Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Celebration of Yard Gardens

On Friday, November 4th, a group of some 100 farmers gathered in the hills of Bassin Zim, in a local Catholic chapel, to celebrate God's abundance.

For the last year a committee of seven local volunteers has provided technical support to some thirty families learning to intensify and diversify their food production techniques, focusing on their own yards. Now, the committee decided, was the time for people to gather and see what has been accomplished. The event was entirely organized by the committee of local farmers; it was sponsored by MPP, with financing from the Road to Life Yard and Moringa project

Scheduled to begin at 7:30, the committee members arrived on site at 5:30 AM and began preparing the leanto that serves as a chapel for this remote area. I left our home in Bassin Zim around 5:30 AM and began winding my way down the hill to MPP's training center, where some participants helped me load 115 folding chairs on the truck, then off we went, with 8 or 9 passengers. We continued down the hill, across the Samana river and eventually up the torturous trail that serves as a road to the communities of Seramon, Matbonithe, Marilapa and Leodiague. When my brother Keith and two friends went with me to this area, Keith commented, "When Mark said we could get there by truck, I thought he meant there was a road." I believe I got stuck in mud three times on the way to the celebration, but we arrived by 6:30.

At 7:30 AM, people began arriving with examples of the production from their yard gardens. Then journalists from MPP's radio station arrived, together with a group of budding videographers. By 8:30 I was getting a bit antsy. Around 9:30, the main speaker, Accène Joachim arrived and the committee served all of the participants a spaghetti breakfast. The event finally got going by 10:00 or so. Nobody but me really seemed to notice that we were some 2 1/2 hours late.

I had offered the committee an award of something like $US 5,000 if things actually started at 7:30. They know me well enough to know exactly how unlikely it was that I would ever pay up, but even if I'd been serious, my money obviously would have been safe. By God's grace, and not by my worrying, everything came out very fine.

Here are some pictures. Photos provided by Eccène Joseph, a member of MPP's communications team.

One of the paticipants puts down her load of papaya that she and her family produced in their home garden.

Papaya, Haitian pumpkin, moringa powder, eggplants, moringa leaves, garlic chives, parsely and "masoko," an edible root that forms above ground on a vining plant. When the committee decided to ask participants to come with examples of their production, neither Alexander Placide (the MPP agronomist now responsible for the Road to Life Yard) nor I imagined there would truly be this level of abundance and diversity.

Worm compost (vermicompost), produced by African redworms. Wilner Exil, crew member and supervisor for the committee of volunteers, brought this example of one of the techniques that can amplify vegetable production.

Ronel Odathe, a journalist for MPP's radio station, Voice of the Farmer (Radio Vwa Peyizan), interviews Wilner Exil about the work the committee has done with local families.

Agame Elfraüs (left), myself and Moccène Joachim, as we judge the production. We quickly developed some simple criteria to judge each entry, including how good it looked, the abundance, the diversity and originality. The committee had included in their budget funds for prizes for the winners, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and consolation.

Mulaire Michel, the coordinator for MPP's technical team, holds up a papaya to comment on the capacity that farmers in Haiti have to produce good, healthy food.

Accène Joachim, assistant director for MPP, providing the keynote address, focusing on food sovereignty and how yard gardens are part of the road Haiti and Haitians need to follow to regain control of their own lives and to reclaim the future of their country.

Participants of all ages, men and women, listen to Accène.

After Accène's presentation, the committee called on a number of the participants to bear witness to the changes this production has made in their lives and the lives of their families.

Adpoleon Jacques, Wilner Exil and Jasma Joachim, three leaders of the commitee, present their vision for the work of the committee in 2012.

Myself with Wilner Exil (sitting at table). Wilner invited several other people to share their perspectives, including Agronomist Alexander Placide. It was Alexander who developed the idea of forming this committee at the end of 2010.

I provided my hopes for the committee as well, but also noted that the committee, and the participants in the community, are providing me with a model that I will use during the next several years, as I begin working with other farmer organizations throughout the country.

Finally, Agame Elfraüs announced the winners, one by one. The committee had arranged for music to fill in the gaps during the celebration. Now Wilner required each winner to dance with their display on their head before they received their prize.

Moringa, cabbage, green peppers and amaranth. The winning display.

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