This is a guest blog post from Lina “Mama Tshutshu” Nyaronge, Community Connector at Sharing Our Roots and Climate Land Leader. It is the second in a three-part series from Mama Tshutshu sharing perspectives on climate change, agriculture and community.
In my hometown of Kisii, Kenya, everyone has a backyard with vegetables – a kitchen garden you might call it. I loved growing and harvesting my own vegetables. It was therapeutic. It was also communal – if you didn’t have enough of something, you could always exchange with your neighbors. I planted our staple vegetables in succession – chinsaga, managu, kale, enderema, jute mallow, tomatoes, onions and pumpkin.
We practiced many sustainable practices in our gardens in Kisii, like rotating crops to build nutrients in the soil and adding nitrogen to the soil through fixer crops like beans. I never used harsh chemicals, having nutrient-rich fertilizer from my cows and chickens – compost manure that we made by layering chicken and cow manure with banana leaves and letting the manure slowly mature into compost that we sprinkled around our crops.
In 2007, when I emigrated from Kenya to Northfield, I brought these practices and skills. I also brought my vegetables – dried vegetables in my luggage that contained their seeds. Our vegetables are a delicacy here. What do I mean by this? In Kenya, we grew up eating our local vegetables. Their flavors are in our taste buds. Their flavors take you back your roots, to where you came from and how you grew up, what you used to eat when you were young, what your mother and grandmother used to feed you – and we love it. Our vegetables are medicinal, too. When you are anemic, you eat a lot of managu and chinsaga for their iron content. The nutrients in chinsaga are very good for mothers who have given birth.
Growing these vegetables is continuing a Kenyan tradition here in Northfield. I want my children and my grandchildren to learn and keep my culture. When we grow cultural foods, we know we belong to a community and to an ethnic group, and the seeds tie us to older generations. My mother and her sister used to go to the forest and forage managu. Then people started growing the wild plants inside the corn plantation. My mother and father were farmers who grew coffee, tea and corn, so as I was growing up we picked managu and chinsaga as we were working the corn field. In time people started kitchen gardens where they planted managu and chinsaga seeds along with pumpkin and other kinds of vegetables, and now these crops are grown in plots and common in kitchen gardens.
The first seeds I planted at the Greenvale Community Garden in Northfield were chinsaga. The plants flower white at first, and everyone passing by wanted to know what it was. It did very well. Over the past decade, more Kenyans have emigrated to this area, and many are now growing food at Greenvale Community Garden. In this way we practice our culture and support people growing their own indigenous food.
What foods are you growing in your garden this season? What foods take you back to where you came from and how you grew up? What foods do you share with your neighbors? As the growing season accelerates, I will offer you a definition for community:
Community is to come together, till land together, plant together, harvest together, share together and tell each other stories.
Read the first in this series: Climate perspective from Kisii, Kenya to Northfield, Minnesota
Read the final in this series: A communal response to climate change