Cuisine and Crops in Central Africa (and the US) – When is a Garden a Food Garden?

I was flummoxed a few days ago by a series of emails  on the  list-serve of  ‘The Association for the Study of Food and Society‘  regarding the definition of  ‘a vegetable/fruit garden’.

This had to do with rules of  a Home Owner’s Association that defined a few veggies and fruit trees on one of their member’s lawn as constituting a ‘vegetable garden’ which, according to the Association, was not allowed.

Wait, what’s going on here?  When is the definition of a ‘food garden’ – versus a (uh) a  ‘garden-garden’?

Let’s add some perspective to this interesting existential quandary, by moving away from rules applied to members of a home owner’s association – to real-life,  ‘mixed’ gardens in Africa and elsewhere.

Take a look at the picture in my last blog, showing a contemporary woman with hoe and kids standing in front of her home.  The garden surrounding her home is lovely and green – and all eatable:  beer and sweet bananas with beans planted underneath.

And take a look at the lawns surrounding this home in the neighboring village:

The 'lawns' are actually lenga-lenga, which is a variety of amaranths that is very popular.  It is a key money-earner for women, child-headed households, the old and the infirmed.

The 'lawns' are actually lenga-lenga, which is a variety of amaranths that is very popular. It is a key money-earner for women, child-headed households, the old and the infirmed.

Here is the front garden of a friend’s house who lives upcountry, which appears to fall more in line with what in the US is considered a garden:

Pretty garden - but wait again, what kind is it?  At the back are stocks of red sorghum and interspersed amongst some flowers are various herbs.

Pretty garden - but wait again, what kind is it? At the back are stocks of red sorghum and interspersed amongst some flowers are various herbs.

Then again, perhaps we can consider an entire community to be a garden:

Some areas of central Africa, as here in Eastern Burundi, are sub-tropical and families are clustered in park-like communities at the base of hills.

Some areas of central Africa, as here in Eastern Burundi, are sub-tropical and families are clustered in park-like communities at the base of hills.

‘Even’ BaTwa pygmy homes in Burundi are often  surrounded by gardens of vegetables – which are carefully tended by hand during the dry season to bring greenness to the bleak surroundings where they have been settled by the government:

A BaTwa pygme woman in front of her home, in front of which she has planted cassava, beans and corn.  A few months later this was a lovely, green garden that brought coolness and minimized dust.

A BaTwa pygme woman in front of her home, in front of which she has planted cassava, beans and corn. A few months later this was a lovely green garden that brought coolness and minimized dust.

And then there is my former home here in Burundi, (which is actually just next door to where I now live).  It appears to have a  ‘normal’ ‘garden.  However, everything planted is either fodder for the livestock (goats and a donkey) or people-food:

The grass is regularly mowed by goats, the ficus trees are pruned and fed to goats that need a pick-up, the palm will produce people-food, and in the back is a tree whose leaves are excellent fodder, as well.

The grass is regularly mowed by goats, the ficus trees are pruned and fed to goats that need a pick-up, the palm will produce people-food, and in the back is a tree whose leaves are excellent fodder, as well. As for the dogs? They are a indigenous breed, Besanji, from the Congo border.

Further afield, in the oasis of Siwa in the Libyan Desert, about which I blogged earlier, the entire oasis is a garden – primarily of palms and olives.  These, together with a variety of vegetables, are planted such that every inch of cultivatable land is used.  And used in accordance with complex land ownership and irrigation rights that are past down in families.

Shown is  Aghurmi, one of the two acropili on the Oasis.  Aside from them, the oasis is a vast and beautiful garden of etibles.

Shown is Aghurmi, one of the two acropolii on the Oasis. Aside from them, the oasis is a vast and beautiful garden of edibles. Source: Minimar.com

Thanks to the discussion on the ASFS List-Serve, which caused me stop and take account of what ‘gardens’ can mean to different people in different places.  And that there is probably no platonic ideal of a garden, no matter what Home Owner’s Associations may want to believe.

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About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-General, Agriculture, Cuisine, Gardens, Middle East, Uncategorized, USA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Cuisine and Crops in Central Africa (and the US) – When is a Garden a Food Garden?

  1. Lenny Hartz says:

    Interesting blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really
    make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you
    got your design. Cheers

    Like

    • dianabuja says:

      Thank you. I do the blog arrangements myself – it’s all free uploads, including my own pix. Tried to open your blog – but it comes up 404…

      Like

  2. dianabuja says:

    Thanks, Maria.

    There are several varieties of lenga-lenga (amaranths) in the country, some semi-wild which are well-adapted to low rainfall areas. These bushes are still quite young and will get about 10″ tall. and yes, they are planted closely together. Very pretty, and also tasty.

    I agree about the home owners association – but it does raise the interesting
    question of why, in some societies, gardens are so strictly divided into categories of eatable and non-eatable. A lot can be written on that!

    Like

  3. beautiful post – it reminds us that africa is not just a desert everywhere – is there enough rainfall to keep the lenga lenga going?
    your amaranth bushes are smaller than what i would have expected, but they are also more densely clustered than ours.

    i must admit i had to laugh at what the home owners association believes constitutes a garden – i take it that the garden referred to was in america; i can imagine what my husband would think if someone knocked on his front door and told him what was and what was not permitted in the private ‘garden’ of an individual – now i know why some people dont know what or where their food comes from !!!

    Like

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