Kenya is your home
There is only one way to truly understand Slow Food communities. Words are not enough, and even photos and videos do not reveal the soul. We must meet the protagonists in person: the women, men, elderly and children who testify to the power of belonging to a global network. These are the ones who share not only ideas and a unique approach to life, but also gastronomic practices, agroecological techniques, traditional knowledge and emotional security.
The Slow Food International Council – 50 people from 40 countries on five continents – gathered in Nairobi to meet the Kenyan network, represented during these days by John Kariuki Mwangi, vice president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity and Stanley Mwara, president of Slow Food in Kenya.
We saw the pride in the eyes of Jushua Maina, who at the age of 89 still works in the Ruchu community garden, an hour’s drive from Nairobi. Here Slow Food has contributed setting infrastructure for irrigation, ensuring assistance with sustainable agriculture without pesticides or fertilizers, and promoting the health of those who live there.
We heard the ancestral wisdom of young Abassa, “the doctor” who uses his profound herbal knowledge transmitted by his father and grandfather to treat members of the community in Gikindu community garden.
We enjoyed the hospitality of Kandara Convivium leader, Nancy Wanja, who together with Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance member Mary Chepkemoi Ondolo, let us taste traditional healthy food.
“We all belong to Slow Food.”
In Ruchu, Kandara county, we met the women and men at a Slow Food community vegetable garden. There, anyone can participate in the work and share the proceeds. Each family has a small plot in front of their house where they grow vegetables, legumes, tubers and fruits and raise chickens, sheep, goats and even some cattle.
Bonaface Kaerae Ngenge is the agronomist who guided the garden towards agroecological methods: “I am sixty years old, but I look younger because I eat healthy food.” The garden is an old coffee plantation, now converted to grow avocado and macadamia nuts for export. “Since we are already self-sufficient for food, the money that families make can be used for whatever they want.”
A Home in Kenya
Gikindu, an hour and a half’s drive northeast of Nairobi, is home to members of a community of 26 rastafarians. They accompanied us on a journey through the medicinal properties of plants growing in their garden.
To guide us was Abassa, the doctor: “Mint serves to facilitate digestion and good blood circulation, to treat respiratory inflammation,” he explained. “The castor has detoxifying properties, but is also therapeutic for toothache and skin; lemongrass can be used as an antibacterial or to combat type 2 diabetes; moringa strengthens the immune system and has anti-aging properties; hibiscus is useful for the immune system and prevents the development of tumors; the fig plant plays a very important role, because it is able to reveal water…” And on he went. In the rastafarian culture, there is no vegetable that does not have a medicinal function, and a walk in the vegetable garden seems like a visit to an herbalist in the open air, where we do not use glass or ceramic jars, but pick directly from the trees. The garden also provides food sustenance for the community, which is 90% self-sufficient.
Kirunguru Special School – Local Seeds and Food Fair
The last stop of our day was the Kirunguru Special School. Here an exhibition of local seeds was set up, with the possibility of buying them and discovering their properties. The local community showed us a variety of products: Honey Ogiek and pumpkin seeds of Lare are both Slow Food Presidia. Millet is on the Ark of Taste and is used to prepare ngaraba (rolls) wrapped in banana leaves. Bututia, also on the Ark of Taste, is a fresh and invigorating drink.
Beatrice Mbugua, a young woman committed to conserving traditional seeds and spreading their knowledge, explained: “We have a local seed bank and we work together with the farmers to preserve local seeds. Food sovereignty is based on seeds, and it is thanks to the seeds that we can choose our food.”