Guru asks why our ethnic diversity hasn’t prompted local farmers to grow the world’s most savoured grasses

By WAYNE ROBERTS
NOW Toronto

I’m sitting in Addis Ababa, an Ethiopian restaurant on Queen West, trying to do a selling job on an ethnic farming specialist.

Try this, I tell Rutgers University’s Bill Sciarappa, offering him a piece of injera, the tart flatbead served with beans, veggies and meat. I’m hoping to convince him that teff, the grain from which it is made, could be grown in Ontario instead of imported, as it almost all is, from Idaho.

“Oh, you mean Ethiopian lovegrass,” he says, as he and the owner joke about the fact that the grass is treated as a weed in New Jersey and fed to livestock.

Sciarappa’s business is repositioning ethnic food as what he likes to call “world food.” That’s why FarmStart, an org promoting the needs of immigrants who want a career in food production, invited him in the last week of November to address three southern Ontario workshops in Toronto, Guelph and Durham Region.

Sciarappa, who wants to let a thousand bitter melons bloom, likes to tell farmers in New Jersey, the Garden State, to “get progressive or get out.” The phrase is a jab at the infamous slogan of 1950s agribusiness: “Get big or get out.” His mission is to help local farmers start serving an untapped billion-dollar market for “ethnic” fruit and veggies.

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