This article appeared in the September 12, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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A farmer deepens her roots, and broadens her sharing

Lisa Rathke/AP/File
Janine Ndagijimana displays African eggplant, also called bitter ball or garden egg, in her field in Colchester, Vermont, in July 2018. Far from the refugee camps where she once lived, Ms. Ndagijimana has developed a thriving small business that ships produce around the United States, and now supplies a food bank too.
Clayton Collins
Director of Editorial Innovation

As a businesswoman, Janine Ndagijimana owns her niche. 

The market, in her case: eggplants. Not the aubergine kind but a white, African variety commonly called “garden eggs.” She first noticed them as a market favorite inside a refugee camp – she was born in one camp in Rwanda, to Burundian parents, and lived in another in Tanzania before arriving in the United States in 2007. 

Six years later she was growing them, among other varieties, in the soil of northern Vermont near Burlington. The city has long played host to a diverse resettlement community. Ms. Ndagijimana got support from regional organizations that help new Americans take root through agriculture.

She also drew from her years in those camps.

“Life was not easy because even the food they provided was not enough for one person,” she told The Associated Press, through an interpreter, in 2018.

Today she ships her specialty produce to buyers around the U.S. And last year she began partnering with Vermont Foodbank, which purchases produce from her – 1,000 pounds of it in that first year, says Elena Palermo, a community engagement manager.

This season the food bank is on track to pick up 1,500 pounds of eggplant. Ms. Ndagijimana also produces amaranth. Food-bank produce recipients who aren’t part of an African diaspora have warmed to unfamiliar options, says Ms. Palermo. The food bank provides recipe cards.

“It’s a great partnership,” says Ms. Palermo, one begun by a conversation with members of the resettled community that revealed “a desire for more culturally responsive food choices.” Coming next: an African corn variety that will be ground and sold as a staple. That’s just Ms. Ndagijimana deepening her roots.

“She’s definitely excited to be sharing this variety with her community,” says Ms. Palermo. “She has that wonderful entrepreneurial sense as well.”

This article appeared in the September 12, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 09/12 edition
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