In certain parts of South Africa, you can find an abundance of family maintained fruit and vegetable gardens. My father grew up in a mountainous rural area where his family cultivated fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Although we now live in the city with only a lemon tree and an herb garden, my aunts have continued the tradition, evading the expansion of their houses at the expense of their natural gardens. Whenever we visit them, we are allowed free reign to pick as much bananas, avocadoes, mangoes, litchis as we wish. Their produce is large, weirdly shaped and delicious. It was foraging at its best for city raised children like myself and siblings.
Despite the pleasures of harvesting I had previously known, I was not used to the hands on experience of sowing seeds, pruning, thinning, cleaning, composting and irrigating. There is a vast difference between supporting urban agriculture and actually participating in it. I was unprepared for the rush of emotions I would experience when thinning the carrots, which involved sacrificing a few of the tiny baby carrots so that the others could have the room to become appetising adults. Irrigating is more than holding a hosepipe to water the plants once a day. And composting is more than throwing leftover food into a pile to decompose. While I’ve had fun getting dirty, wet and talking shop with passing New Yorkers, the grandest adventure has been the ones my taste buds have experienced. As I am from South Africa, I expected to find at least some different fruits and vegetables. I love trying new foods but I hadn’t been that fortunate until now. Supermarkets are pretty much the same with the standard offerings available. The next best place to look would be the farmers markets. However, it is infinitely more rewarding to sow the seed of an unknown vegetable and watch it grow over several weeks than to have someone else explain it to you. It’s an amazing feeling watching a small kohlrabi seed transform into this deep purple fat mutated spider-reminiscent vegetable. Its white flesh crunches like an apple when you bite into it while a hint of sweetness and the lingering savouriness of a potato and a splash of turnip hits your tongue. I only knew kale as the new leafy green power food Americans were obsessed with. And pineapple sage could’ve been the name of the next celebrity power couple’s new born child. However, pineapple sage is in the form of this tiny unassuming flower but the moment it touches your lips, it is an explosion of a sweet delicious flavour.
It’s not a myth that people are more likely to eat what they have grown. Why else would a grown woman be convinced to eat a flower straight from the garden in the middle of New York City? It’s the hands on experience that opens you to new experiences. Urban agriculture doesn’t just teach you to grow produce but it unravels an opportunity for you to interact with like-minded individuals and produce in new holistic way while perched in the middle of a very busy city.
– Mamsi Sekete