As a proud alumnus of The University of the District Of Columbia, I was very delighted to learn about UDC's association with the budding ethnocentric farm project in Beltsville, Maryland, at the Muirkirk "Firebird" Farm.
I learned about the project from a former UDC CAUSES Nutrition major who had been helping to introduce "ethnic crops," particularly those from West Africa, to the cultivation and distribution schema of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan grocery system. He referenced crops that I was quite familiar growing up with in Cameroon, Africa. I was quite eager and excited, and could not wait to visit the farm myself.
When I arrived at the UDC Muirkirk "Firebird" Farm, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. There, before my very own eyes were rows and rows of West African ethnic crops, including: water leaves, bitter leaves, anchai, etcetera and various types of peppers! I like cooking ethnic vegetables with hot peppers which produces very pungent flavor. In my experience, African food cooked without hot peppers is tasteless.
I met the head of the Ethnic and Specialty Crops Program for UDC's College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences, Yao Afantchao, who is the guiding hand behind the budding ethnocentric farm project. Professor Yao was kind and gracious enough to introduce me to the vision and mission of this remarkable farm project, the goal of which is to provide local accessibility to ethnic crops to the immigrants from Africa and Western Africa.
As a native of Cameroon, the two things I missed the most are my family, and traditional recipes that require traditional crops. I wanted to eat the food that I grow up eating, but the fresh crops from my native land were not available. I could not find them in Giant, Safeway, or even at Shoppers Food Warehouse supermarkets. Even today, the aforementioned grocery stores do not carry African ethnic crops.
In conclusion, I believe that expanding this ethnocentric farm project will not only be beneficial to the University of the District of Columbia, but it will help cater to the nutritional needs of the vast majority of immigrants like myself who have established permanent residency in the United States. They can finally experience the flavor and taste of African without leaving the Washington D.C. metro area.
Margaret Forbin graduated from UDC in 1995 with a degree in Sociology. She currently works at Family Matters of Greater Washington, where she is the Program Director for the Senior Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program, Aging Division.