It’s a won­der­ful won­der­ful expe­ri­ence to be shar­ing with you today and to talk to you about the work that I am doing. I have to say, com­ing from where I come from, from Zimbabwe, with the back­ground that I have of grow­ing up in Zimbabwe as a child who had to learn to work at the ear­ly age of sev­en years old, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about tomorrow’s meal is much big­ger. And it needs a col­lab­o­ra­tion of us all. 

What comes to mind at the thought of tomorrow’s meal is that tomorrow’s meal has to be a key that unlocks the poten­tial of every­body. Young chil­dren who are going with­out food in Africa. Young women who are suf­fer­ing in dif­fer­ent ways because of lack of food, because of lack of oppor­tu­ni­ty. Tomorrow’s meal has to be that key that unlocks that. Tomorrow’s meal has to be a dri­ver of socioe­co­nom­ic devel­op­ment. Tomorrow’s meal has to be a peace­mak­er that uni­fies us all.

I looked back to how I stud­ied as a child. How I missed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to study at the right age because of lack of food. And I think that is some­thing that we all have to joint­ly work togeth­er in every­thing that we do to make a meal that will make sure that we all get equal oppor­tu­ni­ties.

I lost my moth­er to AIDS when I was sev­en years old. I found myself liv­ing with my grand­moth­er who was over a hun­dred years old. She was a won­der­ful won­der­ful woman. And she used to like to sing a lot. It’s a pity that I’m here today and I don’t seem like she used to. My grand­moth­er was a wise woman. My grand­moth­er was a hap­py woman. And my grand­moth­er taught me a lot of things that made me want to hold onto life even when it was dif­fi­cult. When I would go to bed with­out food, when I would dream a way of how I would com­plete my primary-level edu­ca­tion and I knew there was no way what­so­ev­er I would be able to achieve that, because every­day life was com­prised of dig­ging in people’s fields all to get a small bowl of maize meal, my grand­moth­er gave me that hope things can change. She was a strong Christian. She used to sing with me songs that gave a lot of hope.

I was out of school when I was nine, and I was work­ing full-time. I would be mar­ried off when I was ten years old. And this pro­pos­al to mar­ry, the sug­ges­tion to mar­ry, came from one of the ten sis­ters from my mom. She was a grown woman. And she came to me, she says, Chido, I do see that life is very dif­fi­cult for you. And I know you’re stay­ing here with your uncle who will not let you leave the home­stead unless you’re get­ting mar­ried.” He would not let me leave, even to go and work. So she says, My hus­band has a friend. He is forty years old. And he has been strug­gling to find a wife. And we think this could be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you. If you get mar­ried, when he gets a few cows, he lets me leave, and I could go away. Come and meet him next Wednesday. He’s dri­ving a blue car.” 

Of course, that was sup­posed to be super excit­ing news. That I would get mar­ried to a guy who has a car and I can final­ly have food on my plate. Wednesday came. I was so scared of leav­ing my grand­moth­er alone. I was so scared of leav­ing my lit­tle broth­er alone, because it was tak­ing care of my lit­tle broth­er also. And I didn’t go on a Wednesday. I stayed with my grand­moth­er and I didn’t say any­thing. We couldn’t call to say, Hey, I’m not com­ing,” so I stayed at home and I was qui­et.

A few days lat­er, my sis­ter comes. She says, Oh Chido, I would like to let you know that from now on, you’re on your own. I offered you the only help that I could and you didn’t take it.” So, that was me at ten years old. The strug­gle for food was there. And the only per­son who could help me with offer­ing me to mar­ry. And I didn’t do it.

