Introducing the Ethiopian (mobile) Kitchen Garden Project

I have to learn the environmental ethics of international seed swapping- there is a complexity of potential environmental, economic and social impact to sift through. I admit. If it’s a crime, I’m guilty. For years now I have travelled with seeds to bring and trade in all parts of the world where I visit. For me, there is no better way to connect with people and place and to continue my relationships with these places through my garden projects at home.

On my last trip to Addis, I brought a handful of organic seeds from Germany. Many from my own stock but also some given to me by friends and from an urban seed saving exchange group I am part of in Berlin called Social Seeds. I tried to gather seeds that grow well in a high-altitude, sunny climate and are also culturally appropriate like tomatoes, basil, kale, and sunflowers.

I shared these seeds with anyone I met who was interested and had a plot to plant them in. I brought the biggest sampling of seeds to the beautiful and abundant Addis Ababa Educational Garden, sprawling through allies in the back of the Itegue Taitu Hotel (see earlier post). In return they gave me handfuls of embryonic red beans, large speckled beans from Konso, and Ethiopian onion seed.

At the Shorla market, red dusted ladies in the spice market gave me handfuls of seed from the dried pods of berebere pepper.  And from the teff mills, I wrapped handfulls of the tiny seeds into scraps of torn plastic bags.

Then back in Berlin, 2013. Springtime. Questions flowing through my thoughts as I prepare the my growing beds and plant the seeds. Will anything actually grow? How will they survive the Berlin summer? And what am I going to do with all these plants? And slowly like every year, the marvel of the growing season started as seeds stir into their life form as plants.

And now, spring has yielded to summer and the progression of the plants has been successful. I was surprised at a 100% germination rate.  Closing the loop,  I was able to re-distribute the seeds and seedlings to all who had donated seeds originally. In my own garden, the beans are growing impressively big and strong- a friend noting how they bombastically burst from the ground to shed their pods and form leaves. The berebere is growing heartily and I wonder if it will actually have enough hours of sunlight to produce peppers despite the often cloudy Berlin summer. The long hours of light help I’m sure. And the teff has managed to sprout into a fuzzy ground cover.

Besides my own rooftop-balcony garden, I’ve planted two mobile Ethiopian themed kitchen gardens. One is in partnership with the Agora Collective, and experimental art and co-working space in Neukölln.The other is the third year continuation of my Gemüse Korb project where I plant gardens in found shopping carts and move them throughout Berlin to occupy public spaces.

The entire project will culminate with a an Ethiopian fermenting and cooking workshop at Agora Collective in late summer. Until then, we ask for sunshine, rain, care from friends and strangers. It is my experience that when we give to plants, they give back. More to come.