Growing up, we always had a garden. No matter how often we moved or how small our backyard, we always had a garden. My mother grew up on a farm and when she moved to the city she did her best to always eat as much of her own products as possible. She also made sure she knew where the food she was eating was from, the chickens that produced the eggs she was frying, and the cow whose milk she was drinking. So, I grew up eating beans, peas, lentils, pumpkins, and squash from our garden. We had fruit trees ranging from guava to avocadoes to passion fruits. It is not that we never shopped in markets, we did; but my mother always made the effort of always buying from people she knew before buying from the market. She made her own jams and preserves; and for her favorite sorghum mush, she always drove miles to her mother’s farm for fresh sorghum.
I was born in Rwanda, raised in Tanzania, went to school in Canada, and now live in the United States. When people ask me about my first culture shock; I usually tell them about trying to cook beef for the first time and having it turn to mush several times; or about the fact that milk here tastes different (even after 14 years in the West I still have not gotten used to the taste); I tell them of the juicy mangoes and tiny bananas of my homeland; and how chicken wings have made me unable to eat chicken anymore. I always seem to tell stories about differences in food tastes. Yet, it was not very recent that I really thought about why the food tasted different here than it did back home.
A few years ago, I took a French class on globalization and this is where I got my first introduction to eco-injustice. The class was meant to be a class to gauge our grasp of the French language, so it required us to read very dense documents written in French, discuss them, then write a group report and do a group presentation (presumably all in French). For most of my classmates, the terms we were talking about seemed familiar to them; but for me, this was the first time hearing them. It was in this class that I learned about growth hormones, GMOs, and companies like Monsanto and DuPont. I had never heard of these things and had never really contemplated how they affected my everyday life. It was then really not a big surprise that soon after giving my presentation, I quickly forgot about them.
A couple of years later, I took a public health on community health, and this is where I first learned about ecojustice. Finally, someone explained to me that the difference in food taste was mainly due to food production. I learned about organic farming and eating in-season; I found out about the fact that my food had a carbon footprint and was educated on how I could reduce that; I learned that ecology and economy were intertwine and that I could no longer talk about global warming without talking about food justice.
Since then, I have discovered that I do not have a green thumb; but that does not stop me from trying and trying; I have realized that what I cannot do naturally I can definitely do acquire by learning and practice. I have also realized that working the land relaxes me and have adopted it as part of my spiritual practice.
When last year I decided to join an intentional community, one of the things that made me decide to go with the one I am living at right now was the fact that they had a farm. I remember how after my interview, they put me to work on the farm and that decided it for me; I enjoyed it so much. Though most of my time is spent doing other things, I have asked the farm crew to allow me to join them on my days off. I have found that spending a couple of afternoons on the farm renews me.
I will probably be the first to tell you that I have a lot to learn, which is why I have decided to take every opportunity I have to find out more. I can no longer claim ignorance and I think that what inspires my fight for Ecojustice. Once you have a taste for it, you start seeing it everywhere. You become more conscious of your actions and their effects, and end up wanting to know how to change your actions so that the effects are positive.
I lost my mother when I was nine, and I think I also lost a little bit of a tradition that had been passed on for generations. I lost the love for the land, the appreciation of eating food that you produced, supporting local farmers, and being conscious of where your waste was going. But, I feel that in the past few years I have been slowly coming back to my roots. As I shared with my siblings and their families jars of maple syrup from sap that I had helped tap, collect, and boil; I also felt like I was finally helping in making sure that the tradition passes on to the next generations.