Urban Garden Update: Bamako, Mali
Update from Bamako Farmer-to-Farmer program. “…Every Monday, we communicate the vegetables available to the clients through email and the orders are placed from Tuesday to Wednesday and delivery is done on Thursday from 12:30 to 2:00. I am very proud to be part of this and it is really interesting…” (Alfousseni Sidibe, Project Assistant at Winrock International, Bamako, Mali).
Does this sound like an update from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) cooperative in Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Kansas City….not West Africa? Sourcing and preparing locally grown and seasonably available foods is highly popular with chefs and eaters alike in the U.S. Urban gardens are sprouting up in vacant lots, balconies, school playgrounds, front yards and roof tops. This movement emphasizes knowing where food comes from, supporting local farmers, supplementing with home grown products and learning to use a wide variety of heritage fruits and vegetables.
But growing food in city environments isn’t new. Urban agriculture may seem trendy, but it has been the norm for over 10,000 years, since the development of the first city-states. Urban gardens were only recently replaced by industrial farms and a nation-wide distribution infrastructure made possible with portable mobile refrigeration such as rail cars, semi-trucks and vans. We may have forgotten (or never experienced) home gardens, milk delivery trucks and local canning facilities. Yet, importing the bulk of our food from far-away places is relatively new. Until the fifties city gardens and nearby towns provided some 40% of vegetables consumed in the U.S. Whereas, currently, most of our fruit and vegetables are grown and shipped from a few areas of Florida, California, and South America. Our dairy products come from Wisconsin, California and Europe. A growing percentage of our meats are imported from South America, Australia and New Zealand.
Taking orders by email and implementing a delivery schedule sounds like standard CSA practices. The difference in Bamako, and many other countries, is that the produce has to be handled fresh and sold locally due to lack of refrigerated transport options. Fresh milk is kept hot and transported by bicycle or motorcycle. When it arrives at the kiosk a text message goes out to alert local residents on their cell phones that milk is available for pickup. The milk is kept hot on a charcoal fire and is ladled into the consumers own containers. Leftover milk is turned into sour milk or yogurt. The lack of refrigeration keeps foods (for the most part) local and seasonal. In the U.S. we have choices provided to us by the infrastructures established in the 1950’s. Many other countries do not.
Photographs provided by Alfousseni Sidibe, Project Assistant at Winrock International, Bamako, Mali.