austin in 2012, where she lives now with her husband, three sons, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter. Pavitra helped MRC start our Lanier Garden in 2014 and also participated in the FarmLink program with Green Gate Farms. She works hard at New Leaf Farm and says she likes doing all the tasks and is grateful for the chance to contribute to her family’s income. Her job at New Leaf is her first paid job in the US.
Doli Wikongo, Farm Apprentice
Doli grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo where her family owned a large farm growing many crops, including bananas and corn which they made into beer. She moved to the US in 2013 and started working on an MRC garden plot at Lanier Gardens in 2014. She is excited for her work at New Leaf Farm and hopes to have her own plot and to be able to teach her kids farming. She lives with her husband and six children, one of whom is her supervisor at New Leaf Farm, New Leaf Coordinator Wandaka Musongera.