At the age of eleven, some­thing won­der­ful hap­pened. A uni­ver­si­ty in Zimbabwe, which is called Africa University. This is a uni­ver­si­ty for dif­fer­ent African nation­al­i­ties which is in Mutare. They were work­ing togeth­er with the an orga­ni­za­tion called ZERI Foundation. And what they were doing is that they were get­ting African sci­en­tists and send­ing them to China to learn to farm mush­rooms. They had a bit of mon­ey to do it, and they taught enough of them, and after­wards there’s a bit of mon­ey left. And they said, What shall we do with this? Now we know how to grow mush­rooms and we have a lit­tle bit of mon­ey on our hands.” And they said, Why don’t we teach this to young orphans?”

And because I was out of school and I was strug­gling to get food that every­body in my com­mu­ni­ty knew this was my sit­u­a­tion, a group of peo­ple from church, a United Methodist Church, when they got the news from Africa University, imme­di­ate­ly a woman called Loveness came to my vil­lage and spoke to my uncle, and says Well, there’s this oppor­tu­ni­ty. Can she go?” It was a train­ing for five days only, and so it was just five days. And Loveness was so good at nego­ti­at­ing my exit of the home­stead to go and learn for five days. 

I went. I remem­ber I was bare­foot. And each time they asked me what I was hop­ing for, [it] was to have a father. Because I’d grown up being told when I don’t get food if I report this, they’d send me to go and find my father. I was liv­ing on my mother’s side of the fam­i­ly. If they touched me in an appro­pri­ate way, if I report it, they would send me to go and find my father. Or there was no food for me. And it was always all these things.

So I learned to farm mush­rooms. And for the first time, I could grow my mush­rooms, and cook them, and have a plate full of mush­room all to myself. I could sell the mush­rooms and get mon­ey. I didn’t have to dig for a bowl of maize meal any­more. And it was the most excit­ing moment of my life. To real­ize that I can go to bed know­ing that when I wake up tomor­row, I go and work in a mush­room house, I can har­vest my mush­room, and I have food.

But more impor­tant than that was that I real­ized that I was achiev­ing this using organ­ic agri­cul­ture waste that had been aban­doned. As a lit­tle girl, I had a small field that belonged to my grand­moth­er. How many of you have had to work in the fields when they were eight years old, nine years old, eleven years old? You have no idea what­so­ev­er how to plant prop­er­ly, how to make it work. They took about fer­til­iz­ers and you’re think­ing, what is that? You don’t even know where you get it.

So at the end of each farm­ing sea­son I had corn stalks stand­ing there and I could not eat them. And sud­den­ly I could con­vert that into mush­rooms. And for the first time, I real­ized if I can con­vert waste into mush­rooms, I can sure­ly take the same exam­ple and use it to turn my life around. 

And that was the begin­ning of my jour­ney with mush­rooms. And I set out to teach as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to grow mush­rooms, sell them and earn income, send chil­dren to school, or just take care of their basic needs. So I trav­eled around the world teach­ing peo­ple how to farm mush­rooms, and it was a won­der­ful expe­ri­ence. But anoth­er thing that hap­pened was, now my uncles didn’t have that con­trol on me any­more. Suddenly, I was not just grow­ing any food, I was grow­ing mush­rooms and that was a bit of sci­ence. And imag­ine if you’re in a com­mu­ni­ty where peo­ple have not real­ly been to school, it sounds so big, so very sci­en­tif­ic. And I was doing some­thing unique. 

They don’t beat me any­more and tell me to go and find my father. Now they want me to stay. And that for me was the first moment that I real­ized that actu­al­ly, food can be this peace­mak­er. Food can be that uni­fi­er that actu­al­ly dilut­ed all the ten­sion that was between me and my uncles. Of course I was still hurt, but I knew I could not be beat­en any­more. And in with this in mind, tomorrow’s meal has to speak to issues of oth­er young girls out there who are in the same sit­u­a­tion as I was. Of grown women out there who are in the same sit­u­a­tion, where they need some kind of escape.

