It's morning in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Yemi Amu of Oko Farms is tending to her crops as her next-door neighbor releases his pigeons from their coop. "They never bother us," she says of the birds taking flight.
As the pigeons circle overhead, Amu, the farm's founder, and director, carefully examines leaves for insects and feeds the fish that provide fertilizer for the farm: It's an aquaponics system that cycles water between the plants and a pond filled with shimmering koi fish. The concept of aquaponics can seem intimidating, but to Amu, it's a means of bringing together communities and bridging cultures through food. She uses her crops to show that the science itself is not only approachable—it can also help root people to their own histories.
When thinking about what to plant, she says: "We're always trying to diversify as much as possible. One of the things that's interesting to me is the relationship between West African heritage crops and Caribbean and Asian cultures. I feel like there are a lot of connections there from the times of colonization," referring to when the British and other colonial powers took seeds and people from different continents, moving them across oceans, leaving behind crops that, in some cases, became staples across cultures. "Okra, for instance, is a staple in the Nigerian diet. Okra soup was my favorite dish as a child." But okra can be found in dishes throughout South Asia, as well as in the Americas, where it was brought via the slave trade.
By growing crops like jute, Lagos spinach, and lemongrass, Amu delights visitors and farmers-market shoppers who have roots in the Middle East, West Africa, and the Caribbean. "People are so excited to see things from their cultural backgrounds that they never thought they would see again."
Read the complete article at www.foodandwine.com.