By Lello Guluma
Certain fragrances remind me of my childhood. I would wake up to my mother cooking special Ethiopian dishes in the kitchen of our home in East Lansing. The smell of spices and vegetables marinating under her watchful eye is a memory from my childhood. Years later, I can walk through the fields cultivated under the University of Michigan Campus Farm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and smell my mother’s kitchen—oregano, thyme, Swiss chard, collards, onions, and garlic to name a few. Sometimes early in the morning at the farm, the noise of the trees rustling, the birds chirping, and the smell of the early dew remind me of the clear mountainside along my grandfather’s compound in Ethiopia.
One year and one month ago, I returned from Ethiopia. Ethiopia is my heritage, my culture, and Oromia—the land that the largest ethnic group (the Oromo) within Ethiopia occupies—is my ancestral home. This trip was my first time visiting Ethiopia and meeting a large number of my direct relatives. Ethiopia was an amazing experience, and I often long to go back. Nevertheless, it was my time in Ethiopia and what I learned about myself and about the country that inspired me to work at the Campus Farm this summer.
The first thing that Ethiopia taught me was about my heritage. In my life I’ve often heard stories about my heritage but to experience it first-hand was incredible. My father often told detailed stories of the village where he grew up. His grandfather owns a portion of land that he cultivates high up in the mountains of Ethiopia. I was able to travel to his village, even in the home where my father grew up many years ago. My grandfather and aunt were quick to point out a large mango tree. My mother translated and told me that over 40 years ago my father planted that tree. At that moment I looked toward my cousin, and his hands were full of ripe mangos. Ethiopia solidified my view on my identity; I say with pride now that I am an Oromo.
My passion lies in Ethiopia. Like many third-world countries, Ethiopia struggles with pollution, poverty, food insecurity, etc. After completing my first year at the university, I knew I wanted to incorporate my passion into my academics. This led me to the Campus Farm. Upon completion of Alternative Spring Break focused around environmental justice in the winter semester I meticulously searched for some summer position that would allow me to continue a similar path. I came across the Matthaei Summer Internship program, and subsequently the Campus Farm position. I could say the rest is history, but I know this is just the beginning. The Campus Farm is helping me further my interest in sustainability, organic/urban farming, and so much more. When I learn about another method of organic growing or natural pest control, I think of how my relatives abroad could benefit.
I am thankful for the opportunity to work at the Campus Farm and have learned more than I could have imagined. I am also grateful for the sights and sounds of working at the Campus Farm, and how they allow me to reminisce about my home.
Lello Guluma from East Lansing, MI, is a sophomore in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts majoring in Environmental Science.
Pictured, from top: Home of the author's grandfather in Ethiopia; a view of the land the author's grandfather cultivates; a mountainside outside of Ne’Kemte, Ethiopia; up close view of part of the land farmed by the author's grandfather.
Below: Lello Guluma