Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Community Development and Applied Economics

First Advisor

Daniel Tobin


War, political unrest, and climate disasters cause major disruptions to peoples’ lives and livelihoods, and for subsistence farmers, who make up much of the world’s population, this means their agricultural practices. Among the farming habits that are disrupted are seed systems, defined in this study as the market and nonmarket institutions that affect how farmers access, store, share, distribute, and learn about propagative materials. In particular, the local varieties and knowledge, also described as Traditional Ecological Knowledge, contained in farmer-managed informal seed systems may be vulnerable when a crisis disrupts the social ties that the seed systems are built upon. However, there is limited empirical evidence of how refugees enact choice and agency to rebuild their seed systems in new contexts after displacement. This study presents a case study of how Bhutanese-Nepali refugees actively create and navigate new seed systems in Vermont. I draw upon 30 semi-structured interviews with Bhutanese-Nepali gardeners, the largest ethnic group of refugees who have resettled in Vermont, at two community garden organizations in Chittenden County.

The first chapter describes the seed saving, sharing, and buying practices of Bhutanese-Nepali gardeners in Vermont. I describe (1) the transactions through which Bhutanese-Nepali gardeners obtain seeds and plant starts, (2) the social relations linked to the sharing and selection of seeds among family, friends, strangers, and community organizations, and (3) the flows of information and knowledge about seed saving, seed access, and seed selection. Interview data indicate that Bhutanese-Nepali gardeners in Vermont construct and negotiate a combination of formal and informal seed systems. Employing their existing Bhutanese-Nepali community (both local and global), gardeners demonstrate Traditional Ecological Knowledge- information about seed systems that is acquired through community and experiences.

The second chapter then draws upon placemaking theory to explore how Bhutanese-Nepali gardeners integrate familiarity into their new environments with known seed practices and preferences. Results show that access to seeds and seed systems provides refugees with opportunities to grow essential crops, which might be otherwise difficult to obtain, to produce tastes and styles of foods reminiscent of their homelands. Gardeners apply cultural taste preferences, consult community knowledge, and experiment with new techniques and varieties to connect to familiar foodways. Through these actions of negotiating familiarity with newness, Bhutanese-Nepali gardeners make connections to place.

The values and practices in these seed systems provide compelling evidence that Bhutanese-Nepali gardeners integrate familiar values and practices with new technologies and skills. I end the thesis with recommendations that organizations strengthen and utilize the strong material and communication chains that Bhutanese-Nepali gardeners already have. In addition, when considering aid and support for refugee gardeners, facilitating agency and choice rather than direct handouts and donations would be the most socially beneficial. Future studies should further explore if these results are similar for other groups of refugees and immigrants and in different agro-ecological zones as well.



Number of Pages

149 p.

Included in

Sociology Commons