Farmers don’t respond well to being told what to do; especially if those doing the telling are outsiders with no demonstrable understanding of their farm. What brings about change is seeing good crops grown by somebody like them. In my early days of veg growing, I was repeatedly told that organic farming “would never feed the world”. I wanted to see for myself, so I spent two months in East Africa, visiting farming friends and a few charities in Kenya. It was a pretty depressing trip, where few aid interventions had lasting effect and sometimes had the unintended consequence of perpetuating dependency.
My final visit was to Timothy Njakasi in Uganda. He had worked at Riverford as part of his training, before returning home to develop his own smallholding. It was extraordinarily productive and sustainable; relying on local materials and local skills. For several years we supported him, helping him turn his farm (flatteringly named Kasenge Riverford) into a training institute. Recently he has worked with the charity Send a Cow, which trains farmers, mostly women, in small scale sustainable farming using peer farmer training. They accept the importance of long term support and social change; helping people to help themselves, working through farmers they can relate to.
Riverford has committed to raising £75,000 to support a similar Send a Cow project in war-torn Northern Uganda. We have raised funds by selling used gardening fleece, a banana ‘tax’, running marathons etc and you can now add a £1 donation to your order on our website, with the chance to win a year’s worth of veg thrown in. Working on the assumption that cooks are like farmers (more easily influenced by friends and colleagues than by companies and institutions) we are hoping you will know someone who should be getting a vegbox. If you manage to persuade them, we will donate £20 to this project. You could call it chugging (charity mugging), but I promise that every penny will be spent on this fantastic project. It’s win win. Look out for the tear-off slips to give to your friend on your newsletter, or find the details here.
Charles Mulwana, a farmer from Uganda, is staying with us at our Riverford Farm in Devon for the next two months. In 2005, aided by charity Send a Cow, Charles received his first cow, Helen. Send a Cow helped him learn about sustainable organic agriculture, looking after livestock and how to grow a variety of crops to feed himself and his family.
Charles has come to the farm at Riverford to learn how we grow organic crops on a larger scale. He is passionate about passing on the knowledge he has gained, particularly on the importance of organic farming and having a balanced diet. To do this Charles is hoping to raise enough money to build a community centre in his village in the Nakifuma Mukono district of Uganda, to educate young people in his area on agriculture and running a business. He has become a Peer farmer trainer for Send A Cow, helping to train other farmers, and has passed on a gift of a calf to other farmers in his community from his first cow.
This is Charles’ second visit to Riverford. During this stay he will be spending time with our picking and farm management team learning how we plan and produce our seasonal veg. So far our farm team have kept him busy learning a variety of larger-scale farming techniques. It’s also been very hands on and Charles has been helping us with our everyday farm work – from picking and bunching spring onions to go in our Riverford boxes, to harvesting our lettuces and spinach. A useful agricultural tip he said has learned while working in the fields here is how we harvest our spinach. When harvesting spinach in Uganda they traditionally leave part of the plant remaining, in order for it to grow back. Here Charles has found that if you cut off all the leaves, the plant will grow back quicker (within 2-3 weeks). Charles is also interested in the different varieties of fruit and veg that he doesn’t currently grow at home. In particular, he is hoping to grow more varieties of tomato on his return to Uganda, including beef and cherry tomatoes, which he feels will be popular. He’s also keen to grow cherries and green peppers.
At home in Uganda, Charles grows a range of crops to feed his family, with a little extra to sell. These include onions, spinach, kale and sweetcorn which are prepared daily by his wife Barbara for their four children. Sadly his first cow passed away, however his new calf (also called Helen) produces approximately 12 litres of milk each day and he grows bananas and coffee which he sells.
It’s been great to welcome Charles to the farm to spend time with the team at Riverford.
If you have any questions for Charles on farming in Uganda and the UK, please send us a message at email@example.com/blog and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.
In my gardening blog today
I am looking at the different ways we can grow plants in our outdoor spaces. Not all of us have a garden with open ground, some have only a patio covered in paving slabs, some maybe only a few window sills or a passage or back yard.
I grow a lot on my patio in a mixture of wooden boxes, ceramic pots, old galvanized tanks and dustbins I have picked up at the recycling centre or down the dump. They look really great with plants trailing over the edges and climbers growing skyward up trellises I have set up behind them. I have got the local farm shop to save me some olive cans that come in bright green and red. I make holes on the bottom using a hammer and screw driver to allow for drainage, add some broken crocks or some small stones before adding a growing medium and a plant. I am always on the look out for containers with a difference. Recently I bought some old ammunition boxes for next to nothing, £3 each which I have planted up with tulips for a show in spring. These are fairly shallow but great for lettuces in the summer. The main thing to consider is the depth of the container and whether it is possible to make drainage holes in the bottom. Plants grown in pots and containers get full of roots pretty quickly so the deeper the better.
Watering and feeding
Anything grown in a container is a commitment you have to feel able to take on as the ongoing maintenance is essential to your growing success. They will need watering everyday in hot weather and every other day once they have taken a hold. Your containers will also need feeding after a month or so of planting out and every two or three weeks after that.
Keyhole gardening and grow bags
For a long time now Riverford have been supporting a charity called Send a cow who ‘provide livestock, seeds, training and on going support to help families in Africa to leave poverty behind for good’ Guy is a huge fan of this charity and has been out to Uganda several times…… to see what’s happening first hand. Some of their growing techniques are ingenious such as the keyhole garden and the grow sacks. We have built our own keyhole garden using posts and chicken wire rather than stones. The idea is you have a central shoot into which you chuck all composting materials and water. This in turn feeds the surrounding beds that are planted up with veg seedlings. It really does work and also is a boon for anyone with back problems as there’s little or no bending down. The grow sacks are great to and can be planted with up to 50 seedlings in each. These are great for that redundant corner somewhere in your outdoor space.
In my next gardening blog
I will cover preparing the ground and tools and kit you will need as unfortunately run out of space here. So look out for people selling sacks of well rotted manure and take a look at your compost heaps too.
We’ve been hosting Charles, a Ugandan farmer at our farm in Devon for the past two weeks. Join Guy as he takes a look at his creative farming methods (3 min 50 sec).
At the beginning of last week, a Ugandan farmer appeared on our doorstep. Charles Mulwana was trained by Send a Cow (the charity whose excellent work Riverford supports) in 2004, and is now so involved with the charity’s work that he has come to Riverford to teach schoolchildren (and us) about sustainable agriculture.
Back in 2001 I took a two month sabbatical to visit farming friends in Africa; I wanted to see for myself whether organic agriculture could feed mouths where it really counted. I was truly inspired by what I saw in Uganda; here the Kulika Trust (who we have worked with for several years) was training farmers at a very local level. Central to their teaching was a highly intricate method of mixed cropping, involving livestock and crops grown in multiple canopies, in a system as sympathetic to nature as we can get without reverting to being hunter-gatherers. I estimated the best examples to be 20 times more productive than the environmentally destructive monocultures next door.
Since then we have tried to support these projects through staff exchanges, sponsoring a training centre (the Kasengi Riverford Farm), importing their vanilla and through our involvement with Send a Cow. Unfortunately our ‘no airfreight’ policy makes it hard to trade with a landlocked country, but the hope is that by opening up the channels of communication through activities like Charles’ visit, we can show that the farming toolkit is not limited to GM and sprays.