Boston Hosts Brazilian Vegetable Events

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If you’re an organic foodie in the Boston area, get a taste of Brazilian produce over the next few weeks at two prominent markets. The events highlight the growing market for ethnic crops created by Massachusetts’ Brazilian community, one of the largest in the country, and a trend among upscale consumers to explore exotic cuisines.

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The crops are being grown in western Massachusetts by agronomists Frank Mangan and Maria Moreira of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Extension Service.

From noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Russo’s Market in Watertown will feature several Brazilian vegetables, including maxixe—similar to a cucumber, with a lemony taste.

“Russo’s carries a wide variety of Asian, Latino and Italian crops, and we are working with the owner, who is very interested in buying many of the Brazilian vegetables we are growing,” says Mangan, who heads the UMass Extension ethnic vegetable initiative.

Russo’s will also showcase taioba, a vegetable with large leaves used as a spinach substitute, and jiló, which grows like an eggplant and turns red-orange when ripe. Visitors can enjoy Brazilian dishes created by the UMass Amherst nutrition education team, and agronomists from UMass Amherst, including students from Brazil, will be on hand to answer questions.

Wilson Farms in Lexington, one of New England’s premier farm stands, will feature maxixe, taioba and jiló from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8. Samples, recipes and vegetable information will be available.

Brazilian culture and cuisine will be showcased at a Sept. 7 Brazilian Independence Day celebration at Wilson Farms. Raquel Mendonca, an agronomist from Brazil and member of Mangan’s research team for two years, is organizing the festival. He began growing crops popular with the Latino population in 1995 and expanded his research to include Brazilian crops in 2002 when Moreira joined his team. According to Mangan, the crops thrive in western Massachusetts.

“They seem to like the cooler nights, which allow the plants to conserve carbohydrates and produce higher yields,” he says.

Production has been ongoing at UMass Extension’s research farm in South Deerfield and has expanded to include farmers from the Pioneer Valley Growers Association, a cooperative of growers located in western Massachusetts. According to Mangan, demand is currently exceeding supply.

“We brought 50 pounds of produce to small markets in Framingham, and it was sold within two hours,” he says. Brazilian produce is currently being shipped by Pioneer Valley farmers to markets across the eastern seaboard, including New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida and Rhode Island.

Unique to Mangan’s and Moreira’s research is its emphasis on evaluating and developing markets for the produce being introduced to cooperating farmers. They are currently working with growers to identify appropriate packaging and have several Brazilian students assisting with market research at a variety of locations in Massachusetts and New Jersey.

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