A practice space and an opportunity to participate with nature….

Standard

The Peace Corps has 3 sectors here in Gambia – Agriculture/Forestry (Environment), Education and Health. Luckily, I was placed as an Ag/Fo PCV although the PC recruiter did mention that I would be useful in Education as well, and that she needed to argue to keep me in the Environment sector. Coming from Grigor’s lychee farm in Ninole and having done a lot of new farmer training on Big Island I was excited to go this direction; from the class to the farm.  So, I’m really happy I made it in (into the dirt), even if I now get the nickname “dirty ag-fo.” I’ll take it, its true :), I’m dirty just about everyday.

When I got to Gambia I began learning and gardening in my training village (Kiang/Kaiaf where I stayed for 2 months), being taught about local techniques and crops from the great PC staff. My first attempt ended up in my backyard/bathroom and looked like a burial ground. Success!

pic - garden

After growing 15 or so plants in training village, I moved to permanent site (Farafenni) where I was placed at a highschool. This gave me the chance to work in a bigger garden and I began with big ideas and a blank canvas. Some of the biggest challenges in farming in Gambia  (i.e. fencing, water, labor) were partially solved with a solid wall, reliable bore hole & pump to draw water up from the ground, and an agriculture crew composed of 2 teachers, a farm manager (my counterpart/main partner in work), a shepherd with 9 cows and 2 farm hands (3 including me). So, while the launch pad was swept and polished, it did lead to the realization that putting aside these big problems reveals the trickier small details that really make an agriculture project successful. And here I thought I’d come in, plant a few seeds and have a parade thrown for me :). More on challenge later, here’s the sketch pad I came to:

pic - garden 1

And the rough outline a month later:

garden 2

 So, that’s where I started. I’ve always kept a lot of optimism and I still have more ideas then crop yields but thats how it goes as you learn. My work here reminds me of a couple of my mentors ideas. A professor at SIU once told me “The real work is not coming up with good ideas – most people can do that –  it’s putting a good idea into practice. The application and maintenance aspects are where most projects fail.” Secondly, a taro farmer on Big Island told me that “Farming is a great profession because you never stop learning. And, it keeps you very humble.” I’m now learning the truth behind their words more than ever.

 The garden and other school projects have come a long way since the above photos and we’re now preparing for the rainy season, where Gambia will get 3-4 months of rain, around 1200mm ( 47″). Compared to Big Islands 130-200″ in Hilo and Detroit, Michigan’s 33″. 

By the way, the picture at the top is one of the farmhands/heros at the school chopping down Neem tree branches to build a shade house. He’s 60+ years old, 25+ feet up, speaks French & Wolof and smokes out of an old sheep bone. Need I say more? :), The farm crew here is amazing. I’m lucky to be part of the team.   

More pictures to come, wish me luck and good tilth, thanks for reading…

 

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