Professor is firm believer in the power of fresh food

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 13, 2015

By Deirdre Parker Smith

Dr. Sashi Sabaratnam is always thinking and planning.

As a botanist, environmental scientist and horticulturist, she has taught at Livingstone College for 28 years. Recently, she started a garden at Faith Temple Triumphant Ministries in East Spencer.

And she’s eager to share what she learns with all members of the community. She also plans to be involved with Livingstone’s planned farm, and is writing a grant to get funds.

Originally from Sri Lanka, she enjoys growing exotic vegetables, especially ones with medicinal value, “for liver detox, diabetes, chronic problems,” she says.

“My husband is the gardener, and I am the horticulturist.”

She grows bottle gourds, for example. “You treat it like a pumpkin, you peel the rind and cook the flesh. … It tastes good with shrimp or ground meat. It’s a natural diuretic, it flushes your system out. When you do that once or twice a week, your liver is cleaned out.”

She also grows bitter melon, “but we use it with lots of tomatoes, onions, coconut milk or fry it with vinegar, red onion, chilies. It is an acquired taste.” Lime juice also helps. She says it is good for diabetics, helping to control blood sugar. “You get used to the taste. It’s in summer, not the fall or winter.”

A few collard greens are growing on the Livingstone farm property, but she says there’s no equivalent in Sri Lanka. “We have tons of greens, and one, goattukola, is sold in GNC and online; it’s brain food.”

She eats watermelons for vitamin C, A, B and D. Water amaranth, a plant that is all green with tiny flower heads, “is nutritious and tasty. The leaves good sauted in a little olive oil, onions and shredded coconut.”

The problem with modern diets is people don’t take time to cook, she says. She speaks from experience. “Weekdays are so busy, I have a full load teaching.”

Sabaratnam likes to be a consultant for gardens. “I don’t like to get dirty … I love harvesting. It’s really fun to see something growing. When it’s time to harvest, it gives me so much pleasure. I know how to process it. It’s time consuming, but I love it.”

She noticed space for a garden at the church she attends, and so they planted  tomatoes, peppers, okra, bottle gourd (which is still bearing) and more.

“I get a big basket of it every Sunday” and some is prepared in the church kitchen.

“Fresh from the garden is wonderful.”

They were still getting peppers and okra, and a few tomatoes late in September. The plot measures about 20 by 25 feet.

She noticed that people don’t have sufficient food, and that vegetables are so expensive at the grocery store. She wants to continue into the fall with all kinds of greens, and she wants to involve people of all ages, especially children. “I want to introduce kids to food from a garden.”

She brings items to the college to introduce students to, such as curry leaves, dill, sage, parsley, basil. And she wants to bring some of her harvest to Livingstone’s cafeteria. They’ve already used a bounty of basil.

“Fresh ingredients taste so delicious. Just make a basil omelet with sliced onions.

Fresh is simple and tastes so good.”

She has made it her mission to visit local farms, small and large. “They are so nice. We share knowledge.” Weekends are spent visiting farms and vineyards. “I am a farmer at heart.”