Leslie van Berkum, having paused her teaching career to focus on her business, missed the daily interaction with people who needed her help. She started volunteering to mentor a refugee family through Lutheran Social Services (now Ascentria Care Alliance) and ease their transition by providing extra support on a weekly basis. Leslie recalled “I’ve always admired the work of LSS. My kids played sports all throughout high school with refugee kids and they would constantly talk about how LSS helped them to integrate into their community.”
Peter and Leslie van Berkum started Van Berkum Nursery in 1987. It was very simple at first but steadily grew year after year in quantity, variety, and rapport. When the nursery outgrew the space in Chester, they moved to its current location in Deerfield, NH. The nursery has been recognized by the Small Business Bureau and has received the Farm of Distinction Award!
The van Berkum’s priority has always been that their employees first and foremost are team players and secondly that they possess prior knowledge of plants. They won on both accounts when they hired Bhutanese refugees resettled by LSS. Leslie van Berkum observed, “The Bhutanese appreciate their work. It’s really touching. It’s great for the high school and college students we hire as well to work alongside them and learn the internal skill of taking pride in one’s work. We really depend on them.” Van Berkum Nursery typically hires about 35 crew members each March to support the landscapers and wholesalers they contract.
The production supervisor shared his favorite story about working with these refugees, “I will tell you that the funniest thing we all do is learn how to speak Nepali. They’ve taught us how to say ‘new crop’, ‘last one’ (the end of a crop), ‘I’m hungry,’ ‘I’m thirsty’. So during the day we all are yelling these Nepali sentences to each other, and mixing in English with Nepali. It’s a lot of fun. When they have to go to the growing area across the marsh I will say, ‘Go by 11,’ which means walking (11 for two legs). Or I’ll say, ‘Go by 4,’ which means driving (four tires). I think my best experience with them is visiting their homes for relatives’ birthdays etc… I’ve been over a few times and they teach me how to prepare food as they do. They show me their Shrines with beautiful artwork of Gods and Goddesses. They really love to share their pictures and stories from Nepal as well. All and all I think it’s hard to realize they’re from such a different world because of how much we’ve shared with each other. I love them all.”