Gardening 101 – Part Two

January 29, 2015

by Maryam Funmilayo

DSC03896Welcome back to the family gardening series. In part one, I briefly touched on the highlights of a family gardening project and its benefits to children, families, and communities. I shared tips on how to embark on one if you are interested in starting a garden project.  I also mentioned the winter seasonal vegetables such as onions, lettuce, radishes, peas, cabbage, most green leafy vegetables, and potatoes. All these vegetables can easily resist the cold temperatures and still blossom beautifully.

Here in part 2, we will learn about vegetables, as well as fruits and herbs that can grow well in a family gardening project. We will also learn about companion planting.

Before I begin, a very good source of information regarding seasonal planting is the Extension Master Gardner program of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service ( Basic information such as a vegetable variety guide, garden care, seeds, transplants, container gardening, garden needs, and supplies can all be found on their website. The website also has additional sources of information on specific topics that might interest you.

As the winter season slowly fades away with the appearance of the cool, breezy, spring season, vegetables such as lima beans, snap beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes, are excellent choices for a warmer season. For those who are new gardeners who prefer to start small, these vegetables can also do well in container gardens which are very easy to start with and they do take up little space.

When the spring season approaches, think highly of the herbs! They can be planted as well without much stress. My favorite ones such as bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, and cilantro, require lots of sunshine and will do well in container gardens too.  Herbs are also great for companion planting. Companion planting involves planting different plants very close to one another. In this way, they provide benefits for one another such as improving the flavor of their companion plants and serving as insect or pest repellants so that their companion plants would not be affected. Basil for example, will go well with tomatoes because its aroma will naturally improve the flavor of tomatoes.

Stay tuned for Part 3…

Maryam Funmilayo is a Program Assistant with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).  She teaches Faithful Families classes to the adult female members of the Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR).


Family Gardening 101 Series: Part 1

January 23, 2015

by Maryam Funmilayo

Garden Picture 1Spring will be here in the next few months, and it is time to get ready for a family gardening project. I am so excited because it will be my very first time getting serious about gardening. More so, my children have always been curious about how seeds germinate, flowers evolve, vegetables develop, and how they are picked and prepared to become the food we eat. The good thing is that there is no need to re-invent the wheel by starting from scratch. Thanks to an Outreach and Engagement Seed Grant from the NC State Office of Extension, Engagement, and Economic Development, the IAR Women’s Committee is working with Dr. Dara Bloom and Dr. Annie Hardison-Moody to expand and enhance the Al-Iman School garden, which serves as both a school and community garden.  It is situated on the Islamic Association of Raleigh’s premises.

Garden Picture 3This family gardening project is an excellent project for the entire community. It is a unique opportunity to spend good time with one another. Also, this will encourage children to question natural events that occur during planting and harvesting. I am very happy that the IAR community members have shown enormous interest in this project and are ready to volunteer their time on working on the garden. Homeschooling families, who are always looking for outdoor opportunities, have also shown great interest in volunteering.

Here are some tips I would like to share as you embark on your family gardening project:

  1. Have the intention that you want to contribute to environmental sustainability and revive and support agricultural life.
  2.  Start the garden (if it is new) at the right time. This is very important to the success of the project. This is an advice that was shared with IAR community members by NC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners.
  3. Select a site and draw out a garden plan. This will guarantee maximum productivity and allow each plan room to grow very well.
  4. Measure the dimensions of the garden plot and seek for professional advice from Master Gardeners.
  5. Make sure the soil has been well prepared and avoid planting too early, too close together, or too deep. In addition, watering too little or too much can be harmful to the plants.
  6. During this time of the year and in early spring, it is advised to plant onions, lettuce, radishes, peas, cabbage, potatoes, and a whole world of greens. These particular vegetables do take some frost and cold temperatures without many problems.

Okay, this is it for now. In part 2, I will mention other vegetables as well as fruits and herbs that can be planted for a family gardening project. I have been reading on companion planting and it is amazing how different kinds of plants can benefit one another just like humans do.  I hope to share some tips with you on companion planting in part 2. In part 3, I will mention some key health benefits that you can get from your garden, be it a home garden, school, or community garden. And in the final series, part 4, I will write about organizations that that are involved in giving free monetary grants for new or existing gardens.

