Janine standing in her farm field holding one of her children.

When Janine started growing African eggplant, she had five or six varieties. Now she just grows two, along with amaranth, “because of the Vermont weather.”

Janine farms on seven acres in Colchester, and lives in Burlington with her family. Janine speaks Kirundi, and explains through an interpreter that she was born to Burundian parents in a camp in Rwanda, and grew up there before moving to Tanzania in 1994 because of the Rwandan genocide. Janine got married in Tanzania, and had her first two children before moving to Vermont. She has lived in Vermont for fourteen years.

“It’s beautiful,” says Janine. “And then I found a garden. It’s my dream home. I’m not thinking about moving out.”

Janine is a self-taught farmer and started with a small garden plot at Ethan Allan’s New Farms for New Americans. She was growing eggplant to eat at home, and other people she saw were interested—they wanted to buy some. Next, Janine moved to the Intervale Center, and then to the land in Colchester.

“Every year increase, increase,” explains Janine. “I’m still looking for land because each year I gain customers and what I have, it’s not enough.” Janine is hoping to expand to 20 acres in the upcoming season.

Typical customers know these types of eggplant and live all over the country. “Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania…” she breaks the list off, laughing.

And Janine’s eggplant has been available to Vermont neighbors experiencing hunger, through food distributions that you help support. Having free, fresh African eggplant available means more community members are able to bring home familiar food to enjoy. 

Janine says her partnership with the Foodbank also helps expose new people to African eggplant. Families who first found the eggplant through a free food distribution have sought her out later to buy more, an act that continues to support local business.

Janine describes the two varieties of eggplant she grows, known in English as garden eggs. “So the white, it is nice and sweet, almost like apples. And then the green one is a little more bitter.” Lilian, the interpreter, says the green ones are especially loved in Nepalese cooking.

The eggplants can be boiled, sautéed with spices, and served with tomatoes, fish, and other vegetables. Lilian joyfully shares what she likes her eggplant served with, “Amaranth, the African vegetable. It’s what I LOVE. Yes, and dry fish. And I eat it with fufu. Yes, oh my god, I best sit down. Wooo!”

“Eggplant,” states Janine, “it makes anything you want.”

Every season, Janine learns something new. And while she has been planning for future growth, she shares that her business has also been affected by COVID-19. Like when customers fall sick and can’t come pick up their orders. “This year has been a real challenge because of corona,” she says. Thanks to you, the Foodbank is excited to continue purchasing and distributing eggplant from Janine.

Working with the Foodbank has been helpful for her, and Janine speaks to the impact within the community. “It’s good. You help me, like you know, buy my things…Also, you do good because you offer people food. Food on the table to the people.

  • After 36 years working as a counselor at a community college, Peter retired to Vermont and started volunteering at the Foodbank. More than nine years and 1,000 shifts later, Peter shares why he keeps showing up.

  • Matthew works at Foodworks food shelf, one of the 353 community organizations that partners with Vermont Foodbank working towards a food-secure vermont.

  • Elysia lives in St. Johnsbury and is a community consultant for Vermont Foodbank. She brings her expertise to help improve services and increase access to food for folks in her community.