Johnny Kashama is working to diversify local produce in northern Ontario through a project focused on specialty ethnic vegetables, an action he says contributes to “nutritional globalization.”

Kashama is leading the ethnic vegetables specialties project at Collège Boréal.

He says some producers have already been growing such vegetables in small quantities and the plants have adapted well to the warmest months of northern Ontario’s climate.

He says there’s many arguments in favour of growing more ethnic produce, shared among producers, retailers and consumers.

“Most of the immigrants of African origin, they’ve struggled in having vegetables from their country — foods of their country in general, but vegetables most of the time,” Kashama says.

The project outline defines ethnic vegetables as those “that were not traditionally grown in Canada but were imported there and are currently grown on a limited scale. They are also referred to as exotic, unusual, world vegetables and/or high value crops.”

Kashama has targeted 16 species of ethnic vegetables for his project, including okra, amaranth, African basil, sweet potato leaves, aubergine and pumpkin leaves. He will provide seedlings to participating farmers and offer advice on how to best care for the various species.

A flourishing market segment

Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs supports producers’ efforts to diversify their crops.

“Growing and selling special crops or developing new value-added products can attract new customers and potentially increase revenues to a farm business,” reads a statement on the OMAFRA website.

Some species like pumpkin are not entirely new to Ontario growers, but Kashama says there’s untapped potential with these existing crops. Eating the leaves of plants like pumpkin, sweet potato and beans is common practice elsewhere in the world, and could create a new revenue stream for growers.

Kashama says a few African stores in the Sudbury area have already expressed interest in carrying this kind of produce, something that would allow stores to rely less on overseas imports and offer fresher foods.

He says he has also heard from shops as far away as Ottawa and Toronto that are eager to better serve the growing immigrant populations across Canada.

Supporting new ethnic vegetable consumers

Kashama has designed the project to attract newcomers to ethnic vegetables. He says he wants to see these species become staples at farmers’ markets in the north, as a way of celebrating and sharing cultures among people of various backgrounds.

“Most of those are vegetables that have a very good health benefit, that we would like people to profit from it. And also, you know, we’re talking about diversification. So that’s why in the project I said it is like nutritional globalization,” he says.

He says he envisions the project helping to educate people on foods with which they might not be familiar. To that end, he has plans to create a series of videos to teach people how to cook with ethnic vegetables.

Crop diversification important, says farm innovator group

Growing a wider variety of crops can have countless benefits for producers, says Emily Potter, executive director of Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance. The non-profit organization works to advance agriculture across the north through research and innovation projects.

Potter says more growers are trying out new crop varieties as the climate evolves and there’s more instances of challenging conditions such as droughts, flooding and heatwaves.

“Testing some more foreign crops that we don’t normally see is really important to help us increase our diversification, but also to be able to supply a market that doesn’t normally get supplied in this area,” she says.

Potter says many species have proven to grow well in the north, but encouraging consumers to try new products will take continued effort from many sources.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


Source From CBC News

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