Last Saturday, the class went to Dalzell SC to plant a very large garden and till up 1/3 of an acre plot for Charleston’s Food Not Bombs chapter. This was the one of the SERVICE LEARNING components of the class. It provided a perfect nexus for the themes that we are examining in the course; namely, sustainability, the relationship between agriculture and place,  the relationship between agriculture and communities,  the relationship between agriculture and local and regional history, and the relationship between agriculture and global trends in food production, energy, water and soil management, agribusiness and monocropping.

Nicolas Rubin and his brother showed up from the FNB and Matthew Kipp, the Green Quad’s resident permaculturist, were on site to guide and direct us. The class put some serious back into ripping up weeds and tilling the plot in front of a small, broken down home that was built in the 1840s. About 2 acres and the house has been leased rent-free to the FNB. The FNB has slowly be renovating the house and planted a small garden of gourds and pumpkins last summer. The owners of the land (which in total is more than 90 acres used) have generously agreed to plow the remaining acre plus so that the FNB and the Arab food class can plant heirloom-emmer  wheat, which Anson Mills in Columbia has promised to provide free of charge. Emmer is the ancient wheat naturally cultivated and originating in Iraq and Greater Syria. It also has a long history in South Carolina as it was one of the earliest and certainly most resilient wheat crops used in the South until the monocropping of cereals destoyed agricultural diversity in North America.

After tilling the ground and doing some other chores around the grounds,  trenches were dug and long mounts made to try to capture rainfall and also fight off the rapid and thick growing weeds. Matt and Nick came up with a plan on how to arrange the tenches and mounds. Then Matt gave us a demonstration on how to plant potatoes in mounds with thick covering as to maintain water from rainfall and conserve the soil while also giving the potatoes room to grow.

In addition to the potatoes, we also planted garlic, ocre, radishes, bush beans, pole beans, and acorn squash. Most of these crops are not indigenous to the Arab world, they are now all a regular part of the Southwest Asian cuisine (except the squash).  The food that will be harvested will be used in the FNB’s mobile “soup kitchen” that they run every Sunday in North Charleston.

Much of the land remains tilled and ready to plant more seeds in a couple weeks when more members of the FNB can come out. There is also heirloom onions growing “wild” in the place where the old house used to have its garden. Matt has identified these onions as not being wild but in fact a domesticated onion that were probably planted when the house was still inhabited back in the 1950s. Some of these onions are the size of leaks and they are delicious.

We had a small but delicious lunch of acorn squash and potatoes made on a make shift oven, put directly the fire. Also, as we drink Arab coffee every class, I wanted to show the students how I roast the beans on an open fire. Nick and some students also made tripod bean poles out of twine and sticks.

The students, Matt, Nick, my son Shadee and Samantha’s wonderful parents must be commended. Everyone worked really hard and we accomplished in one day what would have taken the FNB some time to complete.

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We made our own version of kabsah. Most Arabs eat some version of kabsah but the Palestinians are most famous for it. It is suppose to be roasted sumac chicken on  a bed of raisins and nuts on base bed of rice. We opened our pantry and our wallets to see what we had left from previous dishes and from our budget. We had some rice, chick peas, almonds, pine nuts and raisins and $25 worth of Persian food color, otherwise known as saffron. So we came up with a vegetarian version of CHICK PEA KABSAH ON SAFFRON RICE.  I couldn’t find sumac (and didn’t surrender my own stash hand made from the Upper Metn in Lebanon). The dish should be highly spiced in allspice and cumin with a variation of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and cardamon depending on the taste of the cook. We had some extra dates and garnished the dish with them. I have to say that this really complimented the dish well. The two versions of this dish (differentiated in the use of the aforementioned ancillary spices) turned out really nicely. This was the first dish that I did not oversee. I provided the students with the recipe and some directions and let them loose. The final project was admirable. An additional salt and pepper (needed b/c we didn’t have the key ingredient sumac) made the dish a wonderful lunch.

A charming and intelligent journalist who covers food in the South for AOL wrote a wonderful article about our class.

She forgot to mention our cooking ventures but she captures the esprit of the class!

Check it out at:

http://www.slashfood.com/2010/03/08/students-grow-arab-garden-in-south-carolina/

Blogger “The Angry Arab” speaks of Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” (as named by the Bush administration) as the “Hummus Revolution.” Indeed, the students rose in chick pea unity, dangerously pushing garlic up their pallets to new levels.

Two groups pureed boiled organic chick peas (with the generous donation of Eric Harrison’s food processor) and mixed  it with tahini, fresh squeezed lemon juice, freshly pounded organic garlic, and some salt to make two slightly different dishes of hummus. I also made “balilah” for them, a dish made from whole chick peas, garlic, lemon, oil and lots of cumin.

One more success for the students.

Over the break, the students will be germinating herbs, legumes and even a pomegranate and cherry tree (seeds from Lebanon). We will plant these seedlings (not the trees yet though) in the Arab food garden the first week of April.