Friday, October 11, 2013

Omasombo's Eggplant

Omasombo Katuka was an elementary school teacher in Congo before being displaced by war. He also had a great love of growing good food for his family in their large garden. Omasombo and his wife and children made their circuitous journey to Maine nearly two years ago and immediately began the work of becoming part of their new home. The entire family has the biggest, brightest, readiest smiles I have ever seen and those big open smiles have helped Omasombo and his family create their own marketing opportunities this year.

2013 was Omasombo's first year in our farm training program and he threw himself into the learning with gusto. His quarter acre plot was so abundant and beautifully maintained this year, that visitors to the farm lit up with delight upon seeing it. Omasombo decided to focus on growing and marketing for the Congolese community in Portland and Lewiston. He acquired some very hard to come by seeds of a few Congolese crops and combined his new-found knowledge of how to grow heat-loving crops in Maine with his crop-specific knowledge attached to those precious handfuls of seeds. 

Omasombo's most successful Congolese crop this year was a variety of eggplant that is grown as a perennial in Congo. This year, Omasombo was able to harvest basket-fulls of these pale green, egg sized fruits for about 5 weeks before the plants succumbed to cool temperatures. Every Sunday for 5 weeks, Omasombo loaded up his mini-van and headed to one of Portland's African churches that has many Congolese members. He said that the first time he displayed his eggplant to the congregation, people literally danced and clapped with the joy of seeing a food that many had not seen for years. He sold out in 5 minutes. In fact, he sold out within 5 minutes 5 weeks in a row. 

As the season winds to an end, Omasombo is already thinking about next year's growing season and how he can better supply his community with the foods they miss the most. He is hoping to expand the amount of land he grows on, build a small hoop house to extend the production of his famous eggplant for a few extra weeks, and experiment with growing more vegetables that are loved by him, his family, and his community.

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