We don’t know a lot about agriculture.
We can admit this unashamedly. If I think back to my childhood, I can however, visualize the raised beds my parents insisted we implement in the area of our yard I felt would have been better utilized had it been turned into a swimming pool. Still, the only thing I can really remember about gardening are feelings of remorse over a broken sunflower and a warm fuzzy feeling I recall when I think about the delicious persimmon cookies my mom used to make. I suppose both of these memories have more to do with childhood shenanigans and eating than they do with growing food.
But beside the fact that neither Jenn nor I have an ounce of gardening experience our humble project, just 21 months young, has a glorious garden. And we feel likes queens feasting on the abundance of God’s glory. Seriously. All glory goes to the one who created us in His image and started humanity in a garden of paradise.
It all started with this.
|Jenn and the neighbors helping to clear the land, April 2012|
Then we put buildings on it.
Then when the buildings were complete we began acting on what was an essential part of the vision: sustainability.
We wanted to last. We hate asking for money. We want to last without having to depend on a multitude of donors. We want to be organic, and wise, and incredibly faithful with the land God provided. We quickly developed the motto “why look at piece brown dirt when you could be looking at food..."
Our primary goal was to figure out how to feed all the mothers and children who spent time on at our facility. We wanted them to get to participate in the planting and harvesting. We wanted to invoke that "yes we can!" mentality through the act of digging in the dirt or cooking with foods you helped grow. We also believed we could have an impact on the local community through the introduction of vital nutrients and by selling produce at fair prices and close to home. We wanted to offer employment to some of the local people! But here's the real kicker, we wanted to always be able to ensure those salaries through the sale of goods produced.
I'll let you in on a little secret. Back in the early months, when these ideas were stills ideas, we didn't actually have a plan. And as I confessed earlier we had zero experience. But God did something He has continued to do through this entire process. He let us in on just one little morsel of his grand plan at a time. The first, came in the form of seed packets, tons and tons of seed packets thanks to a little farm in Wisconsin calling Threshing Tables. I’m not even sure we needed to ask for them. People simply got wind of our intentions and the donations arrived.
I’m sure the next step went something like this: Jenn and Dadou sit down at one of their many impromptu meetings and she says, “we need to start the gardens.” To which Dadou replies, “we need to till the land.”
In early April, Dadou invited people from the community to help us plant beans and corn.
Many people got to have a hand in the planting of our first crops and earn a day's wages while they were at it. They planted the corn and beans together, randomly. Only several weeks later did I learn that is a genius soil preservation strategy. The beans give beneficial Nitrogen to the soil and the corn sucks it right up! Just another reminder that the success of these gardens had very, very, very little to do with me.
I was included in the next impromptu meeting where they gave me list-making privileges. Yes, that's a real thing. I was invited to come up with a list of all the fruits and vegetables I desired to see on the land. I wasn’t shy with my requests. I wanted to see everything from papayas to pigeon peas. The list wasn’t short. Even so, just 3 months later we've planted all that and more.
At this point we hadn’t yet selected the people who would become Second Mile Haiti’s official garden employees.
But over the next several weeks the team sort of assembled itself, starting with Ama. Ama, our neighbor, is a respected community member who wears many hats. He’s a former school teacher, a current official on the community committee, a father, a grand-father, and an all-around great dude. We couldn’t have prayed for a better neighbor. Although, I know for a fact that we did pray for good neighbors.
He brings with him years of food growing experience, as evidence by seven healthy adult children, a soccer team of grandchildren, and acres of flourishing crops and trees. We were pretty much sold when Director Dadou suggested he be hired as a garden worker.
Then came Joseph, a young dad and a very hard-worker. We were most impressed by the way he carried himself, seemingly able to pull off the star-employee thing with his eye’s closed. He’s a learner, with a genuine interest in and knack for agriculture. In order to produce the best yields for Second Mile Haiti, Joseph does research on his own time, contacting the local agriculture guru’s in the area and asking questions. We love to see this kind of initiative.
And finally Wesly, a late edition. We were impressed by Wesly’s work ethic and patience. He worked on various construction projects during the building phase. We knew he desperately wanted employment but he wasn’t overt about it. He worked hard, often without pay, until he won himself a well-deserved spot on the gardening team.
|Joseph and Ama|
What happens next is better described with pictures. Quite simply, these guys got to WORK. It's a struggle to choose pictures to adequately show off what they've accomplished on the back property.
We were lucky to have a trained agronomist get the guys started. He began stopping by the property to lend his expertise and taught the guys, free of charge, how to create raised beds and a shaded nursery to start seedlings. Did I mention that this advice came free of charge!? It was a huge blessing.
By the second week in April we had planted carrots, beets, tomatoes, lettuce, and onions. In addition to beans and corn.
The last week in April we got our hiney’s kicked into second gear by a visit from my cousin, Sarah. She LOVES or should I say lives gardening and spent hours with the aforementioned guys teaching them a few tricks, like composting and mulching, and planting with them yet more vegetable varieties. They even spread out our gardening efforts to include a few rooftop plots.
All of May was spent watering an acre of corn and beans (bucket by bucket, when the rains were slim), creating more raised beds, planting sweet potatoes, okra, more bean varieties, cabbage, eggplant, garlic, squash, and more... They composted, and weeded, and watered. We planted Moringa, Chaya, Malabar spinach, and some fun things like the Winged Bean and some edible Hibiscus.
Once we had our compost bins in place we were anxious to get them filled up with compostable goodness! So, we enlisted the help of our friends and the neighbors that live in our apartment complex. We also followed the goats around collecting their droppings. But that wasn't the most efficient of plans... What did work was a system with our friends where we provide the buckets and they provide the scraps! It's a great system. There are few things that make me happier than walking out on the front porch early in the morning to find there's been a compost delivery. Those heavy buckets of rotting material reek of potential. It's a good stink, and I love them. Friends that compost together, stay together! Or is that not how that goes?
|whose excited about composting?! we are!! |
At the end of May we enjoyed the very first harvest, a little bean we like to call, pwa neg.
The moms, babies, and employees have been eating from the land ever since. Our meals aren’t yet 100% home-grow but we’ve made a very respectable start. Every morning the moms and babies eat a nutritious soup. The greens in the soup come from the gardens. The beans in each lunch meal were grown at our land. Also, the plantains we sometimes serve come from our neighbor next door. All the milk comes from our cow. And everyone snacks all day long on Mangoes from the big tree.
There is nothing quite like eating from the land and nothing quite like the realization of a dream, all-be-it the component of a dream.
Our dream is still a dream. We’ve not yet arrived at the part of the story where we suggest to a mom that her child may be suffering from Vitamin A deficiency, the part where she remembers what we've told her about carrots being an excellent source of Vitamin A and then she runs back to the property to gather carrots. She might even pluck a few limes from a lime tree on her way back up to recovery homes before she sets herself down to make carrot juice for her baby.
Maybe that part comes in August. The point is, it’s a very probable scenario. It’s happening.
|The corn and bean fields with sweet potatoes and okra against the back property margin|
|planting another round of vegetables, July 2013|
|Tomatoes, Peppers, Beets, Onions, Carrots, Garlic, Eggplant, Cabbage, and space to grow a second harvest|
|The AMAZING workers- Joseph, Ama, and Wesly- take a break from making new raised beds to pose for this picture|