Stay tuned!

Persimmon Fruit Salad

by Maryam Funmilayo

January 7, 2015

00229The very first time I got to know of persimmons was last year summer. A friend from Texas came to visit and brought some persimmon fruits from her home garden. Since then, I have become hooked on persimmons.

Persimmons are fruits that are originally from East Asia. They come in different colors such as yellow, orange, and red. The riper they are, the softer and sweeter they become.  They resemble apricots, pumpkins, and tomatoes in unique ways.  They are mostly harvested during the fall and winter season. Persimmons, just like most fruits, are also loaded with vitamins and minerals such as Vitamins A, B, and C, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Persimmons can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked. To get the most out of this fruit, I combine a variety of 2 to 3 affordable, in-season, heart-healthy fruits along with it to prepare a fruit salad. However, I make sure that persimmons are the bulk of my fruit salad.  Check out this delicious recipe to try persimmons for yourself!


  • 5 medium-sized persimmons cut in slices
  • 2 green apples, diced
  • 1 cup of green grapes
  • 2 small dates, chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts


  1. Toss the sliced persimmons, diced apples, grapes, and chopped dates in a medium bowl and mix together.
  2. Top with either pecans or walnuts.
  3. Chill and Serve!

Maryam Funmilayo is a Program Assistant with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).  She teaches Faithful Families classes to the adult female members of the Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR).

Macon County, NC – A Snapshot of Success

UntitledDawn Wilde Burgess, Community Health Promotion Supervisor with Macon County, NC has been busy developing an promoting a successful Faithful Families program.  Macon County Public Health worked with Holly Springs Baptist Church and other faith communities to implement the program, with assistance from the Community Transformation Grant program in their region.  They were met with great success – in one congregation 86% of participants reported eating smaller portions and 86% of participants reported they were more mindful about what they ate.

The congregations have implemented policy and environmental changes as well, including identifying heart healthy foods, adopting a water policy, adopting a tobacco policy to
include e-cigarette usage, adopting a Move More policy, and creating a joint use agreement for a walking area.

To learn more about their success, check out Snapshots of Success-EBS at Work-Macon County-Healthy in Body and Soul (1) from the Center for Healthy North Carolina.  You can also learn about their program through this case study video from MountainWise.



Coconut and Pistachio Basbousa: A Heart-Healthy Dessert

By Maryam Funmilayo

December 11, 2014

1493When it comes to desserts, the first thing that comes to mind for many people is that desserts are not so healthy. This is because many desserts are known to have too much sugar. However, the good news is that not all desserts are unhealthy. As a matter of fact, there are many ways to tweak a sugar-loaded dessert into a very healthy one if you have the right ingredients and use less sugar or sugary items.

Basbousa is a Turkish and Middle Eastern dessert made mainly from semolina flour, lemon flavored sugar syrup, heavy cream, sugar, and any kind of nuts. Although basbousa is one of my favorite desserts, I don’t eat it that often because of its high sugar syrup content. However, to make it healthier and suit my taste buds, without spending too much time in the kitchen, I do without the sugar syrup and heavy cream. Instead, I use sour cream and less than a cup of sugar, and of course, load it with two of my favorite heart healthy fruit and nuts: coconut and pistachios.

Here is the recipe!


2 cups of semolina flour

1 cup of grated coconut

1 cup of blended pistachios

¾ cup of olive oil

1teaspoon of non-alcoholic vanilla extract

2 teaspoons of baking powder

¾ cup of sugar

3 eggs

1 cup of sour cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Lightly spray baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Mix the semolina flour and the nuts together in a bowl.
  4. Mix in the other ingredients.
  5. Pour the batter into the baking pan.
  6. Bake at 350 degree Fahrenheit for 40-45 minutes.
  7. When it is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Then glaze the top part with a drizzle of 3 tablespoons of condensed milk.

Enjoy this dessert with a cup of tea as you warm up in the winter!

Maryam Funmilayo is a Program Assistant with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).  She teaches Faithful Families classes to the adult female members of the Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR).