May 23 2015
Food is such a rich part of Asian culture that it would be an omission not to look at how some communities are responding to the challenges of making great food at low cost in an urban setting…
By Selina Parmar
IN RECENT years, growing your own vegetables has really taken off – so much so that there are lots of community groups and organisations which encourage and help support this practice.
The Alchemy Festival at the Southbank Centre played host to just such a group – The Coriander Club is a group of Bangladeshi women who grow vegetables in Spitalfields City Farm and sell them, raw and cooked, at Spitalfields Market.
On Tuesday (May 19) in the beautiful settings of the Rooftop Gardens at the Southbank Centre, Coriander Club project co-ordinator Luftun Hussain and Spitalfields City Farm worker Richard Walker delivered an enjoyable and informative masterclass on growing vegetables.
The free masterclass focused on growing Bangladeshi vegetables – in particular kado, a large vegetable similar to marrow. We were even given plants to take home and grow ourselves.
The Coriander Club has made 10,000 meals using their self-grown produce and this is a large-scale success story. All of it is organic and they highlighted the alleged advantages of food grown without pesticides. They believe they present a healthier, alternative to mass-produced, pesticide-covered crops.
The star of this show was kado. This marrow-like vegetable is peeled, chopped and can be added to numerous dishes.
Lutfun said she cooked kado with king prawns and explains that it can also be used with fish, meat and dal. She also explained how the Coriander Club does not only grow Bangladeshi vegetables, they grow a variety of crops including Jamaican and Japanese vegetables, depending on the ethnicities and expertise of their volunteers.
An interesting point was raised by Walker about the skills and knowledge immigrants bring to Britain. He explained his English farming background and how historically after the summer harvest, the fields remained empty because crops would not grow during winter.
However, thanks to the expertise of Bangladeshi migrants such as Lutfun, vegetables can be grown during the British winter, and the Coriander Club grows a wide variety of winter vegetables such as kado, mooli radish, black kale and aubergine.
This point linked nicely with the “Adopting Britain” exhibition also at the Southbank Centre, which discussed the benefits immigrants bring to Britain, including a reported £20 billion in tax payments. This was refreshing to see given the anti-immigration rhetoric that increased during the build-up to General Election, held just over two weeks ago and which has seen a majority Conservative government emerge.
Overall, this was an inspirational event which not only provided an insight into the gardening world, but also showed the power of community and working together.
I strongly recommend visiting the Southbank Centre before Alchemy Festival finishes on Bank Holiday Monday (May 25).
For the full Alchemy Festival programme, please see: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/alchemy