wheatberry risotto with squash, and salad greens from the garden, topped with beets. I'm visiting Julie Carney, one of my best friends, who lives in Kigali and runs Gardens for Health - an organization that works with HIV/AIDS cooperatives to construct home gardens, in the hopes of improving nutrition (and thus the effectiveness of ARVs) the good old-fashioned way - with nutrient-rich foods. We first met back in 2006, on a GYPA trip in Uganda - both of us visiting Africa for the first time. This trip is our first African reunion - three years later and we now both live here.
Julie is IN it. She lives, breathes, and sleeps (and obviously eats) sustainable agriculture. We visited the GHI model farm, which occupies what used to be the backyard in the compound that houses their office. Julie convinced the landlord to tear up the turf and ornamental trees, and they now have a thriving example of a home garden: eggplant, cabbages, pepper, tomato, amaranth, onions, carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes, along with a tiny tree farm of tamarillo (tree tomatoes), mango, and moringa. GHI uses lots of innovative gardening techniques, since all of their cooperatives live in a peri-urban area and do not have the space normally required for a garden. My favorite is the sack garden.
So, understandably, the underlying theme of our stay in Kigali has been food. We're eating carrot-zucchini muffins, lots of wheatberry, fruit salad topped with tamarillo, loads of fresh veggies. On our hiking trip to Ruhengeri this weekend, Julie tried out her latest iteration of a power bar - a mix of moringa, honey, peanuts and some left over dried fruit she found in my backpack.
All of this food and farming is probably the reason I wasn't too surprised when I opened the Sunday NYTimes email to read that the Obamas are tearing out a piece of the South Lawn to build an organic garden at the White House, something Michael Pollan suggested in a New York Times op-ed back in 1991. Granted, Pollan offered a garden as one of several alternatives - a symbolic gesture for removing the chemical-loving non-native turf that so often symbolizes domestic American life. Either way, to me this is illustrative of a priority shift. I've been reading a lot about food and farming in the past year, and am elated to see that Michelle Obama is embracing food issues. What impresses me most is that this so-called food revolution crosses the divide. Whether improving nutrition for people living with HIV in Rwanda, or decreasing obesity in the United States, the spotlight is on how we, as humans, eat.
And, thanks to the happy combination of Julie's cooking and Rwanda's fertile soils, I'm eating quite well.