Madiba's Amandla Garden Begins to Grow
You know that ladder that has been leaning against the wall in front of Madiba? That's Zachary Picken's ladder. He's uses it to climb up to a new rooftop garden he's creating called the Amandla Garden. At the time of writing this, Zach had just completed the installation of the garden and so he invited me up to take a look. If there's any word to describe Zach, it's passionate. He takes immense pride in having spearheaded the garden. You can see it in his eyes when he talks about it. Which leads me to believe that this garden might actually work as a viable source of produce for the restaurant. Without someone like Zach, most gardens wouldn't have much of a lifespan.
Although Zach has been with Madiba as a server since 2008 and has been experimenting with gardening on his own since 2007, only recently did he take the idea of a rooftop garden seriously and try to gain support from Mark, the owner. Zach explains, "I asked Mark if he would let me grow some plants on the roof for the kitchen. Being the guy that he is, he agreed to let me do some exploration. It wasn't until after I had started growing that I learned from a colleague that Nelson Mandela (whose nickname is Madiba), the restaurant's namesake, actually kept a rooftop garden while in prison. Mandela grew vegetables on the roof of his prison building to give to the white guards to take home and for weekly special meals for the inmates. So this truly became an inspiration to expand the garden and supply more produce to the kitchen."
The Amandla Garden is about 300 square feet and will provide enough produce for seasonal salads, special seasonal menu items, and seasonal drinks. Zach will use strictly organic growing methods. The seeds will come from Fedco Seeds, the Hudson Valley Seed Library, and other local sources.
The Amandla Garden, like Madiba Restaurant, exists as an homage to Nelson Mandela, the first president of a free South Africa. Zach sees the garden as a source of liberation and power. Amandla, in fact, means 'power' in the Zulu language. During the Apartheid in a cry to rally, a leader would yell "Amandla" (power) to which the crowd would respond "Awethu" (to us). Zach says this was his inspiration for the name of the Garden: "Food is power. Growing your own is an act of asserting your independence and power. So the more power we can take away from factory farms the better. The more we can grow with organic methods and grow to provide to a community, the better."
The pictures below show the progression of the work he has done since early this Spring.
A current trend with restaurants in Brooklyn-and increasingly across the nation-is to incorporate hyper-local produce into the menu. I'm not talking about the conventional definition of local, which is typically defined as food grown within 250 miles. I'm talking about food that is grown within a few miles sometimes-as is the case with Madiba-within a few feet. This truly is power. It's about taking back control of our food. It's about knowing where your food comes from and what goes into growing it.
As restaurant owners and managers, you can incorporate local food even if you don't have the capacity for your own rooftop garden. Purchase from the Fort Greene farmers market. Or purchase produce from a business such as Eagle Street Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint.
As consumers, we can do more than hope that other restaurants take the leadership that Madiba has in working towards a more sustainable menu. We can vote with our wallets. Choose to patronize restaurants like Madiba. We can take the power back from Cargill and Monsanto. Eat consciously. Ask questions about your food. Ask Zach... not only will he likely be your server next time you eat at Madiba, he will have grown ingredients in your salad.
In the next edition of this story, I will detail the ups and downs involved in getting a garden setup on a roof... with help from Zach, of course.