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The Somali Bantu cultivate African crops and community in Pittsburgh's North Side

90.5 WESA
By Terina J. Hicks | Soul Pitt Media & The Allegheny Front
Wednesday December 7, 2022

Kara Holsopple/ The Allegheny Front
Hawa Osman with a vegetable grown at the Mwanakuche Community Garden. It looks like a green pumpkin and comes from their African community.

The Somali Bantu community in Pittsburgh is small but organized. Refugees began arriving in the city from camps along the Somali border in the early 2000s. Members of the community started the Mwanakuche Farm. A site in Mercer County raises chickens and goats for the Somali Bantu and people from other African countries in the region. And there’s also a volunteer-run community garden in Pittsburgh.

For the Allegheny Front's series, “Sowing Soil with Soul” with Soul Pitt Media, Terina J. Hicks visited Mwanakuche Community Garden in Pittsburgh’s Perry South neighborhood in September and spoke with Abdulkadir Chirambo, executive director for the farm.

Hicks: So, how long have you had this farm going here?

Chirambo: This farm? We’ve been working on it since 2017, and it’s a city lot, and we’ve been trying to help with the neighbors around here. Whenever the gate is open, and also we have a farm stand for four days. And they can come and stop by, pick anything they want. And we do deliver sometimes to their doors where we feel like there are seniors around them.

Hicks: So what type of agriculture and plants do you grow here?

Chirambo: We grow a lot of it, but we do have up to six plants that are from Africa this year where we normally didn’t use to have. And we’re still catching up with some of the plants like cassava, and also boniato potato, which is that’s something that the community eats every two days, and it’s hard to find it inside the city of Pittsburgh.

And if you find it, it costs a little more, where they’ll miss that nutrition in their body. And mostly, it’s affecting the seniors over 50 years old. When they arrive in the country, it becomes hard for them to jump the food change inside the country of America.

Hicks: So, are these tomato plants that we’re looking at here. What are these?

Chirambo: This is cherry tomato, and that’s locally from the country. And we also have beef tomato on that side.

Hicks: What has been the response of the community? Were there people in the community who were saying that you’re crazy for trying to do this and get this started?

Chirambo: Inside my community, yes, there were times they thought, ‘Hey, I’m in America, why will I farm, which I did all of my life doing that? I never benefit anything from it.’ But once they realize how things are increasing, the costs of it and also the benefit they had where they can cut a leaf and drink, boil it, and it used to help them cover all of their blood pressure, diabetic.

Hicks: Because everything that we need for these bodies, since we come from the Earth, is in the earth.

Chirambo: Yes.

Hicks : Some of the vegetables here are familiar to me, others are not.  I see a man with a green, speckled vegetable that looks like a medium-sized pumpkin. Now, what is it that he’s carrying?

Chirambo: That’s one of the plants that I was telling you is new in the city of Pittsburgh. And I don’t know what they call in English. But usually, looks like pumpkin.

Hicks: Abdul Mwanambaji brings it over to us. What is that called, do you know?

Mwanambaji: No, not yet. (laughs)

Chirambo: But we call bo-or in our language.

Mwanambaji: Anything that looks like pumpkin, we just call it pumpkin in our language.

Read more from our partners, The Allegheny Front.

This is the second installment of The Allegheny Front's four-part series, “Sowing Soil with Soul,” featuring Black urban farmers who grow food to sustain their communities.

Funding for the series comes from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.


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