Asians and Latinos are buying 25% of all fruits and vegetables sold in U.S. supermarkets. As ethnic crop expert Frank Mangan notes, “Twenty-five percent of any market segment, that’s a very large percentage of the market.” So it’s no wonder that Mangan (a University of Massachusetts extension assistant professor) has been charged with bringing immigrants’ home cuisine to the States.
Talking with Bill Griffeth on “Power Lunch,” Mangan said he first transplanted crops like aji dulce (a pepper) and calabasa (from the butternut squash family) – which are native to Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba – to greenhouses after a Puerto Rican community organization in Holyoke, Mass., asked him to. Mangan was able to adapt the plants for farming in the Northeast.
“It was just really a question of adapting their cultural crops to our growing conditions,” he says.
Massachusetts also is home to the largest population of Portuguese speakers in the U.S. – whether Brazilian, Cape Verdean or Portuguese – and the spinach-like taioba is a large part of that culture’s diet. Once Mangan figured out how to grow it here, people were traveling 100 miles and paying $6 a pound for it – and they were asking for it by the case.
The U.S. ethnic food market is estimated at $75 billion annually. With this growing trend of ethnic crops, groceries and farmers stand to earn even more.