Women cook. Women feed families.
In many parts of the world, women also grow the crops and raise the animals that provide nourishment to their families.
In the area around Detroit, Michigan, a large population of immigrant families from Bangladesh has settled into a new life. Many of the men are working, while the women remain at home with the children. Most of them learned to grow traditional crops when they were young, and brought those skills with them to the U.S.
They also brought the seeds and the desire to share good food with those they love.
Emily Staugaitis lives in Detroit. Until recently, she was a curator at an art museum. But as she went about her daily life, she heard the talk in local restaurants. Where can we get fresh, local ingredients, many owners were asking.
She also heard talk about Bangladeshi immigrants. People were looking for ways to supplement their incomes. Some of the women wondered about selling the extra produce from their gardens, knowing that if their families didn’t eat it all, it would only go to waste.
Staugaitis decided to act as the “matchmaker” for the two needs. To bring together local women gardeners and local chefs, she created Bandhu Gardens. This organization works to help local restaurants, many of them owned by women, with Bangladeshi family gardeners.
The results have been enormously positive for everyone involved. The women make enough extra income to make at least a small difference in the lives of their families here and back at home. They also make business and employment connections in the greater Detroit area.
The restaurants obviously benefit, as the locavore movement has swept the country and they can get fresh, local and unique vegetables to serve.
There is a huge social upside as well. The women who participate are meeting more Americans as well as immigrants form other parts of Asia and the Middle East. Americans are learning about new cultures and new foods.
For some of the restaurant owners, like Molly Mitchell of Rose’s Fine Food, the partnership gives them the opportunity to see women turning their domestic skills in a commercial direction. The restaurant is one of a few local eateries that features “pop up dinners” where people gather to enjoy the food and get to know each other.
In their third season, Bandhu Gardens will be selling produce at the large Eastern Market in Detroit. They’re hoping to find more growers as well as more new customers as they expand the project. Enthusiasm continues to grow in the area as women connect each other to the potential rewards of growing and marketing fresh foods. They have even added Bangladeshi cooking classes to their list of services.
As my Italian grandmother always said, “Food is love.”
Food is also opportunity, as the women of Bandhu Gardens can tell you.
As you can see in the video below, the Eastern Market is a thriving place for vendors!
Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.