But it didn’t end with me just secur­ing my food, help­ing my lit­tle broth­er, and just train­ing a few peo­ple. I kept think­ing about it. It sparked some­thing in me. It sparked a desire to want to reach out more. And I con­tin­ued work­ing to sim­pli­fy the art of cul­ti­vat­ing mush­rooms. I reached out to entre­pre­neurs around the world with the most pop­u­lar thing around mush­room pro­duc­tion right now that, if you’re all drink­ing cof­fee here, the cof­fee waste in the end can now be used to grow mush­rooms. And it was me who was going around the world and say­ing, Hey, you can do it.” And it was slow­ly grow­ing beyond just me try­ing to fill my stom­ach.

And I saw all of that and I was think­ing this is the way to go. So, after so many expe­ri­ences teach­ing peo­ple, and entre­pre­neurs, women and girls around world, I thought what then? As a young girl, I had many stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. And as a way of over­com­ing those stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, I had writ­ten a biog­ra­phy of myself which was titled The Future of Hope. And actu­al­ly this was inspired by a con­fer­ence which was held in Hiroshima by Elie Weisel, my adopt­ed father now who’s called Gunter Pauli, and a few oth­er peo­ple at the time. And it was titled The Future of Hope, and the main aim of it was to call upon the young peo­ple to fill in the gap that the then lead­er­ship was fail­ing to address. And that is still the sit­u­a­tion today. We are still work­ing so hard to call upon the younger gen­er­a­tions to come and con­tribute.

When I wrote my my biog­ra­phy, it was hard to write it. And at the end, we had it, and so we were think­ing how to title this, and so it was called The Future of Hope. And that was when I was around nine­teen, twen­ty years old. And I looked at it when I was twenty-three and I said to myself, Yes. This is where I was when I wrote that. This is where I am today. And now I’m clear where I want to go. What is the future of hope?” And I asked Chido that. What is the future of hope? And I thought to myself, shall I sit down and write, or shall I do some­thing that speaks the future of hope to me?

And I decid­ed I am a very very prac­ti­cal per­son. I can’t write. I want to do some­thing prac­ti­cal, so I cre­at­ed a foun­da­tion called The Future of Hope Foundation. The aim of the foun­da­tion is to empow­er young orphans who are liv­ing in child-headed fam­i­lies, young orphans who don’t have a chance to go to school, young orphans who don’t have a chance to find a job even if they do get a chance to go to school, women in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties around Zimbabwe, to start with. And the empow­er­ment mod­el that we use is based on food. Because that was what spoke to me. What start­ed my jour­ney was food. 

We teach them to grow food. And of course the main focus is on mush­rooms, and there’s a good rea­son for that. Mushrooms are one of those very very very spe­cial things to grow, and espe­cial­ly in the com­mu­ni­ties where I come from, where the one thing that is avail­able in abun­dance is waste. People are starv­ing, but there’s a lot of waste mate­r­i­al that is going to the trash with­out being used for any­thing valu­able.

I take groups of young girls into my space. I stay with them for two weeks. I teach them every­thing I know about cul­ti­vat­ing mush­rooms and how they can use the waste from the mush­rooms to start a lit­tle veg­gie gar­den. And how they can use what­ev­er they have from the veg­gie gar­den to start a poul­try projects and dif­fer­ent things like that. 

And next to that, we also teach them how to express them­selves, how to share about their hopes and their dreams. But always in every group the first most impor­tant thing is that for them to be able to learn, they have to be able to eat. And they told me that when I went to my first train­ing, one of the things that I did was that at the moment there was food on the table—I mean, it was the only time I would see food on the table when I went for my first training—I said it was bis­cuits and tea, and I was grab­bing every­thing and putting as much as I could on my plate. And one of the things that we try to do is to actu­al­ly use food in that same way to cre­ate a plat­form that facil­i­tates learn­ing. And this is one of the things that comes to my mind when I think about tomorrow’s meal. Tomorrow’s meal should cre­ate a plat­form to facil­i­tate learn­ing. Not only in dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple, but also amongst all of us. Tomorrow’s meal has to facil­i­tate a plat­form for learn­ing not just about food, [but] about our envi­ron­ment. About the dif­fer­ent cul­tures and how to fuse them togeth­er to make some­thing much much more stronger. 

