Spices continue to be a big part of Zanzibar agriculture. Making a tour of a mixed spice farm is a popular day trip for tourists. We arranged to visit a small farm not far from Stone Town, traveling in our guide Yauz's lovely air-conditioned van. There we saw many spices and local vegetables growing in combination. Spices we know well in their dried, ground form are a whole lot harder to recognize in their fresh state. Turmeric, for instance, is a root. It was the first plant the farmer dug for us. He made a small conical basket from a banana leaf in which to collect our spicy treasures.
We explored all though the plantation, discovering cinnamon and gingerroot and even a henna tree (traditionally grown close to the home so that its leaves are handy for the women of the family at celebration times). The spice that really stumped us was nutmeg. We never expected the nut would be encased in a fleshy shell or that it would be such a vibrant color (see below). Nor did we expect the starfruit, picked fresh from the tree, would be so refreshing in the heat of the day.
The plant the surprised me was the lowly yam. I couldn't get over the immense size of the leaves. They were planted in many areas and seemed so decorative in a tropical way.
After two hours on the farm, we had nibbled many things, including fresh peppercorns and ginger, which are wonderfully medicinal. Along the way, we met this delightful old woman sorting some harvested spice on her doorstep. In her 80s, could her long life be attributed to the ginger, the cocoanut milk or the cooked cassava leaves?
We realized that you could eat quite well by lightly harvesting your food from this market garden each day. This is exactly what the locals do.