by Mamatha Hanumappa
If you are a regular visitor to the Van Ness farmers market, it is very likely that you do not need an introduction to the University of the District of Columbia. But did you know that UDC is a land-grant university in the heart of DC?
Yes, UDC is the only urban land-grant university in the country, serving an exclusively urban territory. To fulfill its unique mission, it established the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) in 2011 to focus on urban agriculture, urban sustainability and urban resilience. Housed within CAUSES, the Center for Urban Agriculture and Gardening Education (CUAGE) seeks to expand this focus through its research and education programs on urban and peri-urban agriculture.
The Ethnic and Specialty Crops Program is one such program where researchers are using sustainable growing methods to produce less-known but highly nutritious herbs and vegetables. Many of these are known as ethnic crops because they are introduced to the U.S. from elsewhere but can be grown locally. Researchers here are growing Malabar spinach and lamb’s quarters to introduce the hardy and nutrient-rich green vegetable plants to the community, including growers. Both can be grown easily as annuals in summer months as they are tolerant to water and heat stress. They are also resistant to pest and disease.
Distantly related to spinach, Malabar spinach (Basella alba L.) is high in vitamins A and C, and potassium.
A fast growing plant, it is harvest-ready in about two months. It is also highly ornamental, and is a good candidate for edible landscaping and urban farming. Like spinach, the leaves (and stems) may be eaten raw in salads, sautéed, steamed and boiled. The thick, succulent, peppery-flavored leaves can also be used to condense soups and stew. Due to the sap in cut leaves, some people prefer to eat it cooked rather than raw in salads. The raw leaves and stem are diuretic and laxative, and are easily propagated through seed and stem cuttings. It is a perennial native of tropical Asia and is consumed in many parts of Asia and Africa.
Closely related to quinoa, lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album L.) is rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium and fiber.
It is widely distributed throughout the world and is consumed in India and Africa. In addition to being a very hardy plant, lamb’s quarters is a highly nutritious and healthy addition to the diet. The raw greens (leaves and young stalks) can be used in salads, smoothies and juices. They may be steamed, sautéed, curried or added to soups, especially if consumed in large quantities. Some chemicals in the plant are mildly toxic if eaten often or in large quantities, but they can be easily removed by cooking.
For more information, contact the principal investigator Dr. Mamatha Hanumappa at email@example.com. You may also stop by their tent at the Van Ness farmers market on Saturdays. If present – and depending on how much they harvest that week – they will be giving the produce away as a first step towards introducing the greens to the community. You can also chat with Richard Boateng and Rachel Ussery, two students who are working on this project with Dr. Hanumappa. If you are lucky, you may get free samples of the nutrient packed green bunches!