Rasta Ground Provisions for a Healthy Nutritious Ital Diet

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Ital food is vital food in a vegetarian or vegan diet.

The Rastas in Jamaican are renowned for their ital diet. Coconut, spices, herbs, fruits, various greens and vegetables, ground provisions or root vegetables and fish forming the basis of their ital food. In Portland it was said that the doctors went out of business because no-one ever got sick, just old and dead.

Ground Provisions provide a staple food and ensure nutrition in times of scarcity as all are grown underground and store food in their swollen modified roots and stems.

Ground Provisions include true Yams or Dioscera spp from the Dioscoreaceae family. This vegetable is the third most important tropical root crop after Cassava Manihot esculenta from the Euphorbiaceae family and Sweet Potato Ipomoea batatas from the Convulvulaceae family.

Other Ground Provisions are Arrowroot Maranta arundinaceae, Taro or Dasheen Colocasia esculenta and Irish Potato Solanum tuberosum

What is a Yam?

Dioscera spp

There are over 600 species of Yam. They provide a staple for people in West Africa, Central America and Caribbean, Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia. Australia has three species that would be worth further selection. Dioscera bulbifera, a hairy yam from the North. Dioscera bastsifolia from South Western and Western WA found as far north as Geraldton and Dioscera transversa, the long yam found down the East Coast. The Indigenous Aboriginal people of Australia used these yams as food for thousands of years.
An African species Dioscera elephantipes produces a basal stem weighing up to 320 kg. Yams even larger then this have been reported in the South Pacific. In Melanesia Yams can reflect a growers status in the community and some are reserved for the Chief only. They are used as gifts and ritualised exchanges and represent masculinity.

Yams will flourish planted in fertile deep soil with a trellis to climb at the beginning of the warm season and they are very rampant. After harvest certain sections of the tuber with eyes are reserved to heal and be replanted later when they start to shoot. Seed Yams borne on the axils of some yams can also be used for propagation. When Yams shoot you can almost see them growing. The thick square stems snake their way up whatever they can find to climb.
Mound soil up around them base and shen the stems have died back as cool weather approaches dig up the tubers.
Eat chunks boiled roasted or fried in stews casseroles and soups.
Preserving yams is a dying art in Jamaica but is still practised in some rural areas. The Yams best suited to this include Renta, Muzella, White Yam and Puppa Will. The best quality and largest tubers are dug carefully so as not to bruise them and hence cause rot. Then it is covered with a generous coat of ash from the fire where yam remains have been burnt.
The Yam is then put out in the hot sun for a few days where it goes very hard. It is then stored in a cool dry place away from moisture. Most Yams would be very dry in three months and preserved this way can last for over a year.
It has a very powdery texture when preserved this way and is delicious when baked. Dasheens can also be preserved this way and Yams are the most popular.


Manihot esculenta M. utilissima

Perennial open branched shrub with palmate leaves to four metres. There is bitter and sweet cassava. It is drought tolerant and frost sensitive. Cassava is a heavy feeder and will be easier to harvest if grown in friable soil. Ground is left to regenerate after a crop is grown.
In a year the roots will be ready and the leaves die back. Prune back in winter and plant 30cm stem cuttings back in the ground in Spring. Bury one third of the cutting
The yound shoots can also be eaten. Consume roots within 24 hours of harvest. Roast in chunks, boil and fry. They have a unique and nutty flavour. A flour can also be made. Red stemmed are more suited to cooler climates and green stemmed for warmer climates.

Ital Irish Potato

Solanum tuberosum

Originating in the Andes, there are an exotic array of different varieties.
Andean farmers grew traditional varieties that look nothing like the potato we buy in the Supermarket. Solanum stenototumum or Pitiquina are a very primitive variety. Solanum geniocalyx or Limena have deep yellow flesh and a lovely flavour. These old land races go from bright yellow, deep purple to black. They are often frost nematode and insect resistant.
Germinate tubers in the dark then expose to the light 24 hrs before planting. They like particular soil types and are frost intolerant. Choose only healthy tubers for propagation. Potatoes vary in their waxiness for salads, flouriness for boiling baking and chip making.
A trip to the local organic farmers market will unearth some good stock for planting. Be on the lookout for different varieties.

Growing Sweet Potato

Ipomea batatas

Originating in South America and the West Indies these delicious creamy sweet tubers are now grown thoughout the world.
The tubers come in many flavours colours and textures. Cultivate annually for best results and watch out for small rodents and animals as they love them too.

Cuttings are easier for propagation than tubers. Take a runner and plant in soft soil. Hill around the plants for greater production. The tubers contain high levels of mineral salts and vitamins. Coloured flesh varieties are high in Vitamin A. Young sweet potato leaves can also be eaten as green in an ital diet.

The Taro Eddo or Dasheen in also eaten as a ground provision. Colocasia esculenta. It is best grown by corm in damp rich loamy soil. The oxilide crystals they contain shaped like needles are released in the mouth while chewing and it isn’t very pleasant. Look for varieties that are known for good eating. Most varieties must be soaked several times with changes of water to get rid of the Oxilide crystals. In Polynesia they eat fermented taro. It is called Poi and is very nutritious this way

Following Hurricane Dean the ground provisions such as yam, irish potatoes and vegetables in Manchester, have been severely affected. Eighty acres of yam was lost 30 acres of Irish potatoes was destroyed.
The farmers will need all the help they can get from international agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to get back on their feet.

Despite an ideological commitment to local produce, and the activity of some small-scale producers, tubers, once key carbohydrates in the Caribbean diet, are declining in importance.

Agricultural land under threat in Caribbean

The retention of land, particularly for agricultural purposes, by small-scale producers and plantations alike, continues to be under threat, not just by hurricanes, agricultural diseases, and declining prices for many agricultural products, but by a growing non-agricultural sector. Plantations have declined in importance through most of the Caribbean during the last century, and, accordingly, many former estates have been sold off. Supplementing one’s wages on a plantation with the maintenance of a provision garden has thus become increasingly difficult. Golf courses, mining expeditions, and hotel development not only acquire or degrade land, but draw Caribbeans into low-paying service-sector wage positions. As labour has gradually been drawn out of the agricultural sector, and land for gardens is increasingly abandoned, sold, or not maintained, many Caribbean people have become increasingly reliant on wages in a highly volatile and unstable service sector to buy packaged, imported food items.  Ital food is at risk and eating it is more important than ever in the fight to save the planet.

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