Learning the Basics

When I was 10 years old my dad retired from the Marine Corps and we moved to rural Indiana. His parents lived there and owned a bit of land that had been passed down the male side of the Kyle family from my great-grandfather. It was my dad’s dream to once again farm this land. So within a few years we had goats, cows, pigs, chickens and crops. I raised rabbits to show in the county fair and helped bail hay and care for the chickens and goats. At first, it was an adventure and I enjoyed being a country girl. But as I grew older, I grew less fond of the time required to properly care for animals or the blazing summer heat that gave me a farmer’s tan when I would have rather been lying by the city pool getting a real tan. I came to resent the farm, the animals and the work

Turkens: very ugly chickens adapted to hot weather.

Turkens: very ugly chickens adapted to hot weather.

involved and distanced myself very thoroughly from it.

When I applied for the Peace Corps I did not mention any agricultural or farm experience on my application, not wanting to work in that area. What I didn’t realize at the time is that agriculture and health are irrevocably intertwined. As a health education Volunteer there was no getting around working with agriculture in some respect. With the help of a few agroforestry Volunteers, I was able to do some personal gardening and composting as well as start a moringa garden beside my health center which was used in the nutrition program I instituted. Everything I did was through trial and error and what I knew of growing in Indiana (at a latitude of 40 degrees north). Transferring that to tropical Guinea (10 degrees north) did not always work out. And with only two growing seasons to work with, I never learned why many of the things I tried failed…until this past week.

In going to Clove Island I hope to promote nutrition through sustainable agriculture. In order to do so, I need to know more about tropical agriculture. At the urging of my organization I spent the past week in Ft. Myers, FL at ECHO farm participating in the Tropical Agricultural Development class. They state their purpose as follows:

“ECHO is an information hub for development practitioners around the world. We gather solutions from around the world that are solving hunger problems and disseminate them to our active network. These solutions promote sustainable farming techniques, nutritional plants, and appropriate technologies. They are well tested and proven to be successful over and over again.

Our purpose is to teach farmers around the world how to be more effective in producing enough to meet the needs of their families and their communities. They in turn teach others and the ECHO effect continues!”

when learning about soil restoration, we went out to look at what good soil looks like.

when learning about soil restoration, we went out to look at what good soil looks like.

From Monday to Friday we had classes from 8am to 8:30pm. We had lectures in two classrooms and spent time wandering the farm to see what we had just talked about in practice. Classes were taught by a wide variety of professionals, many who have lived overseas using the techniques they taught. The topics ranged from the challenges facing small-scale farmers, to land care and soil restoration to a lesson on basic botany to seed saving.

Very cool solar dehydrator- definitely need to make myself one of these.

Very cool solar dehydrator- definitely need to make myself one of these.

It’s incredible how much information can be packed into one short week. Learning about soil life and restoration opened my eyes to all the things I had done wrong in the past when caring for plants, and consequently, why they always died (except moringa, which is a very hardy tree that even I couldn’t kill). The information on urban agriculture inspired me to learn more and I’ve now bought several books on the topic. The islands are relatively small and overpopulated. The fields are far off and mostly used for growing cash crops. What difference could a rooftop garden make for a hardworking mother when she needn’t spend limited money on expensive imports? What dignity does it give when a family can use old tires and plastic bottles to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables right outside their door?  The implications of implementing such a system are enormous and very exciting.

Here's a wick garden in action. The pine cones are just used to slow down evaporation from the carpet.

Here’s a wick garden in action. The pine cones are just used to slow down evaporation from the carpet.

Who knew plants didn't need soil?

Who knew plants didn’t need soil?

Beyond the technical aspect of the program, it’s always comforting to see the group of people the God brings together. This is one of the things I have noticed since the beginning of this journey- God brings together people in a unique and transformative way. In my class, there were people either already living in or shortly departing for places all around the developing world such as Sierra Leone, Haiti, the DRC, Uganda, Paraguay and South Sudan. It is always so encouraging to be around like-minded individuals with a heart for the disenfranchised that are taking tangible steps to do something about it. It didn’t stop with my classmates. There were small connections with many of the staff and interns. I met another RPCV and we exchanged crazy, Peace Corps stories. I met an intern who grew up in Guinea and another in Senegal where he played in the West African International Softball Tournament (WAIST)- something I had also participated in. I befriended another Georgian (he thinks he’s an Atlantan but he’s never lived ITP so it doesn’t really count). The stories and connections continued throughout the week as I met new people.

We made our own lunch on Wednesday using two uderutilized but very nutritious greens: katuk and chaya.

We made our own lunch on Wednesday using two uderutilized but very nutritious greens: katuk and chaya.

I was sad to leave the farm- words ten or even five years ago I never thought I would type. Great things are being done to help empower the poor. Eyes are being opened as information is disseminated. I am excited to be a part of that story; honored to have been chosen to share in the struggles and triumphs of those on the islands.

Here’s my shameless plug as the time for my departure approaches. You too can be a part in this story. My financial and prayer partners are the backbone of what I have been sent to do. I am currently at 67% of my monthly support, which will sustain me as I live among the island people. If you would like to join me, click on www.altlinkpartners.org and sign up to be a monthly supporter. Any amount helps and makes you an integral part of my team. Message me on my Facebook page if you have any questions (www.facebook.com/myfootprintsinthesand).

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Categories: Pre-Departure | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Learning the Basics

  1. jameswleee

    Haha I got a shout out! Haha loved this post! Good job promoting ECHO! Sad you won’t be here this week 😦 you should come back!

  2. Jess,
    Thanks so much for sharing your experience! We loved hosting you and can’t wait to see where God leads you in the future!

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