A few weeks ago, we received two fascinating letters from Slow Food member Gwen Meyer, who along with her husband, John Neumeister of Cattail Creek Lamb, was a 2004 and 2006 Terra Madre conference delegate. In 2002, Gwen founded Friends of Kenya Schools and Wildlife, a group which provides educational supplies to rural Kenyan schools, as well as the construction materials and labor needed to build adequate classrooms. Alongside these efforts to improve childhood education, FKSW also promotes the value of native Kenyan ecosystems, instilling in students a sense of stewardship for their environment. At the 2004 Terra Madre, Gwen and John first met Samuel Muhunyu, the Executive Director of the Network for Ecofarming in Kenya (NECOFA) and a leader of Slow Food Central Rift Valley, which operates in the same region as FKSW. After re-connecting with Samuel in 2006, they traveled to Molo, Kenya to get involved in his work.
As the head of NECOFA Kenya, Samuel runs many programs that connect rural Kenyans with alternative agricultural practices and with markets for their products. In addition to promoting sustainable farming techniques and improving food security, Samuel also takes groups of farmers and food producers on what he calls “exposure tours.” These organized trips give low-income Kenyans the opportunity to see some of the projects being completed by their fellow countrymen and women. Gwen writes:
In December of 2007, he took a group of 15 men and women from Baringo to the Busia Agricultural College for a week’s training to learn about different agricultural projects, like beekeeping, chickens, biofuel and raising bananas and other crops. He also arranged for an “exchange” visit for the women from Kirepari to visit another women’s group at Lake Bogoria to see the kitchen gardens they were growing. The Kirepari women and one man came back from these trips so motivated and enthusiastic at what they had seen, that they started a community garden and individual household gardens on their own, even though agriculture is not a part of their tradition.
As Slow Food members, John and I had never heard of these important projects until we went to the Terra Madre meetings in Torino in 2004 and 2006. We were surprised to learn that Slow Food is not just about getting together to enjoy good food with other members, but that these Presidia projects were in place all over the world to support local farmers and artisans. It’s been exciting to see some of these projects at the Salone del Gusto in Torino during the Terra Madre meetings, and to read about them in the Slow Food publications. We think that this is a really important part of the Slow Food movement, and I had an opportunity to learn more first hand here in Molo.As a recent graduate of Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Science in Bra, Italy, Samuel’s daugther, Jane, is hoping to be able to use her training here in Kenya to work with local groups that are producing food products specific to their regions. She identified 3 food communities in the Molo area as projects that might qualify as Presidia projects by Slow Food. she did research on a specific type of green pumpkin, a local chicken with a bald neck and on the stinging nettle, all of which are grown and harvested by local farmers and then wrote a project proposal which she submitted to the Foundation.
With all of these activities underway in Kenya, Gwen, John and Samuel have recently begun Terra Madre African Safaris. This new initiative invites people from around the world to visit Kenya and witness some of the many sustainable and traditional food projects that FKSW and NECOFA are facilitating in the Central Rift Valley of Kenya. Through a friendship that began at Terra Madre, Gwen and John have been able to bring their experience and passions to bear on projects far removed from their Oregon home. In return, they’ve gained a valuable partner in Samuel and NECOFA, who now oversees their projects for FKSW when Gwen is in the States. Their experiences are a hopeful and encouraging example of the power of Terra Madre to draw together like-minded farmers from around the word, forming a community of support and shared ideas.
To read more, you can download the rest of Gwen’s letters from Kenya here (Word .doc) And a special thank-you to Gwen for allowing us to share her stories!