Can you introduce yourself and your role with FBEN? How did you become involved in the world of food and farming and how did you end up in this role?
My name is Tafadzwa Gwitira, but everyone has called me by nickname, which is Taffy from the time I was a little girl. I am the assistant coordinator for the FBEN conference in Baltimore, Md in November 2019. If you can born into anything, I was born into food and farming. I come from many generations of farmers, on my fathers' side, and my parents are now older farmers who farm for a living in Zimbabwe. I grew up doing intensive urban gardening, including raising chickens when I was not at school, and spent most of my holidays at our family farm or at our ancestral home in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and Tanzania with my grandparents, who also farmed. I had every intention of going to culinary school when I came to college over twenty years ago in the United States, but I decided to have a more stable income and ended up doing health and human services work for many years, and then local and global public policy. Throughout the years I did a lot of cooking and catering for church, and friends, and kept lots of community gardens in Baltimore county where I grew produce. About five years ago, I began to pivot, to doing more work on sustainable development policy with a focus on land use and transportation.That brought me back full circle to my roots, where I get to do work focused on sustainable agriculture and development policy that is environmentally sound. I am part of Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, Beginner Farmer Training Program,and a senior fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program of the Chesapeake Region. The mission of the FBEN are values that I am aligned with so I was thrilled to be able to work with the FBEN. I also get to cook great food on a farm to food truck called Wilde Thyme.
As we gear up for the FBEN conference in November, what does your day to day look like? How does one pull together a meeting of the minds like this one?
The hardest thing for the conference has been confirming details with everyone involved,there are many phone calls, emails, and some visits. Everyone is excited about the conference, but farmers, are also mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and every other title that you can think of. As a team we are always thinking of who else is missing from the conversation and how can we include them.
What is your ultimate goal for the FBEN conference? What do you hope to gain from the experience personally?
I love meeting new people, and learning new things. The conference will provide so many opportunities to do that, and include uplift so many voices who care about farms, and food, and education in a variety of ways.
You currently call Baltimore "home." In the heart of a rich agricultural region and a bustling port, Charm City is home to numerous food cultures. How would you describe the food and farming community in and around Baltimore?
The farm and food community is extraordinary and unique. The Baltimore region is composed of seven counties including the city of Baltimore. From the urban farms in Baltimore city to the more suburban and rural farms in the surrounding county, the Central Maryland region is collectively leaning in to support farm, and farming for a new generation, and for communities of color that were excluded from the conversation. There is food apartheid, specifically in black and brown communities throughout the region, but there is also a growing awareness of the importance of redressing this issue. There are so many languages and cultures represented in the Baltimore region as a whole and the food reflects that.
In a time when diversity can be devalued and those with diverse backgrounds and experiences forced into silence, what is your advice for individuals in the minority who are seeking to make a change in the fields of food and farming?
Courage always require us to be uncomfortable and speak truth to power. It will cost you a lot, if not everything, all the time. All people of all races,genders, nationalities and abilities are deserving of fulfilled and thriving lives. You have to choose to take a stand, because no one else might.
Just for fun: what is your favorite meal to prepare? Your favorite meal to eat?
Finally, I confess that I do not have one favorite food. I basically love it all, but my top favorites include sadza(which is like pap), also known as ugali, eaten with mboora(spinach/pumpkin leaves in a creamy peanut butter sauce), with a meat curry. Other favorites include old bay seasoning on everything, scrapple, all baked goods, coffee, tea and wine.