By Claire Campbell
Muhama Yotham fled Burundi as a refugee before making Australia home.
During his years spent in a refugee camp in Tanzania, maize flour was the staple ingredient in his diet.
"You were eating it almost every day, you made it into, like, a stiff porridge," he said.
Maize has now become a source of both optimism and revenue for a community of refugees and migrants in Adelaide's north, along with other, rarer crops not easy to source in Australia.
The group — the Amazing Northern Multicultural Service — established a community garden in Davoren Park four years ago to grow vegetables, herbs and plants that are popular in Africa and Asia, such as African eggplant and roselle.
It was not long before interest in their produce took off.
"We were finding that many people were somewhat isolated and disadvantaged," Mr Yotham, the service's chairperson, said.
"We've had a very good response not only from African communities, but Middle Eastern and Asian [communities] and now we're teaching even Aussies to use the maize and they like it.
"We've brought something which brings a sense of optimism, a sense of determination and this garden has been the centre of that."
Hundreds visit when 'the corns are ready'
During the coronavirus pandemic, the refugee community in Adelaide's north has been hit hard, with many losing their casual jobs.
The garden has not only provided a source of food but a sense of purpose as well.
"While many services have closed and many in the community have lost their jobs, the garden persisted and continued," Mr Yotham said.
Demand for their produce has now outstripped supply, with requests coming from interstate.
Burundi refugee Lidia Inarukundo, who has been involved with the community garden since it began, said she was "very, very surprised" by the response.
"People from everywhere have been coming to buy the corn because when we tell them it's maize they're really interested," she said.
"If we put on WhatsApp 'the corns are ready' you get more than 100 people here wanting to buy."
The Amazing Northern Multicultural Service is hoping to harness this interest and grow.
It has bought some land across the road to expand its garden and is also in discussions with nearby market gardeners about the prospect of growing their corn in the northern Adelaide floodplains.
Mang Bawi Cinzah, who came to Australia as a refugee from Myanmar, has now been employed part-time to help oversee the garden.
He said he has been pleased by the strong community interest — but most important for him was the fond reminder of his homeland.
"For me, a sense of belonging is really important for people in emerging communities.
"This community garden is really important for people like me, who come from another country."