Rob: While we have our own struggles here
in the heartland, the world’s economy continues to worsen. For Africa, it’s a crisis that
only adds to the on-going struggle with hunger and crippling poverty. Today, we’ll meet
several people right here at home, hoping to help. And we begin with a farm couple who
believe growing more mushrooms in Africa could slowly change their standard of living, which
is why they visited the continent and have now brought some West African farmers to this
country to learn specialized techniques for growing shiitake mushrooms. And that’s where
our Keith Smith picks up the story. Keith: Rob, let me tell you about them. The
couple you’re about to meet has spent over twenty years in the mushroom business growing
shiitakes on hardwood logs. Already having a successful operation going and growing,
they still want to do more, and here’s how they’re making a difference.
Keith: If you listen close enough you begin to hear it. While Doug and Sandra Williams
grow mushrooms, they’re also helping an African nation grow a new industry. His idea;
her calling. Sandra: And I think it’s because he had
wanted to grow something in a greenhouse. He wanted to grow something that would help
people, something that was low technology and wouldn’t harm the environment.
Keith: Sandra and Doug traveled to Ghana two years ago to see what they could do with the
mushrooms that they knew so well. Sandra: You don’t expect the colors and
the sounds, and the interactions with people, and the warm greeting that you get. Here were
people who were working very, very hard to earn very little. And it wouldn’t take very
much to increase their standard of living, increase their productivity.
Keith: A door opened, and two of the top African farmers in the country have come to learn
how to grow the mushrooms, anything to help a nation on a continent plagued by poverty,
where millions face famine and starvation. Bernard Bempah: And we are trying to help
the mushroom farmers to get above one dollar a day.
Sandra: Okay, then we can start. Now going to work.
Proud to work in this farm. Sandra: And then the shitake, as the wood
cells go this way, the shitake will grow this way, and it will grow this way.
Keith: For the love of learning and the sake of giving.
Sandra: They’re going to be learning how to handle the logs; how to select the logs,
a little about cutting the wood. We’re going to be drilling holes in the logs; putting
the spawn, which is the mushroom seed, inside the log, sealing it with hot wax.
Doug Williams: You know our operation and how we do it and how long things take and
different things, problems, that may crop up.
Keith: And to think, what they’re doing today to help almost never happened.
Sandra: I came to absolutely hate the business, because it wasn’t doing anything for anybody
except making money. So I think that meeting Bernard and meeting the people in Ghana was
one of the most consciousness-raising, awareness-raising, love-raising things that has ever happened
to me. And I realized that there’s something that we could do with our shitake mushrooms
that would help other people, then I had a whole new purpose.
Bernard Bempah: So we are trying to look at all other means to eliminate poverty through
mushroom cultivation. Sandra: People would be more aware of mushrooms,
would eat more mushrooms, so the farmers could grow more mushrooms. The people would be healthier.
There’s a protein deficiency going on there, and shitake mushrooms are very high in protein.
Keith: And as the Williams will tell you before a meal, the mushrooms taste pretty good too.
Sandra: They’ll be cheaper than meat; and if they’re widely available, it would help
all the people in the country. Godwin Baokye: So if we’re able to sell
a new product to our country that is going to let us get additional income.
Keith: They hope the tender morsels will change the mushroom industry in Ghana.
Godwin Baokye: What we are going to learn from this place, we are going to put into
practice, and then make sure our dream will come true one day.
Sandra: Where you plant one seed you never know how many blooms will follow.
Keith: On a farm specializing in a fungus, a dream the Williams planted six thousand
miles away on the earth’s porous continent. Keith: An amazing couple. It’s a touching
story that’s still being written. As part of the trip, Bernard and Godwin toured different
mushroom operations in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri picking up different techniques to
take back with them. Plans for the trip even included a visit to New York to address the
United Nations on their training and what’s being done in Ghana.