• Bryan Ibrafall Wright

5 Fall Crops My African-American Ancestors Would Have Grown....

Updated: Dec 20, 2020


I find it to be quite interesting that when most people think of gardening, they only associate gardening with the warm weather of Spring and Summer. The long hours of sunlight and warm temperatures of the spring and summer are optimal for growing an array of crops. Simply thinking of the Spring and Summer my mind goes to the past memories of picking fresh berries, biting into a freshly harvest ear of corn, or simply anxiously waiting to harvest the season's first watermelon all conjure the thoughts of gardening in the Summer.


Spring and Summer gardens offer their bounties in abundance that come with consistent garden upkeep, harvesting, and pest management. Over abundance of work that arrives with a warm season garden can lead to what I like to call: Summer Gardening Fatigue. If you are able to endure the Summer Gardening Season, you are in store for another amazing season that many growers fail to take advantage of, and that is the Fall Gardening Season. Fall gardens can also be bountiful, but due to the limited sunlight and cooling temperatures for many gardeners the season changes denote the end of their gardening season until the following Spring.


Many of our ancestors did not have the luxury of only planting a Spring Garden. Our ancestors ways of living were in tuned with the philosophy of subsistence living. Subsistence living means that the preoccupation with food is the primary task that had to be undertaken, thus making it necessary to procure food on an daily basis regardless of the season. During the fall our African American Ancestors would plant crops that not only had a high nutrient density, but also had a long shelf life. Below I would like to share with you 5 crops that our African American Ancestors would have planted in their fall gardens.






Purple Top Turnips


Photo Courtesy of Medical News Today


Turnip (Brassica rapa) Greens are a still staple of in Soul Food Cuisine. Turnips are a great source of:

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin B

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin K

  • Calcium

  • Copper

  • Iron

  • Magnesium

  • Manganese

  • Omega-3

  • Potassium

  • Protein


The turnip can grow in most soils and is ready to harvest in just 60 days and the leaves in as little as 14 days. Turnips are also easy to store for long-term food storage purposes. Both the root and the leaves of the plant were eaten. The majority of the foods that our ancestors ate served numerous purposes. In growing up the elders would leave the turnip roots in the ground during the winter months and harvest them as needed. Turnips where also used as a feed for livestock. Our ancestors had many reasons for growing this amazing plant. Turnips are considered a Superfood.


Cabbage


Cabbage (Brassica Oleracea Var. capitata) is yet another crop that is still a staple of the diets of African People people globally. Cabbage can be found in many colors, shapes, and sizes. Cabbage has is a staple food in all parts of the world that African people were enslaved. Cabbage is another filling leafy green that is versatile due to the numerous areas that it is able to grow. Cabbage is also a great crop for storage in the cool months. Cabbage can be found in many colors, and researchers are now confirming that colorful foods are more healthy containing more antioxidants. Cabbage also contains:

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin B

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin K

  • Iron

  • Calcium

  • Fiber

  • Folate

  • Magnesium

  • Manganese

  • Potassium

  • Protein

Cabbage is considered to be a Superfood due to its high nutrient density.



Fall Squash

Winter Squash vary greatly, and thus they fit into many classifications due the vast varieties of the Fall Squash. The varieties vary regionally depending on the growing zone. Regardless of the zone Winter Squash varieties that were grown by our African Ancestors were a staple seasonal crop. Winter Squashes are high sources of fiber, vitamins, and mineral, plus they stick to your stomach. The sweetness of Winter Squash allows it to be used as a pie filling or a sweet treat. Most Winter Squash varieties maintain a long shelf life making them a great for long term food storage. Many of the popular Winter Squash varieties are: Butternut, Spaghetti, Acorn, Kuri, Kabocha, Hubbard, Delicata, Winter Squash. I will also add pumpkins in the squash category.



Sweet Potato




When I think about the Fall and Winter seasons and a dessert my mind is drawn to the delicious Sweet Potato Pies that my Grandmothers used to cook, or the Sweet Potatoes my mother made with meals. I remember being a boy and helping my family members clean Sweet Potatoes that had finished curing and were ready to be cooked. We ate Sweet Potatoes in pies, boiled, baked, and sometimes raw. My grandfather told me that his mother, my Great Grandmother Ola would make Sweet Potato Cobblers. Sweet Potatoes remain one of my favorite foods.


In reading about the diet of those who were enslaved I read about the people eating Sweet Potato leaves and I thought that those who were enslaved ate the leaves of the Sweet Potato out of desperation. but oh was I wrong. Sweet Potato leaves are very tasty reminding me of spinach. The leaves of the Sweet Potato are very nutrient dense, making the Sweet Potatoes leaves a delicious and extremely nutritious meal. Did, I mention that the vine of the Sweet Potato are extremely prolific producing a large quantity of leaves. In essence, the Sweet Potato packs a double punch of delicious flavors and nutrition in both the root and the leaves. Due the pigment of the root it is high in Antioxidants. Sweet Potatoes are rich in:



Sweet Potato Root Nutrition Value

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin B6

  • Vitamin C

  • Copper

  • Manganese

  • Potassium

  • Fiber

  • Niacin

  • Pantothenic Acid

  • Protein

Sweet Potato Leaves Nutrition Value https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/fsa-6135.pdf

  • Calcium

  • Iron

  • Carotene

  • Protein

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin E

  • Vitamin K

  • Polyphenols

  • Antioxidants




Sweet Potatoes are generally grown from rooted leaf portions that have grown from the plant called slips. The harvest time of the potato takes up to a minimal of 3-4 months but while you wait be sure to take full advantage of the leaves that when cooked taste like spinach. Sweet Potatoes are also considered to so nutrient dense that they are considered a Superfood.






Collard Greens



Collard Greens are another plant in the family of Brassicas that is still a staple of Soul Food and the traditional diet of African people. Collard Greens are very hardy plants that can withstand both harsh Winters and hot Summers. Collard Greens are biannual plants that produce very large yields in a small space. Collard Greens contain:

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin E

  • Vitamin K

  • Fiber

  • Folate

  • Iron

  • Magnesium

  • Phosphorus

  • Potassium

  • Protein

  • Zinc

Collard Greens are considered to be a Superfood.











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