Updated: Dec 19, 2022
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The Esther Manor Farm to-Table Dinner was a highly captivating food and cultural event. The colorful spectacle and coherence of song, dance, joy, and feasting marked the end of the cultivation season and expressed gratitude to God and our ancestors for a bountiful harvest. It was a perfect autumn afternoon; a gentle sun peeked through the trees and dazzled the brown, red, and yellow autumn leaves. Rustic arrangements of dried flowers stood majestically between lanterns, adorning rectangular tables of crisp white linens. My neighbor, Barbara, had spared no effort in contributing to this picturesque scene; for each arrangement, she carefully picked flowers from her garden to honor our Earth and all she gives in the harvest months. Meanwhile, farm products displayed on high tables with descriptions and preparation methods, gave visitors a foretaste of the dinner ahead.
Attendees came from far and near- France, California, Denver, Texas, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. In attendance were dignitaries, representatives of State and local government, Diplomatic corps, the local and state police, researchers on indigenous crops, university professors, notables from the Bali Nyonga Community, members of the African Diaspora, cultural groups, and locals. Food and farming served as a great unifier connecting people from different backgrounds and bridging nationalities, geographies, and generations.
Ba Dr Fohtung, my Grandfather, Uncle, and Brother to Esther ( after whom the farm is named) , opened the ceremony with traditional rites. With a mix of palm wine, water, and ancestral blessings, he poured libation and in Mungaka, the Bali Nyonga language, invited the ancestors to continue to guide, provide, and protect The Esther Manor Farm.
The opening ceremony was accompanied by drumming, singing, and dancing by Ndah nduti, a cultural group that seeks to preserve Bali Nyonga culture through music and performances. Their distinctive display of traditional songs and dance brought a uniqueness that was felt and appreciated by all.
Brandon Turner, Deputy Director of Hanover County Economic Development gave welcome remarks while the Director of the State of Virginia, Ms. Keren Charles Dongo, read a letter from Senator Tim Kaine. In his keynote address, Dr. Bekia Fosam highlighted the important place African fresh produce occupies in our diet and identity. He also revealed how the late Esther helped jumpstart his illustrious scholarship and career through her intervention in his early education in Bali.
The food was simply divine. Chef Dorothy transformed produce and vegetables from the farm into mouth-watering delicacies of eru, ndole, sautéed njama, edikaikong, koki corn. Accompanied by jollof rice, bean stew, puff puff, green rice, fufu, and fried plantains, the food picked from the farm was the main character on the buffet table. Meanwhile grill maestro George Fon awakened tastebuds with suya that dripped with Cameroon spices. The meat was tender, flavorful, juicy, cooked to perfection and served right off the grill.
As guests enjoyed the feast, Dr Nagella Nukuna a certified nutritionist and author of “ A Taste of Africa: fusion of food family and fitness ” gave a stellar presentation of every dish that was served along with their nutritional values
Meanwhile, the Ambassador of Cameroon to the USA highlighted the need for such initiatives that highlight Cameroon’s rich food varieties and culture.
After dinner, guests sashayed and swayed under the autumn sky to an eclectic music cache of Cameroon Makossa oldies, contemporary Naija, and African traditional music.
As dusk set in, the remaining guests converged around the bonfire, where master storyteller and orator, Prof Kehbuma Langmia facilitated riddles, jokes, and storytelling. The crackling fire warmed us as we sipped spicy pepper soup. All around us fireflies danced in the night as if choreographed by every joyous memory and dream. The scenery reached back to our African villages, transporting us to our emblematic childhood traditions of sitting around Grandma’s fireside, telling stories, and feasting on the day’s harvest.
The days and weeks that followed the Esther Manor farm-to-table dinner, I was overwhelmed with congratulatory messages, kindness, and appreciation from guests. A local newspaper in Cameroon even carried the story. And as the springs of my body uncoiled and unwound from the weeks of detail-planning, I was reminded that I was indeed created for such a time as this ( Esther 4:14) to help bring communities together to participate and partake in the bounty of the Earth. And with my heart overflowing, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to my small but MIGHTY team that helped in organizing the maiden Farm to Table dinner- Tanya, Alain, Chloe, Leo, and Montana.