Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fiji at the Farm

Ambassador and Mrs. Thompson
CAUSES was pleased to welcome the Honorable Winston Thompson, Ambassador of Fiji, to our research farm in Beltsville, Maryland. The Ambassador was joined by his wife, Mrs. Queenie Thompson, and spent over two hours touring the farm, taking a special interest in our native, or "ethnic crops" program. 

Where is Fiji, you ask? The Fijian Islands--over 300 of them--are located in the Pacific Ocean, east of Australia and north New Zealand.

In a diverse metropolitan area like D.C., specialty crops are in high demand. In fact, ethnic food products comprise more than 12% of all retail food sales and are seeing 5% growth annually. 

The Muirkirk "Firebird" Research Farm on a sunny fall day.
 This in part is why CAUSES began researching crop production for these ethnic crops. In making these products accessible and affordable, we are helping to connect consumers to new types of food. We are also giving both native born and or local immigrant populations a taste of home, right here in D.C.

"It was very eye-opening for us to see so many familiar food crops though different cultivars growing in DC," Ambassador Thompson said.

For those of you who are not trained agrologists like Ambassador Thompson, a cultivar is defined as a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding.
Queenie Thompson samples Sawa Sawa.
Throughout the tour, the Ambassador and his wife sampled many of the ripe crops that were growing--directly off the vine (our farm does not use pesticides or other agents, so active sampling is encouraged). Mrs. Thompson, an avid sampler, delightfully told stories of her homeland, and how she prepared certain crops. She was particularly a fan of the Sawa Sawa or the "sour leaf" plant.

"The passion and enthusiasm CAUSES has for this program is infectious and I’m sure you will have the whole of DC converted to growing and relishing these exotic food crops in a short time. Its applicability to our developing countries as they continue to urbanize is clear and we must find a way to expose some of our thought leaders to what is being demonstrated at Muirkirk Farm," stated the Ambassador.

William Hare, Associate Dean for CAUSES, is passionate about ethnic crops.
Powerful words from Ambassador Thompson, who promised to help spread the word to other Embassies from developing countries. We would be honored, Ambassador!

"This visiconfirmed our expectations in the relevance  of our vision," explained Yao Afantchao, UDC's Ethnic Crops Specialist. "We are looking forward to a continuing relationship with the Embassy of Fiji to further the cause of sustainable urban food production." 

In fact, similar to last month's "African Food Day" at Walker Jones Education Campus, "Fiji International Day" is up next for our friends at DC Central Kitchen, who are proving to the students of DC Public Schools that school lunches can be exotic, exciting and healthy!
Yao refused to let the Thompsons go home empty-handed!
See more photos of the Fijian farm tour on our Facebook page.

Learn more about CAUSES Specialty and Ethnic Crop program, or contact Yao Afantchao at For more information on our farm, contact Che Axum, Farm Manager and Director of Urban Agriculture and Gardening Education, at

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