As Asian Population Grows, Georgia Finally Brings Water Spinach To The Table – WABE

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When Ben Vo opened the City Farmer’s Market grocery chain in 2015, his goal was to create a destination for international ingredients.

The store sold meat, seafood and vegetables from countries around the world, but he said customers only asked for one thing: water spinach, a staple vegetable in many Asian cuisines that had been illegal in the state for decades.

And this demand has become more palpable over the years. One in ten Georgians is an immigrant, and Asians now make up more than 7% of Metro Atlanta residents.

After years of petitions, attempted legislation and lobbying, the Georgia Department of Agriculture has approved the sale of water spinach starting this month. Regulation of agriculture in the state could come later this year.

Water spinach is a long, leafy green with tender, hollow shoots that complement whatever it’s cooked in. It is called ong choy in Cantonese, rau muong in Vietnam and kangkung in Malaysia and Indonesia.

It can also sprout from a plant fragment, spread quickly, and can grow profusely even when left alone.

It is therefore federally regulated under the Plant Protection Act, making it illegal to import or transport the vegetable between states without a permit. According to the Georgian code, it was considered a “plant pest”.

“These are plants that we don’t want to see in the wild because they could wreak havoc in waterways,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said. To protect the state’s waterways and native plants, the Department of Agriculture looks to states that have strict cultivation regulations with proven success in protecting the environment.

Florida is one such state. Farmers there grow the plant safely by growing it in greenhouses from propagated cuttings, not seeds, thoroughly cleaning all equipment involved, and packing everything on site in closed containers only.

But people have long found ways to smuggle water spinach into Georgia.

“We’ve seen people buy it and sell it in the parking lot in their vaults, of course illegally, and some are also growing illegally in Georgia,” Vo said. “The product is treated like marijuana, you know? »

At first, Vo customers started petitions in stores hoping to get legislative action for water spinach.

“In 2012, 2013, and 2015, the community started petitions through customer registrations coming into the market, asking for certain changes or amendments to the law,” Vo said.

It finally worked.

In the decade that clients were attempting petitions, Georgia’s Asian population grew by 52%. What has also increased is the demand for Asian food, said Kathy Kusava. As president of the Georgia Food Industry Association, she was an early advocate for the cultivation and sale of the plant in Georgia. She says that as more immigrants have come to the state, the grocery needs of communities have changed.

“If you think about it, if Southerners weren’t allowed to drink sweet tea, or if our Hispanic community wasn’t allowed to buy tortillas? For the Vietnamese community and the Southeast Asian community, water spinach is a very important part of their diet.

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