Mushrooming dreams in South Africa

Deborah Froese
March 15, 2017
Mennonite Church Canada
Women observing mushroom crop
Two women prepare substrate for growing mushrooms.
Woman holds bag of mushrooms growing in substrate.
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Spiritual food is important – but so is physical food. By growing edible mushrooms and teaching others how to grow them too, Miriam Maenhout Tshimanga and her husband Hippolyto Tshimanga are helping feed both body and spirit.

In 2016, Miriam and Hippolyto moved from Winnipeg to Bloemfontein, South Africa as Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers. They came in response to an invitation from Grace Community Church (GCC), a community of five congregations, to assist with Bible training and leadership development. They also planned to provide entrepreneurship training for members who struggle to earn a living wage.

Mushrooms are more than just a nutritious food; they are a marketable product that can be grown in readily available, cellulose-containing organic waste to help create a sustainable, additional income. When people earn a living wage, they are more likely to contribute back to their church and community, helping to create a sustainable church.

From Nov. 22-27, 2016, renowned mushroom farmer and motivational speaker from Zimbabwe, Chido Govera, presented a mushroom production workshop.

Participants mixed different kinds of straw to create a substrate that was soaked in water overnight and pasteurized inside a heated drum. The pasteurized substrate was then compressed into smaller plastic bags and layered with mushroom spawn. While the inoculated bags colonized in the Tshimanga’s garage, participants learned about harvesting by gathering the Tshimanga’s previous crop. The remaining substrate was watered for a new batch of mushrooms. Because not all participants had tasted mushrooms before, Govera also demonstrated a variety of ways to prepare them.

During the workshop, Dolly Pula spoke with tears in her eyes. “I wish my late mother were still here to witness to this kind of workshop taking place in our church.”

For Nelisiwe Gayiya, the workshop inspired big dreams. “I am going to ask everybody, my mom, dad, and sibling to help me with this. I am going to put them to work,” she said.

Nicoline Van Niekerk determined that she too, was going to work on mushroom growing.

Several months later, Miriam reports that all three participants are growing their own mushrooms, and dreaming of turning their endeavours into a small business.

Developing those businesses is a work in progress, Miriam notes, one that requires walking by faith and trusting that God will provide. In the meantime, these budding mushroom growers are looking out for ways to sell their product – in restaurants, small markets, or through shop-owners.

Miriam says that more mushroom-growing workshops are planned following the Annual Assembly of GCC at Easter. “We hope to do it closer to the women, in their communities, instead of Bloemfontein. I hope to do it together with the women of the first workshop, so that the trained women become trainers themselves,” Miriam wrote in an email.

Photo Credits: 
Miriam Tshimanga