A wide variety of African produce was ready for the picking last weekend at a small Bristol farm.
La Ferme Tropicale hosted an open harvest event from Sept. 11 to 13 for anyone who wanted to drop by and gather their share of produce before the frost set in.
But if you wanted to enjoy the food, you would need to put in some work.
The farm operates as a u-pick and visitors are tasked with gathering their own herbs and vegetables from the seven-acre plot. Much of what is produced is native to western Africa. On top of familiar produce like tomatoes, sweet potatoes and beans, there were unique crops such as okra, adame and amaranth.
Eric Dossou and his wife Madje Ahite gathered ademe plants on Friday afternoon to use in a dinner sauce or in a variety of soups. Originally from Togo, this was their second visit to the farm. They said this might be the last weekend to harvest what they need before winter.
“Many places in Ottawa have this stuff but it’s frozen,” Dossou said. “Here you know exactly what you are eating.”
He said it was also a great family activity for their kids too; it would give them a good idea where their food comes from before it’s cooked.
Ahite agreed that the activity was great for the kids but worried about the time investment.
“As you know, you don’t have all the time you want,” she said. “It can also be very tiring.”
Soon after, Josiane Sanon arrived at the farm and started her day checking out some eggplants. It was her first visit to the farm this season.
“I’m going to come back tomorrow with more people,” Sanon said.
Overseeing the event from a pair of blue tents planted in the grass beside the farm were the co-owners of La Ferme Tropicale, Jean-Pierre Bayala and Germain Kouamé. They greeted everyone who arrived while French and African music could be heard from a nearby stereo system.
The two were living in Gatineau and saw that many farmers were leaving the industry and wanted to start something of their own. Both of them were originally from Africa: Bayala from Burkina Faso and Kouamé from Ivory Coast.
They got the idea to create biologically grown tropical vegetables on their own after being unable to find what they wanted in African produce shops.
“We couldn’t find fresh vegetables,” Bayala said. “They were either dry or frozen.”
In 2019 they began a small one-acre farm down the road, but there was high demand so they added the extra seven acres this growing season. The two of them operate with no staff, though students, friends and family have helped them work the farm in the past.
It was also tricky growing vegetables native to Africa during the short Canadian growing season.
“Eggplants need about five to six months to grow and we only have two to three months to grow here,” said Bayala.
They have been experimenting with different ways to increase the growing season and several crops have been isolated to test. They also rent a greenhouse in Gatineau where they can start planting earlier and then transplant to the farm.
Bayala said that by growing the plants here in Canada they can also save on the transportation costs to get products from overseas.
Next year they hope to double the size of the farm and are looking for partners to help build a greenhouse on the land so they can continue growing all year.
He also sees this as an opportunity to educate people on how to farm on their own and sells starter plants to people so they can grow on their own properties. He hopes that this will lead to other local farms starting up.
“Here is like an African village for us,” said Bayala.
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