Thanks to Lisa Slater from contributing this blog post.
We’ve all heard of farm to table and many of us have experienced the culinary delight of eating recently harvested food but nothing can compare to the experience the Kenya Whole Foods Market Volunteer team had today.
We started by visiting Samuel, a nearby goat farmer on his farm. We were a little fuzzy in the beginning about how he was associated with Comfort the Children International but quickly learned after walking the fields, and watching him milk a goat, that the milk would go to CTC International where it would be tested for infection and freshness. If it passed a simple curdling test, it would be frozen and then picked up and delivered to Brown’s Cheese, a 40 year-old business in the hills 35 minutes outside Nairobi.
Before CTC and their testing, Samuel had no way to get his cheese to Brown’s and earn income from his small farm of about 6 hectares.
We left the farm and went to CTC headquarters where Eliud is in charge of the milk testing. In a basic facility he carefully took a teaspoon of milk dropped off by three different farmers and added a teaspoon of bleach to each sample. He sloshed it around in the Solo cup to see if curds formed: if little ones appeared, it meant that the milk might was probably milked in the morning and wasn’t as fresh as he would have liked; if big ones formed, it meant the ewe likely had mastitis and was unusable. He would follow up with both farmers to see how he could help them improve their milk handling practices.
Eliud is responsible for the CTC livestock program which is one component of CTC’s mission of community involvement and sustainability. With this program, even the smallest farmer can get income for their milk. While we were there, a woman who had walked an hour and a half, stopped by with 500mL of sheep’s milk. Eliud tested it and it passed. She was pleased.
CTC records what is dropped off and pays the farmers monthly and directly into the bank which helps the farmers learn how to save.
Afterwards, we drove to Brown’s All Natural Cheese farm and met with the highly competent and endlessly curious Delia Stirling, the daughter of the original founder, her mother. When her parents decided to sell the business, Delia and her American husband decided to take it over. In the past three years, Delia has grown the business through taking advantage of trends in things like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese, importing experts to teach her what she doesn’t already know. She showed us her glistening clean facility which had just finished a batch of mozzarella. We visited her cheese “caves” loaded with goudas, cheddars, and huge marinating wheels of Parmesan.
It wasn’t until Delia’s arrival that the business expanded out into Nairobi, serving the top hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. Her mother’s attitude was if people wanted her cheese “they could come and get it”. Delia’s attitude is more inclusive. She intends to provide anything you can get abroad, right here and homemade in Kenya. To that end, she is exploring making prosciutto (and has some amazing black pigs to start her off), ice cream (and is looking for an expert to help her make commercial, high quality product), and finding something useful to do with all the whey created as the by-product of her cheese making.
There were so many highlights of today’s visit but for me the best was sitting at the same table as the goat farmer Samuel whose farm we visited in the morning, and watching him eat for the first time ever, the ash rimmed Valencay goat cheese made from his own milk. But that was not all: Sitting under umbrellas on the verdant lawn listening to birdsong, we were treated to a cheese plate of 9 cheeses, perhaps the most unusual of which was a Scottish, oat-coated soft cheese named Mariotta, after the woman who created it a few centuries ago. This was followed by chicken fajitas in homemade tortillas, accompanied by salads of greens, fruits and vegetables from Delia’s garden, which couldn’t get any more farm to table than the few steps it took to get the ingredients from the garden to the kitchen.
After lunch, Delia treated us to a tour of her expansive garden, next to her small herd of cattle and litter of new born piglets. She is a passionate believer in all things organic and has a model composting facility. She started working with Zane of CTC International after meeting him through a mutual friend, who asked her to give him a lift into Nairobi one day. She mentioned her need for milk, and he said he knew farmers who needed a market: the relationship was born and after two years, Samuel met his cheese maker!
As Kevin, one of our perceptive Whole Foods Market teammates remarked, the last two days have been bracketed by impressively awe-inspiring women, each of whom is making an impact on the people they work with and the environment they work in.
Yet another remarkable success story of CTC International’s mission of sustainability and empowerment!