WEATHER ALERT

Putting down roots At Rainbow Community Garden, newcomers to Canada grow food and forge relationships

Black beans, hot peppers, tomatoes and cabbage. Like many other Winnipeg gardeners, Henriette Mukesa’s seedlings are off to a slow start thanks to a waterlogged spring. Still, there’s plenty to eat in the shoulder season.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.

Black beans, hot peppers, tomatoes and cabbage. Like many other Winnipeg gardeners, Henriette Mukesa’s seedlings are off to a slow start thanks to a waterlogged spring. Still, there’s plenty to eat in the shoulder season.

See what’s cooking

The Free Press is publishing a community cookbook this fall in celebration of the paper’s 150th anniversary. Copies will be available for purchase from local retailers in September.

Visit wfp.to/homemade for publication updates and join our Facebook group for home cooking discussions, recipe swapping and event information.

“Before the beans, we eat this,” she says, pointing to the legume’s bright green leaves, which she’ll fry up at home and add to her dinner of fufu, a starchy dough, and vegetables or meat.

It’s the same story with the okra and zucchini sprouting in the shared bed of the Rainbow Community Garden at the University of Manitoba. In fact, Mukesa prefers the leaves of the zucchini plant to the squash itself.

She bends over to pinch off a shoot, demonstrating how to peel the spiky outer skin before softening the greens in water and salt — a method of preparation used in her birthplace, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and adapted to vegetables that flourish in the Canadian Prairies.

That kind of exchange is happening all over the sprawling garden, which gives recent immigrants and refugees space to cultivate flavours of home.

“Some things can grow in Canada the same as it can in Africa, or some things in Canada we can cook like in Africa,” Mukesa says. “It’s like everything we do; we are (using) what we come with for our integration in Canada.”

The Rainbow Community Garden project has been growing since 2008 and now supports more than 360 newcomer families across eight sites in Winnipeg, Niverville and Landmark.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRE JESSE BOILY / FREE PRESS FILES The Rainbow Community Garden project has been growing since 2008 and now supports more than 360 newcomer families across eight sites in Winnipeg, Niverville and Landmark.

Raymond Ngarboui is the driving force behind the program, which aims to address food insecurity while fostering community. It’s a concept inspired by his own newcomer experience.

“When I got here, I couldn’t find the foods that I used to eat back home,” says the native of Chad, who came to Winnipeg in 2005. “It was difficult for me to adjust.”

Ngarboui ran a similar community garden project in Cameroon, where he secured arable land for internally displaced Africans, like himself, who sought refuge in the country. An agriculture and rural development student, he taught families how to raise chickens and crops for food and income.

It was in Cameroon that Mukesa met Ngarboui for the first time. The 58-year-old single mother of three fled Congo in the late ‘90s and spent nearly a decade working as a nurse and social worker with a local United Nations refugee centre.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRE JESSE BOILY / FREE PRESS FILES Raymond Ngarboui is the driving force behind the program, which aims to address food insecurity while fostering community.

Their connection started with art and progressed to gardening — he specializes in textile paintings and she is a talented seamstress (the colourful shirt worn in the accompanying photos is her own creation).

Ngarboui passed Mukesa the reins to the garden program when he left Cameroon, and she joined the Rainbow garden community upon her arrival in Winnipeg in 2010.

Mukesa tends two of the more than 250 plots at the university, which occupy a wedge of greenspace between Pembina Highway and Chancellor Matheson Road. She enjoys fresh produce during the summer and stores the excess for winter. Being self-sufficient and toiling in the dirt is good for the soul.

“Working with the soil is such a big treat for us — sometimes we refuse to put on gloves because we need to touch it,” she says with a laugh. “That confidence you have with your plants (makes) you happy.”

Growing plants is only part of the appeal.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Henriette Mukesa joined the Rainbow garden community upon her arrival in Winnipeg in 2010.

“The first (priority) is not food, it’s people,” she says. “Relationships with people from different countries, different continents.”

There are 52 nationalities represented amongst the participants. The tightly packed two-and-a-half acre garden is a space to connect over shared interests and stave off some of the loneliness that comes with starting over in an unfamiliar country.

It’s a warm, sunny weekday and Mukesa is one of only two people puttering around the beds. On the weekends, however, the place is abuzz with gardeners pulling weeds, watering plants and chatting while their kids play games in the adjacent field.

Twice a year — at the beginning and end of the growing season — the group hosts a garden party to celebrate the community that has taken root among the greenery. There’s music, dancing and a potluck barbecue at the brightly painted picnic tables onsite.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Henriette Mukesa is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a gardener with the Rainbow Community Garden program, which sees 300 families growing produce at plots across the city. Henriette is sharing a salad recipe that she makes with ingredients grown from the garden. Henriette collects a cabbage from the Rainbow Garden U of M site. See Eva Wasney story 220707 - Thursday, July 07, 2022.

Cabbage salad is one of Mukesa’s favourite barbecue accompaniments. The crunchy, slightly spicy slaw is a recipe she learned from her father — a man with a passion for nutrition and a refined palate. He worked for a coffee exporter and often brewed freshly roasted beans at home, the smell of which would attract neighbours to the family’s door.

Mukesa grew up with 10 siblings. Her mother cooked daily meals for the large family while her father tinkered with special recipes, such as homemade mayonnaise. The influence of close family friends from Belgium meant European dishes often mingled with African staples on the dinner table.

When Mukesa was in her 20s, she opened a fusion restaurant with a menu inspired by her multicultural upbringing.

These days, instead of serving food to customers, she empowers others to grow their own.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Mukesa holds a head of cabbage in one hand while slicing pale green strips into a large bowl. Cutting boards are a luxury when you’re forced to flee your home, she explains.

At the height of summer, she can harvest all the ingredients for cabbage salad — save for the citrus — from her garden beds. Standing at her kitchen counter, Mukesa holds a head of cabbage in one hand while slicing pale green strips into a large bowl. Cutting boards are a luxury when you’re forced to flee your home, she explains.

“In my blood, I’m a refugee,” she says. “I was born a refugee, my kids were born refugees; this is my life.”

Mukesa doesn’t know if her children will ever be able to return to Congo. Food and family recipes are one way she can help them experience a home they’ve never visited.

“When they eat that food, they know that (their) ancestors were also eating this.”

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

 

Cabbage Salad

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The cabbage salad Henriette Mukesa makes is a recipe she learned from her father; she grows nearly all the ingredients in her garden plot.
Submitted by Henriette Mukesa

Ingredients
1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
4 green onions, sliced
1 tomato, diced
1 carrot, sliced
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) fresh hot chili pepper, sliced thinly
1/4 white onion, sliced (optional)
15 ml (1 tbsp) oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) each lemon and lime juice
60 ml (1/4 cup) mayonnaise (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Directions

Combine prepared vegetables in a large bowl and stir in dressing ingredients. Serve immediately or let chill in the refrigerator.

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Report Error Submit a Tip