In its new location, set on one of the busier and underdeveloped (but growing) back streets and facing a slew of small businesses, the Greenshop is a pillar of peace and quiet. As you walk onto the lot you are greeted by beautiful border plantings and wonderful landscaping. A big open hallway on the right of the building leads to the back garden.
Signs along the way indicate you will find seedlings for sale and that chocolate cake is the special desert of the day. Others have the sign language alphabet posted and indicate that this is a vocational center for the disabled (more on that later).
Inside there are rows of local produce bordered by jam and baobab coffee that is made right here in the store. The variety of colors in the room reflect a diversity of fruits and vegetables that are rarely found elsewhere in the city markets.
Born in 1963, now married and with 3 children, Bobby got his start in produce in 1998. He had watched at a local grocery store as people came to buy fruits and vegetables that were harder to find in the open air market.
Bobby is not shy of trying to grow new things, and since I have met him have seen him begin cultivating a variety of plants that are virtually unheard of in the region. (Currently he is excited to harvest his first asparagus, saying he has never tried it before!) His ingenuity, eagerness to learn, and willingness to try new things in his business model has paid off. In 2012 he won a prestigious award for “Best Small Medium Micro Enterprise in Africa”. After this he attracted the interest of Jan and Lonneke, who it sounds have been crucial in helping him to expand his business model, and also to build and finally move to the new location. With the help of these two he has also begun to learn about permaculture and permagardening techniques which he is applying to the store garden.
When I ask him how he views permaculture he describes it as “Better farming techniques that help with (preventing) erosion and utilizing a small space for more crops. You protect the soil so much!”
He also hopes to expand the use of this new skillset to his big garden (3 hectares!) outside of Mzuzu to establish an area of permaculture there as well. In the meantime he has also been using his growing knowledge to do community level development in a few different ways. He teaches community members near his big garden about diet diversification and conducts training sessions on improved agriculture techniques.
He really beams when he starts to talk to me about opening his new location to community members living with disabilities. He has specifically started working with hearing impaired students to help them become more productive members of society. He goes on to talk to me about how Malawian culture tends to neglect them and view the hearing impaired as useless. It is clear from our conversation that he wants to push back against this stereotype.