At the Huntington Library's Ranch Garden, Planet Earth Observatory partners with scientists, artists, gardeners and others to create opportunities for people to deeply observe and engage with nature. We make room to discuss the cultural and culinary traditions of climate-friendly heritage foods that are grown by gardeners and farmers around Metro L.A.’s many diverse communities. In the process, we consider complex subjects including the climate crisis and food equity.
At the Huntington Library's Ranch Garden, we pay tribute to cowpeas and the African farmers who have grown and developed them for more than 6,000 years. A drought and heat tolerant crop, cowpeas are good for people and for the soil. California is one of the top cowpea producers in the United States where demand for the bean is growing as an alternative protein source. In Sub-Saharan Africa, they provide an essential source of protein in spite of reduced yields due to climate-induced drought, aphids, and other pests. [FAO]
Aphids also pose a threat to cowpea growers in California. Working with University of California Riverside researchers at the Huntington Ranch, our cowpea team of community artists and scientist is evaluating an aphid-resistant variety of cowpeas known as California Blackeye 77 (CB 77) . CB 77 was developed by UCR researchers and tested with growers in California.
At the same site, we are also evaluating three varieties of aphid resistant yard long beans developed by UCR researchers and tested with Hmong farmers in Fresno, California. Yard long beans are a variety of cowpeas that have been grown in Southeast Asia for over 1,000 years.
Planet Earth Observatory’s cowpea evaluation trial provides a backdrop for us to learn from community artists and scientists how to deeply observe nature, grow and enjoy climate-friendly food, discuss food justice, and advocate for farmers using sustainable farming practices. Click here for growing tips, cultural and culinary information.
Note: CB 77’s, Purple Long Bean 2056, Light Green Long Bean 2055, and Dark Green Long Bean 1994 were developed by University of California, Riverside researchers using marker assisted cross breeding that does not involve transgenic methods.
In the United States certain varieties of cowpeas are known as blackeye peas, southern peas, pinkeye peas or crowder peas. In various African languages, similar varieties may be called dinawe (Ndebele), dinaba (Shangaan), imbumba (Zulu), monawa or nawa (Pedi) and dinawa (Tswana). In other languages: feijão de corda (Portugese) կովպեա(Armenian), Niébé (French), غوغۍ (Pahto), काउपिया(Nepali), लोबिया (Hindi).
Four raised beds at the Huntington Ranch Garden provide us with an opportunity to step away from Eurocentric crops, to sample a taste of history and honor the agricultural heritage of Californias of Asian ancestry. Some of the crops we are growing include bitter melon, yard long beans, pigeon peas, Chinese cucumber and peppers, Japanese eggplant and Vietnamese coriander. We consider how to mitigate the effects of climate change by practicing regenerative gardening practices such as compost, compost extracts and teas, mulch, companion planting, intercropping, crop rotation, drought and heat tolerant varieties. We are also experimenting with ollas and other methods to learn how to conserve water and deeply irrigate our plants.
At this site hedgerows serve as host plants for pollinators and other beneficials that engage with our vegetable and fruit crops. By planting native hedgerows around these four raised beds, we help create a more balanced ecosystem designed to improve plant and wildlife health - both which ultimately comes from the results of healthy soil.
At the Huntington Library’s Ranch Garden, we create opportunities to better understand how extreme weather affects the food we grow in community, school, and home gardens around Los Angeles. We use regenerative gardening practices to build healthy soil, reduce greenhouse gasses and address issues of food and environmental justice.
Anyone can learn to deeply observe nature. All it takes is time, curiosity, and a sense of wonder.