And so, the Future of Hope Foundation was cre­at­ed in 2013. And since then we’ve trained thir­teen com­mu­ni­ties around Zimbabwe and helped them to set up dif­fer­ent projects. What we have been able to achieve in those com­mu­ni­ties was that for the first time in some of the com­mu­ni­ties, men and women are com­ing togeth­er to work on a project that sup­ports vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren in the com­mu­ni­ties. Something that wouldn’t nor­mal­ly hap­pen. But because we are work­ing with food that speaks to every­body, we are able to get the dif­fer­ent peo­ple who would nor­mal­ly not get togeth­er to talk about an issue so impor­tant.

Currently, we are work­ing to train twen­ty com­mu­ni­ties, And in the same way, we are work­ing to cre­ate all these food pro­duc­tion units in all the dif­fer­ent places we can go to. One of the most inter­est­ing things that I find is of course I’m a young woman and I am a farmer, and I have to set up a busi­ness. I’m fos­ter­ing sev­en chil­dren. I’m also a moth­er of sev­en chil­dren. And this isn’t last year. And I told myself, Okay, now I have to make it work, this mod­el. I have to build it at my own place where we’re build­ing a cen­ter, we’re build­ing a school. But we’re build­ing a busi­ness there.”

And one of the things that I still have to over­come is being a young female farmer. You have your pro­duce. You go to the mar­ket. And you get there, every­body looks at you like, And what are you and who are you?” And I always have to fight my way through. And one of the things that I have seen to be a very very strong weapon is to bring some­thing excel­lent. So when I go there, I tell them, Yeah. I’m a mush­room farmer and I got the best mush­rooms in the coun­try.”

And they’re like, Best mush­rooms?”

Yeah, best mush­rooms.”

Well, bring them.”

And they look at my mush­rooms, they say, Oh my god. These mush­room sell them­selves.” And I’ve been able to estab­lish a mush­room busi­ness where I sell my mush­rooms for dou­ble the price and I can afford to take care of my sev­en chil­dren.

And these are some of the expe­ri­ences that make me under­stand exact­ly how excel­lent food can help to trans­form com­mu­ni­ties. We are going to the mar­ket. We are chang­ing the mar­ket. Even though this is a sto­ry that starts with a lit­tle girl who just had to feed her­self. She escaped get­ting mar­ried at the age of ten to escape all this pover­ty and abuse. Now we’re trans­form­ing the mar­ket for food in Zimbabwe. Normally, I go to the mar­ket, I arrive and they tell me this is not the stan­dard. Well, I am hop­ing that tomorrow’s meal can also be that… It can it can add more val­ue to the farmer.

Tomorrow’s meal has to inspire farm­ers to be proud of what they do. It has to empow­er farm­ers to go to mar­ket with a lev­el of pride that accords them the respect that they deserve with­in our com­mu­ni­ties. Tomorrow’s meal has to get rid of the divide between what farm­ers should be. How farm­ers should only be old­er peo­ple and not younger peo­ple. To break the divide between them and us, between the rich and poor. Tomorrow’s meal has to uni­fy us all. Tomorrow’s meal has to help us to go for­ward togeth­er, and to be more peace­ful, and to live togeth­er in har­mo­ny, to leave togeth­er nature, in har­mo­ny.

This is what I hope that we can all col­lab­o­rate [on] in our own ways. We can all take the mes­sage out into the world that we can start tak­ing the first steps where food can actu­al­ly be the trans­for­ma­tive force that it is. It is not defined only by the bound­aries of cul­ture, but it can actu­al­ly be that thing that brings the diver­si­ty in our cul­ture togeth­er, and to build some­thing much stronger for the future. Thank you.

Further Reference

Overview page for the MAD SYD / Tomorrow’s Meal event.


Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Square Cash, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.