Last Sunday I got a nice reminder that I was born and grew up a farmer’s boy. The sun was shining, and my wife and I decided to go to the Organic Farmers’ Market at the Kilimani Primary School on Argwings Khodek Road.
It was the stacks of fruit and vegetables on sale that triggered the memories – remembering the many hours spent hoeing cabbages or picking potatoes; remembering the first time my father let me drive the big lorry loaded with crates of cauliflowers for sale in the Sneinton Market in Nottingham, 90 kilometres from our home in Lincolnshire on the east coast of Britain.
The farm was only five acres and it was in the fenlands or marshlands of East Anglia – on land people proudly described then as ‘reclaimed’, but in these days would perhaps be described as destroyed wetlands. If you visit that area now, you would not see the array of small farms that I remember; you would see that almost all of them have been bought up and consolidated – by companies not selling in small lots to shopkeepers as my father did but distributing in large lots to supermarkets.
In Kenya, sub-division after sub-division – the process is going the other way, isn’t it? A previous Delegate of the European Union told me he thought that land was one of the most serious problems faced in Kenya – one the aid agencies were not talking about. He didn’t mean the distribution of land; he meant the mind-set; men – mainly men – feel they have no status if they don’t own some land.
It was very different for me. As soon as I passed the exam that would take me to the grammar school, my parents and sisters thought – hoped – I was on a road that would take me away from scraping a living out of five acres of land.
However, almost every time I take the road to Nakuru – whether the high one or the low one – I wish I could have taken my father on that drive. He would have been fascinated at the range of vegetables and fruits for sale; at first, the potatoes and carrots and cabbages of the kind we grew on our little farm on the cold east coast of Britain – lower down, the bananas, limes and oranges we knew only as imported exotics.
My father would have been fascinated by the Organic Farmers’ Market, too. I’m sure he would have asked me what organic means. He would have asked me the names of many of the fruits and vegetables you see in the photograph – custard apples, watermelons, mangoes, tree tomatoes, pawpaws, arrow roots and butternut squashes.
For my wife and I, the market was a relaxed and very neighbourly occasion; it had the kind of atmosphere you can enjoy at a village garden fete in England. It was quite a small market but with the expected variety of stalls. As well as the fruit and vegetables, there were many kinds of breads, cheeses, jams, ointments and oils for sale. However, there were some ‘cottage industry’ products such as organic soaps, lotions, ‘dawa’ paste that we had not seen at any other pop-up market.
What you wouldn’t also find so easily at an English village fete were the number of Chinese people at the market. In fact, the most striking feature was a Kiota Chinese kitchen, selling noodles, rice, dumplings and steam buns, with pork, beef or veg. And there was a scatter of trestle tables and benches where you could enjoy the Chinese snacks or the many kinds of fresh juices on offer.
The sense of community was strong. The mixing and chatting was so easy and so un-English.
We will be back. The farmers’ market is there at the Kilimani Primary School every Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation