I’m Basilia Gondo, from Zimbabwe. A mother of five girls and six grandchildren. I am 72 years old. Married.
We grow our own food because it’s got the taste we want, the taste which we grew up with. If we eat things from here the taste is not the same as we grew up with, and we get depressed. So we grow our own maize and our own corn, pumpkins and kale. They are organic, because in Zimbabwe we eat organic food, we don’t use a lot of fertiliser or other chemicals.
We really love to come here and meet other people from our home. And other people from other places and introduce them to our crops and we see their own crops here. Some are similar to our crops but not the same. Each time we cook our food here people really like it, because they didn’t know that people can eat pumpkin leaves and put peanut butter or onion and tomatoes and cook them well. But now they’ve learnt a lot and they are very interested in our small garden.
We keep our own seeds for the next season, and we share the seeds. We give others. Seeds are very expensive, and you are not sure what type of maize it is. They give names but in the end you see it’s not the one you wanted. So if you keep your seed, you know your seed. And you have saved money. And I like saving seeds to share. I feel proud of giving people my seeds. That’s how you get friends, you know? And if someone gives you a seed, you say “Oh your maize is…I got it from Basilia, I got it from Dorothy, I got it from Rose, from Etracy, this is a seed from her.” Then we share. We give it to other people all over the UK, we post it to them.
Because the seeds were really kept by old people, the grannies. When you said, “I am looking for a seed,” they said “Go to that old lady, she’s the one who keeps seeds.” You know, children, young people, we were reckless keeping the seeds. So me, I am 72, I am the granny. So each time when it’s ploughing season they always phone me “Have you got seeds for mustard? Have you got seeds for maize?” I said “Ok I’ll post them to you.” So I have posted a lot of people this year, a lot of them, the seed. They call it my seed.
And it has helped a lot of people here. Because when we are here we are stressed because we are not home. We are out somewhere overseas.
When we take pictures we send home they always laugh, “Have you got a field in UK?” I said, “Yeah we have a field!” They said “oh we thought the UK was just full of cement and tired places, I didn’t know there’s soil there. So you’ve got a farm?” So we just take a small portion then we laugh, and say, “I’ve got a big farm!” We grew up farming. We are farmers.
We talk, we sing, we chat about what’s happening at home and what’s happening here. When you come here and see some maize in the background, you just feel like you are at home. Each time you talk to someone and they are stressed you say “Just come to the garden.” We are here five or six hours. Sometimes they phone back, “Oh, today I am feeling well because I have seen the maize, I have seen the pumpkin leaves. I just feel like I am home”. It’s relaxing you know. It takes your stress.
I just feel happy, relaxed. I don’t think of other things. I am just thinking of my plants and chatting to other people. Gardening is therapy, especially for us. We get a bit homesick. Some are even sick, you know mentally sick. So we are trying to rehabilitate them, and ask people to come together and chat. Seeing seeds, sharing seeds, sharing ideas, singing. We always laugh here, we always sing. It makes us happy. I think it’s a good thing, and it’s healthy.
A friend brought this corn from Zimbabwe. She had about three cobs and she dried them and she gave to others. But now what we have noticed is that the corn is not the same as our Zimbabwe corn which has big white seeds. These are a bit smaller and a bit yellowish. So now we are growing that one because it’s good here. It came to be a different corn but the taste is still the same, it’s not like sweetcorn.
When there was a little shoot we put them in pots with manure, and when they were about two or three inches, with two leaves, then we brought them to the farm to plant. Half we planted first in a pot, and the others we just put a hole in the soil, and we put two seeds in there. After two, three weeks they were out.
Each time we grow maize we have to put pumpkins in between, because they grow well together. There is something nutritious about the soil for the maize. Even back home maize is grown together with pumpkin. That’s how we grow it.
When we are keeping the seed, when the maize cob is there now, when it’s starting to grow big, we cut the flower, or shoot, on top. Then the cob continues growing. We leave it until it’s dry on the stalk. Then we take it and dry it in the sun. Then later on we take off the seeds and keep them for next year.
Cornmeal, which we call sadza, is our main meal, like other people will eat rice or yam. We cook it like a thick porridge from corn seeds. So when we grind it we get cornflour. It’s like flour. Then you cook it like a thick porridge and we eat it with pumpkin leaves or kale.
When it’s tender, take the leaves, clean the stalk. Then we cook the leaves together with the flowers. We put peanut butter, or we cook with tomatoes and onion. The pumpkin fruit we cut and cook them, and then we blend with peanut butter and we eat them like a pudding.