African eggplant is not easy to find in the grocery stores of Portland, Oregon. When Rosata Niyonzima arrived there from Burundi, after nine years in a refugee camp in Tanzania, this posed a problem for being able to cook healthy food for her family. As a farmer who loved growing her own produce back home, she and her family decided to source seeds from Africa and start growing African eggplant in Portland. Her mission was to share that bounty and the happiness that farming with her family brought her.
Niyonzima, together with her husband, Prosper Hezumuryano, and their children, began tending a plot in a community garden. With the help of a nonprofit called Growing Gardens, which aims to cultivate healthy and equitable communities by supporting food production, the family received access to more land. Now Happiness Family Farm’s organic crops are spread among three plots of land in the Portland area. The family cultivates a total of 3.5 acres, and the healthy, organic food they produce is helping to advance food justice in the state.
Solving the problem of food insecurity—which affects nearly 15% of Oregonians—is not just about ensuring access to enough calories. For communities, families, and individuals to be truly healthy, that food also has to be culturally appropriate.
Niyonzima’s son Japhety Ngabireyimana says customers in the local African community say the family’s CSA and farmers market stands have been like a temple for them. The farm not only gives them access to produce they can’t get in the markets, but it gives them the chance to connect to their motherland.
The farm also introduces other customers to these tasty new-to-them kinds of produce—foods many Portland residents have since come to love.
Breanna Draxler is a senior editor at YES!, where she leads coverage of climate and environmental justice, and Native rights. She has nearly a decade of experience editing, reporting, and writing for national magazines including National Geographic online and Grist, among others. She collaborated on a climate action guide for Audubon Magazine that won a National Magazine Award in 2020. She recently served as a board member for the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Northwest Science Writers Association. She has a master’s degree in environmental journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder. Breanna is based out of the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people, but has worked in newsrooms on both coasts and in between. She previously held staff positions at bioGraphic, Popular Science, and Discover Magazine.