Farm Africa: the women digging their daughters’ future

Rosie Boycott for The Telegraph – Wednesday June 19, 2013 (originally published 17 June)

Farm Africa woman volunteers
In the muck together: Farm Africa volunteers with local women at the pond they dug to hold tilipia fish, which will provide an incom Photo: Farm Africa/Sue Parkhill

“The beef is at the slaughterhouse, it will be 20 minutes.” Not something you hear every day, but then it’s not every day that one is charged with preparing a feast for 20 African women, assorted villagers, children and a handful of male village elders, all to be dished up in a remote corner of western Kenya. It was the last night of our sponsored fish pond dig for the charity Farm Africa and the idea was that we, the British contingent, would knock up an English feast. After much debate we’d agreed on shepherd’s pie and trifle. All was going well until, late into the evening before, we had still failed to find any beef.

We were celebrating the fact that we had succeeded in digging a 20m x 15m fish pond, located in the heart of lush African farm land. The rich, red soil was bursting with cassava, corn, sweet potatoes, green beans, banana palms and myriad wild flowers on which exotic butterflies fed.

There were 14 of us on the dig, all women and all working in the food industry. I’m the chair of the London Food Board; Judith Bachelor, a trustee of the charity Farm Africa and our expedition leader, is director of brand for Sainsbury’s. We had barely met each other before we found ourselves boarding the plane at Heathrow, with three and a half days to dig the pond. I thought it sounded straightforward. Hah. . .

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