Farmer Voices

Ranga & Ken Chikonzo on Farmer Voices

Farmer(s): Ken & Ranga Chikonzo
Farm: Ubuntu Nerudo
Location: Woodinville
Acres: 0.2 acres

Ken Chikonzo

My name is Ken Chikonzo. Our organization is called Ubuntu Nerudo African Heritage. We started this nonprofit in honor of our daughter, Laura, who passed away in 2021 in January from cancer. So, during the time that she was ill and hospitalized, we had to travel to Abu Dhabi to be with her.

But we did receive a lot of support from our community. And that support even during the time of our bereavement made us think that we would want to perpetuate her legacy in showing love to others and spreading love. And we then coupled that with our desire to see our culture and our heritage promoted. So we then formed this organization, to capture that spirit of togetherness, to capture that spirit of Ubuntu. Ubuntu means “I am because we are,” each member of the community is as important as the next. So there is no one who is not important.

So that spirit of Ubuntu leads us to love our neighbor, to do life together, to promote community, and also to promote our culture and our heritage. So that’s how Ubuntu [Nerudo] was born. And we were fortunate to get the piece of land that we are farming on.

Ranga Chikonzo

Thank you so much, Ken. I was born and raised on a farm. So farming is in my blood. And Ken and I also bought a 15 acre plot in Zimbabwe, and we farmed there for 10 years. So farming is something that we just love to do and we connect a lot with the land. So we moved to the [United] States in 2015 and we never thought we would find ourselves back on the land.

And we were just doing life here the American way. But we had so many struggles in terms of just getting the foods that we are used to. There are very few places where you can get them and having to adjust to completely different foods and just yearning and wishing we could get the foods that we are used to.

So after we lost our daughter, Laura, after founding the nonprofit, we found ourselves on the land through pain, having been farmers, knowing that in the land we would get healing. So we then started looking for some way to farm, and we got the 0.2 of an acre, which is going to be increased to half an acre this year.

One of the things that carried us when Laura was sick was just having community around us, people from Zimbabwe, people from Africa rallied around us, even our American friends supported us a lot. So just having a space where if our community, our friends, both Americans, Africans, anyone from anywhere who we connect with, just bring them to the farm and see what we are doing. We have a term called Nhimbe, and Nhimbe is like what you call a work party here, where the community gets together to help each other to farm the land. So we’ve done that here. We’ve invited people to come to the farm, and so when you have Nhimbe, the host will provide food and drinks and implements, and then people will also bring their implements, and then work the fields, and then after working you sit down, you connect through sharing stories, eating, and fellowship just build relationships. We are connecting and bringing the community together.

We realize that people of color do not have this opportunity as much as we had back home. So just trying to find a space for people of African origin, for immigrants to come and farm and grow something that they know, something that they yearn for, something that they miss, is what brought us here. And now we are looking for more land where we can continue to grow the community, where we can continue to grow different foods that are relevant to us.

Ken Chikonzo

What we are now looking for is land to establish an African village where we not only farm the culturally relevant crops, but we also showcase some of the culture and traditions of African people so that African children or children of immigrants can come and experience what life is like in Africa whilst they’re here in the States, because traveling to Africa for that experience might be prohibitive for a lot of them. So we want to bring our culture closer to their doorstep so that they can see and experience and just be in touch with their heritage.

That is important because you are trying as an immigrant to assimilate into the American culture, but there is never 100 percent acceptance. There is always that feeling that you don’t quite belong, but you are not in Africa, so you also don’t quite belong. So what we’re trying to do is to just bridge that gap and make sure that our people have some place where they belong, some place where they can farm.

We also want to provide some of the land to people who are interested in growing the crops that they want to grow and experience the joy of tilling the land, planting, tending the crops, harvesting, and just enjoying that with community.

You know, Africa is a very big continent, about 52 countries in all. So some people do not quite know that. So we want to be able to show different aspects of maybe a few countries in Africa, or a few regions in Africa, so that our people can be in touch.

And I believe once people know about your culture, once people are exposed to another person’s culture, then the gap between us is reduced because you now have an appreciation of how I live, you now have an appreciation of my worldview, why I think the way I do is because of my background. So we just want to just encourage that sort of intercultural exchange.

I also want to add that this was our first year of farming, so there was a lot of experimentation and a lot of learning that took place, but we did get quite a good harvest in terms of the corn and in terms of the green vegetables. And what was interesting was that when we communicated in our community groups that we have got corn from Zimbabwe, the demand was so great, people were scrambling to try and get some. So it was just amazing to see that. It is clear that people want to connect with the food that they’re used to. There’s something about eating the food that you grew up eating that is very special. And that was really heartwarming to see that this is a way for our people to really connect and it’s a valuable service that we are providing.