Sankofa Garden Homes: Holiday gifts fresh from the garden

Professor Freedom
Professor Freedom

Special to The Dallas Examiner

As we prepare to engage in gift giving, many of us would not think of giving food as a gift. I can remember when we would give wrapped fruit baskets with red bows as gifts. While most people did not raise the fruit, it was the fact that the fruit was a healthy gift that reminded us of the fact that food is essential to healthy eating.

Many African Americans 60 and older who lived in the country can remember “the brown bag” we received after the Christmas program where we recited our Christmas speech that we had been learning from memory. Inside “the brown bag” gift was fruit, usually an apple, pear or orange, and pecans and peppermint sticks. Simple though they were, I have met many African Americans of my generation who still remember the brown bags with great fondness. As exciting as it was to get the brown bags, I have come to know the excitement of making and giving them as I still continue this tradition at First African Freedom Church in South Dallas, where I pastor. There are men and women, many of whom are homeless, who remember the tradition from their early years, while the youth of today find the simple gift of the brown bag exciting in an age of materialism and technology.

Now that the “Green Movement” has become popular, many people are looking for ways to be more eco-friendly in how we treat nature and how we eat. In the spirit of Sankofa as DABA people – Descendants of Africans who Built America – we can learn much from our ABAs – Africans who Built America – ancestors. Enslaved Africans from tropical West Africa brought with them a deep appreciation for nature and the knowledge of how to grow many crops. Okra, black-eyed peas, watermelons and yams were just a few of the foods they brought from African during the tragic middle passage journey.

Once in America, they modified other foods and made them a part of their cultural food diet. Among these were collard greens, mustard greens and turnip greens. Using what they had, they would cook them for hours in large pots of water with pork for flavor and enjoy them with yams and hot water corn bread.

Cooking fresh okra

While pork was not good for their health, it provided flavor in the absence of other spices. Today, we need not use pork, given the many ways of seasoning greens now. We can saute them in virgin olive oil with purple onions, red bell pepper, garlic, curry powder and a small amount of water as needed – for pot liquor, of course. Using a mixture of natural herbs and a small amount of sea salt, if desired, topped off with pepper sauce or hot sauce, we can create classic African America greens that are sure to satisfy the palate and be healthy as well.

Rather than going to the mall or grocery store, our Sankofa Gardens Homes can be a great source of wonderful and healthy gifts during this season and beyond. While greens are a wonderful gift, the okra – derived from the West African word “gumbo” – that grows so plentifully during the summer is another great gift to give. As I’ve stated, we cut it while it’s hot and eat it when it’s cold.

Gumbo is one of the classic dishes that connects us directly to our African roots. Made popular in coastal southern states, like New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, it a dish that fills the home with a pleasant aroma and brings everyone dipping from the same pot in a traditional African style of communal eating and fellowship. Not only can okra be a gift of food, but it is gift of family, friends and warm fellowship during a season when the cold keeps us bound indoors.

For a cooking demonstration, see Professor Freedom’s Cotton Pickin’ Proud for okra cutting on YouTube.

As we give to others and others give to us from our gardens, we develop a sense of sharing the different foods we grow. As in years past, everyone did not grow the same things, so it was common for neighbors to share what they grew with each other, making for communal farmers markets through the countryside. Sharing from our gardens was a way of fellowshipping that built strong communities. It was also a source of pride, because one was proud and thankful for the harvest they had been blessed with to share.

As we journey through winter and prepare for spring, now is the time to be thinking about your spring Sankofa Garden Home. The first thing you should be thinking is east/west. This means knowing the orientation of the rising and setting of the sun on your property. You will want to plant your garden where it will get the most sunlight. Secondly, make sure you have access to a water source for easy watering.

Feeding the garden

And third, good soil, fertilizer and compost. I recommend you start with a 5 foot by 5 foot above-ground garden because you can easily buy organic soil and fertilizer from Home Depot. As for compost, begin keeping grass clippings, leaves and vegetable table scraps in a pile in a corner in your back yard in preparation for the spring planting.

You should also be thinking about what you want to plant. I suggest you begin with one plant of your choice, like greens, tomatoes, peppers or onions. By growing one plant, you can focus on what it needs to grow while having a fair amount to harvest when the time comes. As you master one crop, you can expand and diversify your garden or grow more of the same plant. Be sure not to forget to plant spices such as chives or basil. You can grow these in pots. If you plant rosemary, plant it in the ground, because it will grow into a large plant that will produce the year round.

While you may not have given a gift from your Sankofa Garden Home this year, I know you will be able to do so next year after you have grown a wonderful garden this spring and summer.

As I stated in my last article, your Sankofa Garden Home will become a spiritual, cultural and communal blessing as you are thankful to the Creator and nature, the sources from which it grows.

Have a blessed Watch Freedom Night on Dec. 31 and a jubilant Emancipation Day on Jan. 1. Don’t forget to eat your black-eyed peas and collard greens with your family and friends, our Freedom Day Meal.

Give thanks to God for our freedom. Hallelujah!

Until next month, good Sankofa gardening!

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