For more than twenty five years, I've been gardening at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden in the Intervale in Burlington. During that time, I've taught classes for new gardeners as well as learning as much as I've taught, especially from immigrants from countries like Bosnia and Nicaragua. Aika Sarkosova of the Ukraine has given me heirloom tomato seeds from her country of origin. The Mai family from Vietnam has taught me how to grow and prepare Asian greens.
Today, many new immigrants to the Green Mountains arrive with detailed knowledge of the plants and seeds of their homeland. Elvie Golding grew up in the Philippines. She started an Asian garden in Charlotte with her partner, Peter Aub,e whose family has a long history of farming here. Elvie and Peter are growing new varieties of eggplants, bitter melons, gourds, rice, herbs, root vegetables like taro, Chinese cucumbers, yard-long beans, sweet potatoes, and Asian peppers.
Ben Waterman of the UVM Extension Service works with many immigrants, instructing them on matters like soil testing and pest control.
At the Tommy Thompson Community Garden, I've observed Burundi and Somali Bantu immigrants growing a variety of African corn that has a very vigorous growth habit. Their community garden plots are close to mine, so I can easily see how tall and green this corn grows. I kept wondering how they could grow it so tall. Then I learned that it's not sweet corn at all, but more like American feed corn. These African gardeners have been growing their heirloom corn in Burlington for more than five years, and each year they save the best seed for replanting the next year. So now I guess we could call it - Burlingtonized African corn.
These same gardeners rarely plant the purple eggplant as we know it. They prefer the "inhori," which is a different type of eggplant altogether. It grows more than three feet tall and looks like a shrub.
A few years ago, we had a garden potluck at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden, in which gardeners were asked to bring dishes from their native countries. In my estimation, the best food by far came from gardeners who had only recently arrived. But before eating, we stood in a circle and revealed where our families had originally come from. It was a startling moment indeed, as we realized that we were all immigrants.
Now that the harvest is upon us, I look forward to another round of potlucks. Perhaps corn, beans and squash - the three sisters of Vermont's native Abenaki - will adorn our plates.