February is the month of black history and I realized I knew virtually nothing about black contributions to our gardening.
In order to make progress, we must all continue to learn, discover new perspectives and combine the best ideas and practices from our country’s rich cultural carpet. I have a lot more to learn, but I wanted to share some remarkable things that I have learned so far.
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Some foods that are very commonly grown today came to America from Africa or via Africa. During the slave trade, enslaved people carried seeds and cuttings of some of their favorite local foods. Foods that came to the US from Africa include okra, black-eyed peas (a dried bean, not a pea), eggplant, watermelon, melon, kola seeds (part of the original Coca-Cola formula), sesame seeds, and rice.
If you are interested in growing some historic varieties of African American herbs and vegetables, you can find collections from various seed suppliers.
Rice is a particularly interesting case. There are two domesticated types of rice: Asian rice (Oryza sativa) and African rice (Oryza glaberrima). African rice was first domesticated and grown in West Africa around 3,000 years ago.
Historians believe that those who grew rice in West Africa and came to the United States as enslaved people provided the expertise that made rice growing in America possible. The techniques used on large plantations on the coast of the Carolinas in the 18th century were very similar to those used by West Africans for centuries.