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A Week in My Garden: Guest Spotlight

James Modi has a unique gardening arrangement at his Lynn home. Through a partnership with the GRO Project (Gardening through Refugee Organizations) and The Food Project, he shares 20 raised beds with almost 20 gardeners from his native Sudan, many of whom were small scale farmers in rural areas back home. Stemming from a need for their ethnic foods (think sweet potato leaf) and a desire to continue their farming tradition, the garden is tended and harvested communally - extra produce is sold at the New American Center in Lynn, providing supplementary income for many.

With such a busy schedule, how do you incorporate gardening into you life?

We organize ourselves as things need to be done. Every Saturday we get together to work on the garden - we get four or five people on a given Saturday - but If we want everyone to come, for a big weeding project or to make decisions about the garden, we call everyone and schedule a meeting. Gardening is a way of getting people together to share ideas and interact. For many people, coming together and having something to do relieves thinking about problems they may have, so they like to come.

How many years have you been gardening in Massachusetts (Northeast US)?

I used to grow in pots, but when i moved into my house, it gave me an opportunity to have a larger garden, and I offered it up to my community so they could produce vegetables. This will be the third year of the raised bed garden.

Top 2 reasons to have a garden?

To produce healthy vegetables, free of chemicals.
To occupy myself during my free time.

What did you plant? Or will you plant anything this month or week?

We have already planted beans, sweet potato, collards, tomatoes, amaranth, squash, okra and an African food called Mulukhiyah (jute), which is very nutritious. We plant many of the same things gardeners plant here, but we cook different parts. For example, we eat both the tuber and the leaf of sweet potatoes. We also eat the leaves of beans, squash, and okra. This week we are planting a second succession of amaranth, mulukhiyah and sweet potato.

What is your watering method do you use? How often do you water?

We use a hose, but we are working on getting a rain barrel to collect rain water and use it. We water in the morning, but how often depends on the weather and the age of the crop. If the day is hot, you might have to water every day, especially with newly transplanted crops. If it is not too hot, we skip a day and water every two days. Once the plant is established, we also just water near the base of the plant to reduce water costs.

What are you harvesting?

In about two days, we are going to harvest amaranth.

What is your favorite recipe to use your produce in?

It’s hard to pick a favorite - I like everything! I like sweet potatoes - you start by frying onion with fish or meat, then add the sweet potato leaf, cut into small bits, and spices. I also like collard greens, but we cook them differently than people do here- we prefer them cooked with dried fish.

What are you most excited about growing and why?

I’m interested in planting all that i can plant - leafy vegetables, fruit vegetables - the only restriction is space.

Tips to share? Resources?

The most important thing for anyone planting vegetables is to maintain them well. I’ve seen many tomato gardens where the suckers are allowed to grow- you need to remove the suckers and allow the main stem to grow to produce big tomatoes. Suckers take energy away from producing fruits. And weeding - crops need to be weeded to grow healthy.

Also, remember that even though the weather here is different from what we have back home, if you come from an agricultural background in another country, you already understand when to plant, how to kill off weeds, and how to process crops.

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