By Shannon Matthews, Phase II Fellow
From the food security perspective of New Roots, one of the goals of the program is to assist new arrivals and immigrants with access to culturally appropriate foods and to help increase that access within their neighborhoods.
From the farming and gardening perspective, it's excellent that vegetables are pretty much always culturally appropriate.
Beans? Everyone's heard of ‘em in some form and every continent's got their own favorite variety. Tomato.. Tomate… Once, just a native wild berry of South America has become a pioneer of the globe.
Khayanthee in Burmese, or Eggplant, thought to be birthed in Asia has traveled from East to West, setting up shop wherever it stopped along the way. Chili peppers, or as you might hear when gardening with a Nepali gardener, Khorsani have become a beloved and universal enhancer of dishes.
Food, in general always brings people together but natural, unprocessed, whole food, growing straight out of the soil has that special potential to bring cultures together who may not otherwise interact with one another because of language barriers, or the like. Growing real food is a wonderfully human common ground. These vegetables have no hidden, untranslatable ingredients; they are straightforward and necessary sustenance.
Even though popular vegetables have that universal quality, there are many yearned for crops more familiar to Asia and parts of Africa that are not as frequently grown in Virginia, or are at least not sold as a 'mainstream vegetable'. Some of these grow quite easily in our climate with a little love and are slowly being integrated into our food culture by many new immigrant and curious American growers. Some of the usual crops are simply being used in different ways, for example…
International foods are turning local right before our eyes and maybe one day in the not too distant future, these crops will be as common as a tomato. A few of the crops being grown by New Roots gardeners and farmers in Charlottesville this season that I don’t usually spot at the farmers market are African Eggplant, Bitter and Bottle Gourds, Long Cucumber, Yard Long Beans, Roselle, and last but certainly not least Mustard Greens*.
This summer we will be starting a weekly farm stand in a Charlottesville community where so many IRC clients have resettled. Here, New Roots farmers will sell their mentioned produce in addition to other popular vegetables, affordable to the community. There will also be an educational Nutrition segment to accompany the farm stand led by a volunteer from Virginia Cooperative Extension. If you are in the Charlottesville area and want to learn from the farmers about their crops or methods and maybe even a nutritious recipe or two, come check out the farm stand on Saturdays, late afternoons (let’s say 2pm or later for now) starting in June on Michie Drive.
*A QUICK BLURB IN HONOR OF THE MUSTARD PLANT: This past month, Mustard has taken the spotlight amongst New Roots gardeners. This Nepali staple is a much sought after and adored green used in numerous dishes, most popularly Saag (also the Nepali word for Mustard), or eaten raw. This versatile plant is used for its seeds, its greens, and to make oil. April is the month to begin harvesting Mustard in Nepal. So, although our seasons are backwards it is only appropriate that so much excitement take place around planting Mustard Greens in our gardens here this month. Here are a couple Mustard highlights from the past few weeks and a tasty, simple Saag recipe….