An East Camden community garden called Resilient Roots is helping nourish a neighborhood - and connect communities, cultures, and generations.
"Taro, turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, and four different kinds of mint," says Lan Dinh, walking me through the rows, raised beds, and containers of lush crops on what had been a trash-strewn vacant lot at 29th and Cramer.
"We have Asian squashes, gourds, bitter melons, and long beans," she says. "Edible chrysanthemum, sweet potato greens - we eat the greens - and Vietnamese corn."
Dinh pauses at a big-screen TV chassis that has been repurposed as a container garden; much of the extensive infrastructure of trellises, fences, and pathways at Resilient Roots has been built from scratch with salvaged materials.
"We're growing rau muong - water spinach - which is one of our cultural crops," she says. "These plants are resilient. Just like the people."
Dinh, 26, was born in a refugee camp and immigrated to the U.S. with her parents as a baby. She grew up in West Philly, and is farm project and food sovereignty project director for a nonprofit called VietLead.
The organization was founded last year to encourage older and younger Vietnamese in Camden and Philadelphia to collaborate on health, sustainability, food insecurity, and other issues.
"We want to create [the means] for cultural knowledge and history to be passed down," executive director Nancy Nguyen notes.
Hundreds of Vietnamese families who became refugees after the fall of Saigon were resettled in South Jersey by faith-based organizations in the 1980s and early '90s. Camden offered relatively cheap housing as well as nurturing churches, such as St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral in East Camden.
Many of the children of that first generation have moved out of the city to neighboring Pennsauken and elsewhere, but some of the elders remain. And about five years ago, a half-dozen members of the Vietnamese Senior Association began cultivating the half-acre, block-long, gently sloping site.
The Camden City Garden Club helped them get started; many already had backyards under cultivation.
"Their personal gardens are unbelievable, and it's amazing what they've done on that lot. It has become one of the most productive of our 100 gardens," club executive director Mike Devlin says.
VietLead worked with the seniors association last year and has provided volunteers like Davis Tran 14, with a chance to work side by side with experienced gardeners.
"It sort of felt like I belonged there," says Tran, who as a Resilient Roots summer intern will participate in a six-week program of gardening, workshops, and cooking classes.
A rising sophomore at Pennsauken High School, Tran says working with the elders "gives me a better sense of what the culture was like in Vietnam."
Amy Lim, 18, a garden volunteer who graduated from Pennsauken on Thursday, says she's learned a lot about history.
"I'm glad I had a chance to spend time with the elders and help them," says Lim.
Not that the elders are helpless, mind you: These gardeners are nothing if not resourceful, even innovative.
Trong Pham, 61, who served in South Vietnam's air force and has lived in Camden for 25 years, specializes in bitter melon, and is experimenting with better ways to cultivate it.
Nam Nguyen, 65, designed, built, and maintains a water storage system on the site. He lives nearby and is the garden's unofficial "keeper," says Nancy Nguyen (no relation), who translates for him.
"We're older, and our knowledge is going to be lost," he says. "I want to work with the young people so they can continue the work after we're gone."
Thu Pham, a 32-year-old health care navigator at Center for Family Services, helped get the garden started.
"When I got here in 1999, my grandmother was already here, and in the summer I always helped her in the garden. We would talk," says Pham, who is not related to Trong Pham.
In addition to difficult-to-find Vietnamese veggies, the garden's bounty includes tomatillos, peppers, and other crops popular with residents of the mostly Hispanic neighborhood.
Fresh-picked produce is made available at an "everything's a dollar" farm stand, and through distributing free produce door-to-door on Saturdays.
On the day I visit, the garden is inspiring, the idealism of the volunteers is uplifting, and the lunch, prepared by Phuong Le, 59, is fabulous: a soup called bun rieu, fried rice, and salad greens fresh from the garden.
But the New Jersey State Police helicopter crisscrossing overhead is a reminder that this garden grows in Camden, not Kansas.
And the origins of the place - in the experience of refugees like Dinh's parents, who fed their families with the food they grew - attests to the fact that Resilient Roots is about more than fresh greens.
It's also about survival.