The nuns who run the Traditional Food Center in Ende archdiocese, East Nusa Tenggara, are not just providing a service; they are playing a vital role in keeping local culture alive. Sister Maria Immaculata Maga of the Followers of Jesus (CIJ) says they are motivated by “the desire to re-enliven the cultural values, which are treasures from our ancestors.” Organic cultivation is undoubtedly one of those values and Sister Maga and her fellow nuns do all they can to preserve it. The Center, which was opened last year by the local district head and blessed by a Catholic priest, serves only the kind of organic produce that has been available in the area for centuries. It prepares dishes in strict accordance with traditional recipes and serves them on authentic tableware, with plates made from coconut shell and woven lontar (palm) leaf. To complete the experience, says Sister Maga, “the waiters and waitresses wear traditional attire and the guests sit on plaited mats in the old-fashioned way.” Everywhere in the world, a major threat to organic and traditional methods of farming, cooking and eating is the relentless spread of fast food, and the province of East Nusa Tenggara is no exception. Sister Maga is fully aware of this, but believes that education is the answer. “We are trying hard to make local farmers aware and encourage local people to choose organic foods - which are free from chemical substances – instead of fast food,” she says. As part of the awareness-raising process, the nuns bring regular groups of 20 to 25 local farmers for educational sessions on their 50-hectare property nearby. They are helped in this by 15 children who are in the sisters’ care, as well as the local Food Association. “We teach the farmers how to choose good seeds, cultivate the land, make organic fertilizer and sell their products,” says Yakhobus Mbira, the Food Association head. Their efforts are now literally coming to fruition, as the farmers are producing and selling organically grown corn, cassava and a local variety of red rice.
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