Amaranth, nonpoisonous nightshade, the Asian radish mu, purple-kernel corn, cowpeas and bitter melon typically aren’t found in American gardens.
But such crops indigenous to other countries are staples for some growers who rent plots at the Charmaine Nymann Community Garden in Bear Creek Regional Park on Colorado Springs’ westside.
Residents who claim native soils of South Korea, Nepal and Kenya fastidiously coax seeds common in their homelands to grow here as amply as Jack’s beanstalk — so they can prepare favorite ethnic dishes such as kimchi, stir-fry, crown daisy soup and ugali.
“When you grow vegetables, you see how our food source is miraculously designed because of its vitamins and medicinal value,” So Ok Drury, who was born in South Korea, said Tuesday, while showing off what she considers her slice of heaven. “I see the evidence of a creator.”
Drury often stops by her 20-by-40-foot plot daily to water, weed and harvest her bounty, which includes white cucumber for salads; the rare red Napa cabbage, which she says makes delicious wraps; mountain ginseng, a natural digestive that helps rid the body of toxins; and the heart-shaped Korean sesame leaf, a nutritious vegetable that helps prevent osteoporosis and promotes vascular health.
“It consumes lots of your time, but I dry or freeze everything, and it lasts,” she said, adding that she’s sowed a plot for the past 10 years.
“It’s a unique location because we get the full sun, and everything you plant grows well,” Drury said.
The nonprofit Bear Creek Garden Association has operated the 104-plot community garden for 35 years. The season runs April through mid-October.
Never before has there been so much ethnic produce, said Karen Stith, one of the organizers.
“The diversity of races and cultures represented in our garden has been growing in recent years,” she said.
“Certainly, it is nurturing for them and their children to have the opportunity to grow their familiar foods.”
Multicultural gardeners tend to plant crops more densely than American growers, Stith noted. Instead of spaced rows with room to walk between, plants rise up in clumps, are given just the amount of room needed and trimmed to fit the space. That method, known as square-foot-gardening, reduces weeds, Stith said, and allows for more abundant production.
Priti Ghimire can’t find the leaves of the chayote in local grocery stores, and amaranth is too expensive to buy domestically, she says.
She and her husband emigrated seven years ago under a green card lottery system designed to foster diversity.
The couple own a small business and miss the different varieties of greens, which Ghimire stir-fries and serves with rice.
“It’s so tasty,” she said Tuesday, while harvesting chayote leaves. “I cannot even explain how tasty they are.”
The root of the plant can be cooked like a potato, which Ghimire said also is yummy.
This is her second year of tending a plot at the community garden.
“It’s so refreshing when you step inside here,” she said, sweeping her arms around the 2-acre site. “Me and my husband and daughter come every single day and do a video call to my parents. They say you guys are doing so well, eating your organic food.”
Jade Lahman, who grew up in Seoul, South Korea, smiles as she cuts colorful zinnias for a bouquet.
“I never was able to grow much because I didn’t have the space,” she said.
After living in Atlantic City, N.J., for 15 years and working at a casino, Lahman retired in Colorado Springs, drawn by its mountains and overall beauty.
“I enjoy this so much,” she said of her garden. “I put 10% of my effort into it, and 90% nature takes care of.”
This year is the first time Betty Misik, a transplant from Kenya, has purchased a space. The experience has been beneficial, she said.
“I’ve found new friends, don’t need to buy vegetables and use the crops for their medicinal properties,” Misik said.
American nightshade, which is not poisonous, is one of her favorites. Misik says it can be used to relieve stress, headaches, eczema and ulcers, and is good when stir-fried and mixed with heavy cream and served atop an African cornmeal porridge called ugali.
The garden reminds her of her childhood in the African highlands, where she gardened with her mother.
Now, Misik is passing on her love of the land to her 6-year-old son, who she says appreciates looking at the ladybugs, spiders and butterflies that live among the plants.
"It is wonderful because you have a chance to be outside and have a break from your normal routine," she said.