Monday, November 9, 2015

Rutgers Entrepreneurship Ag Program: Responding to Ethnic Palates!

Rutgers Vegetable Research Farm 3 signpost at the entrance of the research farm where the EAP plots are located at #67 Ryders Lane, East Brunswick, NJ

As a kid growing up in Manhattan I was surrounded by an interesting and eclectic mix of people, languages, cultures, and cuisines. Just on our apartment floor alone we had everything ranging from Taiwanese and Russian, to Polish and Italian. Chef Ed Lee describes this experience really well in “Mind of a Chef” - Season 3, Episode 1 ‘Origin.' 

But once we moved out to Central NJ things changed. Since we now had a backyard, as I mentioned before, my parents began growing a few vegetable, staples like lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes, and zucchini. But it also meant that vegetables we had easy access to in the city, were unheard of in the suburbs; Avocado, Cilantro, Yuca, Banana Leaves, Chayote, Papaya, Mamey, Plantains and God-forbid Platano-Maduros just to name a few. The only place we could get some of these items was the one very, small Chinese shop in town. This meant if we went to the city, we’d come back with goodies; family would also oblige us when they came to visit.

Dr. Albert Ayeni happily displaying
some healthy Long Green okra pods
 
  
Recently, I was very fortunate to be given a tour of the Rutgers Entrepreneurship Ag program’s (EAP) vegetable plots. Rutgers EAP is promoting the introduction and integration of ethnic vegetables into local farmers markets. One of the leaders of this project is Dr. Albert Ayeni, from the Dept. Plant Biology & Pathology. Dr. Ayeni explained most immigrants experience the same as we did during our move, they can’t find what they are used to cooking and consuming. As fruits and vegetables from some world regions have now started showing up regularly in major food stores, others have not; leaving a significant portion of the community without the opportunity to make their comfort foods of choice. This great program is working on remedying that, and giving the rest of us the opportunity to expand our palates.

Tended by hardworking undergrad students the plots have flourished, and the produce has seen success at local New Brunswick Farmer’s Markets. Those of us lucky enough to work at Rutgers’ Department of Plant Biology and Pathology also get to taste the harvest and take part at times too.

The ethnic crops found on the EAP plot included African Green and White Eggplants, Pink and Green Amaranth, Tigernuts, Short Red Okra, Long Green Okra, Long Red Okra; not to mention 95 different Pepper selections, including: Bell, JalapeƱo, Habanero, African Bird’s Eye, and African Poblano. A Pepper Lover’s Paradise!

It would be a mistake to pass over the opportunity to give these veggies a try, after all variety is the spice of life!
A quick peek at some of the veggies being grown...




The EAP website is currently under construction and should be published soon.

However if you are interested in learning more about Rutgers EAP please contact Dr. Albert Ayeni at: ayeni@aesop.rutgers.edu

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