Can karela, louki, methi & baingan help US economy?

RITU JHA

An Indian-American professor has received a grant of $63,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture to grow vegetables from the subcontinent in America.

Naveen Kumar Dixit, extension specialist and assistant professor of Horticulture Alternative and Small Scale Agriculture at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), has chosen four vegetables: bitter gourd (karela in Hindi), bottle gourd (louki), small/round eggplant (baingan) and fenugreek (methi).

The choices are based on local weekly grocery store data of Asian Americans, especially Indians, he said.

The project started this spring with the support of two United States Department of Agriculture USDA grants, the Delmarva Cooperative seed grant and one from North East Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NE-SARE).

“I am NE-SARE coordinator for the state of Maryland,” Dixit said. “The total is $63,000 for two years, with local farmers demonstrating these vegetables in the farmer market. Similarly, local Asian grocery stores are collecting data about the behaviors of consumers.”

Dixit believes growing these vegetables can help revive the US economy as well as bring fresh Indian taste to the dining table.

“Look on the Net for the prices of bitter gourd: 2 lbs/$25, or one piece for $1.52. So, a bright future ahead,” Dixit told indica News.

He said the staple desi veggies are already a hit.

We got a positive response from the community: Oh, from where are you bringing these vegetables: very fresh and taste different…Can we have more supply of these vegetables,” Dixit said, elaborating on the response. 

He said that under corona like situations, local availability of these healthy vegetables can also make a difference and these are supplied both online and in grocery stores.

However, at present it’s on trial basis.

Bitter gourd is known to help in diabetes management, and bottle gourd too supports in weight management.

“Initially, we selected these four vegetables, but our future target is to select more and request big grants from USDA,” said Dixit. “In fact, the plan is to develop organic practices for these crops, so that local farmers can earn more profit. Mostly, we import these vegetables from South America or at small scale from Florida.”

“The question is why are we importing when we have all the facilities here,” he said.

He believes the demand would keep growing with the growing Indian-American population in the US.

According to the 2010 census, there are more than 600,000 Indian Americans in New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Delaware.

“So, a huge market for Asian vegetables,” said Dixit.