Where Does Food Come From?

Elle (right) taught the YAGM group how to eat mangos at the November retreat. She brought many mangos from her backyard to share with everyone.

Elle (right) taught the YAGM group how to eat mangos at the November retreat. She brought many mangos from her backyard to share with everyone.

Elle learns from her community about eating locally and seasonally:

You can plant anything in the ground up here in Venda and it will grow. Anywhere. In your yard. Along the road side. Anywhere there is beautiful red earth.
Our backyard is a garden. The whole area is ready to house plants that feed our bodies. In September we were growing beetroot, onions, and green vegetables. When we harvested the onions I was shocked to see that we had grown over 50 onions that were now sitting in a bucket in our outside kitchen. Once we cleared the lot of onions, we planted the whole lot full of corn. There is still green vegetables growing on the ground around the stalks, and my aunt will still emerge from the edges with handfuls of green leaves to cook. We planted the corn in early December and they have grown well above my head now. I am excited to eat them soon!
There are so many corn stalks. As they grow I wonder how many this will produce. It is not just one row; there is a full garden of them. I asked mama what we were going to do with them all, eat or sell. She told me “we eat them.” I asked, “All of them!?” She looked at me like I was crazy. She told me no. We take the rest and send them to become ground into mielie, grain that we use to make pap. Our corn supply does not just feed us for now, but also for the future. Pretty amazing.
My snack at school always consists of a peanut butter sandwich and either a fruit of veg. Last year (Oct & Nov) I brought an apple or mango with me to school. This year I have carrots with me. Soon it will change to corn. It is interesting to see the shift in what I eat depending on what is available to me. It is not necessarily what I want, but more of what is currently growing.
Avocados are going to be in season soon. I am really excited for that time. My attitude on food is changing. Last year, if I wanted an avocado I would go to ALDI and see if they had any. If they didn’t and my craving was still going strong, I would find another grocery store to purchase a tasty avo. Now, I wait. Knowing that they are growing on the trees and will soon be very fruitful (I can see them beginning to grow on the trees around the neighborhood), I wait patiently to fill my belly with their goodness.
In the beginning of learning where food comes from I wanted some avocados and corn. We had them a few times when I first got here and then I did not see either of those enter the house for over a month, and I was starting to want to munch on them. On a trip to the grocery store with my mom, I asked her if I could get some avocados and corn. She looked at me and said, “Have you ever seen me buy those?” I was really confused. No, I hadn’t. But if you don’t get them from the store, where did they come from?
I have also learned that the fruitfulness of your trees can vary. Some years they produce a ton of fruit, and others not much. I didn’t know this upon coming here. Innocent me just saw a bunch of mango trees in everyone’s yard and thought since ours was producing a TON that clearly everyone else who had a mango tree was gorging themselves in mangos too. This lesson only occurred to me when my mom told me to fetch some litchis from our tree out back. There were not many litchis on it. My backyard neighbor saw me and told me to hold on. I waited and he came back and handed me a full bundle of litchis through the fence from his tree. He gave them as a gift and made the comment that last year our tree was really fruitful, but this year not so much.
Along with vegetables and fruit, we don’t buy precut meat from the store. We do buy beef from the meat butchery down the road to use for parties or braais (barbeques). But usually a brother will bring over live chickens for mama and Titi to fix, which eventually get put in the freezer for later. They cut the neck, soak them, boil them, pluck them, and then take the insides out (not to throw away because we do eat the chicken gizzard, liver, and intestine) and then divide up the meat. It all goes in a bag and into the freezer for my aunt to cook for our daily meals.
What we do buy at the store is what we don’t grow. Peanut butter, cereal, tea, bread, butter, eggs, yogurt, apples, sauces, spices, beans, muffin mix. There are a few other things that we occasionally buy, but most of what we eat is grown or bought from neighbors or friends, not the store.
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