What do you do when the ingredients you need to cook food from your culture cost both you and the planet?
This was the dilemma of a woman who felt “a bit of a con artist” because she was concerned about climate change, but regularly drove 50 miles for imported vegetables.
She works with the Soil Association to teach others how to grow vegetables like okra and callaloo.
The Back to Our Roots classes are so popular, more are being organized.
Carol Adams from Aberdare says she was tired of traveling to Cardiff every time she wanted to cook dishes from her home in the Bahamas.
Growing these vegetables, she says, is “something practical that people of color can do to combat climate change.”
“If you live in the valleys like I do, and you want vegetables that are culturally relevant to me, the food I love to eat and part of my heritage, then I should jump in my car and go to Cardiff and buy them. .
“You can’t find the shops in Aberdare,” Ms Adams added.
Ms Adams said she had never seen callaloo – a type of dark green leafy vegetable similar to kale or spinach – sold anywhere in Wales, but the group grows it.
“Chilli peppers are more expensive, the kind of peppers from home, they skyrocketed.
“There are times when you go into the big Tesco in Cardiff and you do see a pack of okra, but it’s small packs of maybe 10 okra.
“Who the hell can make a dish with 10 okra? So they’re expensive to eat because you have to buy so many packs,” she said.
The Soil Association is a UK charity that aims to protect nature by transforming the way people eat and farm.
There were 20 members in the project’s first group, eight in the second, and a third cohort is planned for North Wales.
A UK-based network of over 100 members has also been set up to share information, seeds and lived experiences to create a library of expertise for anyone willing to give it a try.
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Design by Prina Shah, development by Felix Stephenson and Becky Rush.
People are encouraged to grow the crops in whatever space they have, from windowsills to garden pots.
Justina John, 43, from Cardiff said growing the crops of her childhood in Tanzania was emotional for her.
“It brings back memories, so it goes back to our roots. It also addresses the cost of living.
“Okra used to cost £4 per serving and now it’s gone up to £8. It’s crazy,” she said.
Her two sons loved helping to care for the plants and Mrs. John has told them stories of growing up and being in charge of the family vegetables.
“In Tanzania, as a girl you have chores when you grow up,” she said. “Planting is one of the chores I chose.”
“I didn’t like washing clothes, my thing was watering the plants. I used to go all over the street looking for new seeds.”
Ms John said when she moved to Wales she gave up gardening and “didn’t think the British climate could really support the plants she was growing”.
When she realized it was possible, she said it took her back to her childhood.
“I have to take care of these plants with all my heart because I feel like my mom will be watching me,” she said.
Her children are just as excited as she is.
“It’s like having a pet.
“The first time they watered them too much and I had to start over.
“So now they’re very careful.”
Jodie Jamal, 37 from Cardiff, is also growing with the group.
“I have quite a few things growing right now: cucumber, okra, tomatoes, different types of chili, eggplant, zucchini and rhubarb.
“I think we have lost touch with seasonal food, we expect to have fruit and vegetables all year round, which is not sustainable.
“It’s just great to strip back and just understand the seasons.
“I think in keeping with the cost of living, it will be an advantage if you can just grow your own food to reduce costs.”
She also said growing her own vegetables was better than relying on her local supermarket.
“I’ve noticed that not only is the stock declining, the freshness of the food isn’t great and not only that, the prices are just astronomical,” she said.
She was also “blown away” by meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds.
“It was really enriching, not only learning how to grow our own food, but also coming together as a community to learn about other people’s cultures and what they eat with what we grow,” added Jodie .