The Sunday News
Simba Jemwa, Sunday Life Correspondent
A ZIMBABWEAN with a green thumb grew up spending his downtime growing food for his family, friends and the community at large. Now those same green thumbs are feeding the Lilywhites (Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club) at their Enfield Training Centre base in England.
Kuda Chimbudzi (43) loves to spend his time in the garden: “Growing in Zimbabwe, everybody got little pieces of land. My uncle is a grower. He used to grow bananas and all kinds of fruits. I’ve always been a kitchen gardener and this has always been my passion. I feel like I can use ornamental energies to actually make the edible plants look good. It was a dream come true to really come and work in something that I really like to do,” he told BBC.
Fortunately for Tottenham Hotspurs, as the Lilywhites are formally known, he is feeding everyone at the club what he grows.
“The other thing is I like to give something to the environment,” he said, “and I like to give something to the people and Tottenham Hotspurs as well.”
It has been a most adventurous journey for Chimbudzi whose stay in the United Kingdom was fortuitous given that he had travelled to visit friends and family but ended up staying. He was advised to get himself some sort of course and he elected to enrol for the Extended Diploma in Horticulture at Moulton College in Northamptonshire. Course work included but was not limited to all kinds of horticultural things, from surveying to plant science, integrated pest management, greenhouse production, fruit and vegetable culture, identification and Latin names.
“I have never had such an experience in terms of education, and felt empowered. If you have this knowledge, you can grow crops anywhere – if they had this in Zimbabwe, they could feed the whole country.”
After he realised that herbs and vegetables were his thing, and wanted to give something back to horticulture. When he saw the job advertisement for Assistant Kitchen Gardener at Tottenham Hotspur Football club online, “it jumped out at him from the screen.” He went for the interview and was delighted to be offered the job.
The Head Kitchen Gardener at the time was a highly skilled Italian guy, who was also a keen cook and Chimbudzi learned a lot from his organic Italian style. When the Italian retired in 2018, Chimbudzi took over as Head Kitchen Gardener.
“I love that I am able to garden sustainably and efficiently, knowing that the kitchen needs to feed 58–70 people and growing the right amount of food accordingly. Nothing I grow is wasted. I think of myself as being part of a chain – the chef and I are friends and we work together, deciding together what we should grow.
“I like to share what I have learnt and have students coming in to the garden where I demonstrate things such as seed sowing and other practical gardening tasks. I like everyone in the community to have the chance to learn how to grow their own food to make them healthier and environmentally responsible.”
Chimbudzi said the club garden grows lots of fruit – alongside white, red and blackcurrants there are gooseberries and dessert pears too. There is also an orchard dedicated to apples, most on dwarfing rootstocks, where he will be adding more disease-resistant cultivars this winter. Stone fruit like cherries and plums are going to be grown at the end of the kitchen, trained as fans and cordons. In the long term, Chimbudzi said he would like to be more adventurous, and try growing more tender plants such as pomegranates – perhaps in pots so they can be put outdoors in summer and brought under cover for the colder winters.
“All of the crops I grow have medicinal and nutritional value, so the aim is to provide a diet of good and interesting foods. Elite athletes need to be properly fed for their bodies to perform at the highest level – everything I grow is with the welfare of the players in mind. Our seed is organic and our soil is free from artificial fertiliser.
“I grow chomolia kale, from Zimbabwe as well as those more recognised here. African kale is a staple vegetable in Zimbabwe, it is a powerful plant, without it people would die. For me, in the UK kale is still a ‘must grow’ vegetable. It is packed with calcium, iron, beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A), as well as vitamins E and C,” he told BBC.
Chimbuzi’s club is in the Uefa Champions League this season and is home to England captain Harry Kane and Fifa World Cup winner Hugo Lloris. They rely on Chimbudzi for the constant supply of fruits and vegetables.
Chimbudzi’s work helped Spurs to a successful spell in the early days under current coach Antonio Conte. According to The Sun, the coach had his players eat weeds.
“We have lost our knowledge of edible indigenous plants — some are of greater value than many of the crops we eat day in, day out,” Chimbudzi was then quoted. — @RealSimbaJemwa