A gardener’s effort to provide vegetables from his native homeland to his newfound community.
Towering sunflowers were in their full glory as Hamidou Maiga walked towards his garden, bucket and scissors in hand. A dozen alternating rows of plants made up the garden, nestled behind Hingston Hall on Concordia’s Loyola campus: miniature red pops of gooseberry tomatoes, stout white eggplants and red okra with yellow hibiscus-like blooms.
Hamidou sells his produce at Concordia’s weekly farmer’s market to share his relationship to agriculture with others. Maiga, age 48, carefully chose each plant from ancestral and African varieties that are rarely sold in Montreal.
“I’m from Niger and I wanted some vegetables that I was searching for and that I didn’t find when I came here,” Maiga said. “There are a lot of Afro-descendants here in Quebec and, like me, they are searching for food from the continent.”
His connection to gardening reaches back three generations—there has always been a field or garden somewhere in his family. Maiga started his project Hamidou Horticulture 10 years ago. His mission is to respond to the demand of African vegetable varieties in Montreal and to teach others how to do the same through a diploma course that he offers in partnership with the university.
“The ancestral [varieties] weren’t grown a lot because the grocery wanted some vegetables that had the perfect size that could be kept on the shelf for six weeks,” Maiga said. Though they may appear odd to some, he suggested, “Why not go for the one with the more taste and the more nutritive qualities?”
Concordia student Jorane Robert purchased a tray of mouse melons for $5, Maiga’s best-selling product at the market this year. Robert said she’d much rather support local farmers than buy produce that is shipped from far away. Undeterred by the higher price point compared to what she finds at grocery chains, she said: “It’s worth it because he’s telling me how they got it.” Robert looked forward to eating the miniature melons “like popcorn” on the commute home.
Hamidou’s satisfaction comes from sharing this interest to know where our food comes from with customers at the market. “I feel like we need to be more farmers,” he said. “This is the reason why we have the course.”
Maiga will continue to sell his produce at the Concordia Farmer’s Market every Wednesday at the Sir George William campus until Nov. 1. Registration for the class given this fall is open and will begin on Sept. 24.