Farming

China Re-mix.

man w pig2 Having dutifully swallowed all the negative publicity we’ve been served up in this country about China (and added some of my own piquant paranoia) — it began to seem like a place I would never want to go. Solemn Little Beauty

But once I got to China, on my fourth month of traveling for Heifer International, I found it was much like any other place on the planet: filled with beautiful people working hard to make their lives and the lives of their children a little bit easier, sweeter, and more secure.

little princess I spent my time in Sichuan province, in the western part of China. It is a place of big, impersonal cities and lovely contemplative country-sides– but no, I didn’t stop to see any pandas (sigh).landscape

However, I did experience the incredible ethnic groups of the Yi people (the women are intensely fabulous, with headdresses right out of the Witches of Eastwick)…Yi hat

… And I met the kindest, most gentle AIDS mother making a living with her Heifer pigs for her three young children …

Waqi Wunin, my personal heroine

Waqi Wunin, my personal heroine

…and I visited a small village making a big comeback from the terrible earthquake of 2010, despite it being populated almost solely by women my age (probably a good bit younger).

The women of Fuxing & me.

The intrepid women of Fuxing Village & me.

And of course, I was served some totally amazing food – and ate my wimpy vegetarian share of it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn China, I had the unique opportunity to sit down and talk to ordinary rural Chinese people who were struggling to cope with life outside the megalopolis–and whose stories turned out to be riveting.

A circle of trust (and roasted potatoes)

A circle of trust (and roasted potatoes)

I also realized that I wasn’t the only one who was perhaps a little skeptical of the foreigner. skepticalBut more than anything, I had the same epiphany I had in every Heifer country I visited last year — Leader

… that the poverty we don’t see around us is still there … Grand-daughter

… that animals are beautiful and full of potent power to change the trajectory of a family’s life .. that pig

… and there is literally nothing more universally beautiful than a smile.daughterTo follow me through the pages of yesteryear (in China) click on a story:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/30/first-impressions-of-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/02/high-but-not-dry-in-yi-country-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/04/not-exactly-a-tiger-mom/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/07/a-scaredy-cat-taste-of-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/09/a-beautiful-life/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/14/farewell-my-lovely/

Categories: Animals, Children, China, Farming, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

The Improbable Campesino

a man on his farmShad Qudsi didn’t exactly set out on a career path to start an organic farm in rural Guatemala. He grew up in the farmlands of New Jersey (yeah, they do exist) and got a big scholarship to Johns Hopkins, majoring in math and business, the first person in his family to graduate from college. He spent a bit of time in the corporate world, working in emerging tech companies because his brain works in that wondrous way, but farming was in his heart. collen & shad

Luckily, he chose a good partner in his wife Colleen, who went along with his agricultural dreams, and after two years running a hotel in Belize, they bought a farm in October 2009 in the steep, rocky highlands above Tzununa, a miniscule town on the lovely banks of Lake Atitlan.

Beautiful Lake Atitlan

Beautiful Lake Atitlan

To say Shad’s Atitlan Organics farm is difficult to access is an understatement. The journey requires a boat ride, followed by a truck ride, followed by a long walk up – but once you get to Shad’s place, it’s a lush green, oasis-y marvel to behold.the farm

However, Shad’s first year of farming was hard – and the second was worse. Last year was his first profitable year, but clearly, Shad and Colleen measure success in a different way. My fab friend Bonnie O’Neill took us on a tour of the farm, and in one short hour, I was convinced I desperately need to start a compost pile, was seriously considering raising chickens, and wondered why the heck I’ve never bought chia and amaranth seeds to sprinkle on my oatmeal.

Chia... no pets.

Chia… no pets.

Shad is a huge fan of chia and amaranth, two traditional grains grown by the Incas and native to Guatemala. These seeds are trendy and popular in the States (meaning they command a price 25 times higher than corn) but they also represent a great possibility for enhanced nutrition for Guatemala’s perennially undernourished indigenous population. Kiddies

A one-ounce serving of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat, 5 milligrams of sodium, 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein (and that’s not even counting how they stimulated sales of Chia Pets). Amaranth seeds contain 30% more protein than rice and are unusually rich in lysine, an essential amino acid missing in many other plants. Best of all, both chia and amaranth are easy to grow and easy to harvest, with flowers that produce millions of seeds for further cultivation.seedlings

It’s stuff like this that fascinates Shad – and he’s a walking fountain of agricultural knowledge, experimentation and irrepressible enthusiasm. He’s teaching Guatemalan farmers to throw down some chia seed when they mound up soil around their knee-high corn plants in August, so the fast-growing salvia will be ready to harvest with the corn in October. But this is just the tip of the trowel on Shad’s farm, because he’s a master of biodiversity, with at least 200 species of plants, animals, and fungi on his small acreage. In fact, his goal is to take a traditionally-sized plot of land (about one-sixth of an acre) and demonstrate to Guatemalan farmers how to make it both profitable and a source of good nutrition for their families – and to that end, he’ll try anything!

The tipico plot size in Guatemala.

The tipico plot size in Guatemala… one-sixth of an acre.

Shad waxes rhapsodic about esoteric scientific facts and chemistry – the soil as the placenta of chickensthe earth; how wind, water, and sun act on soil’s abiding intention to make more of itself; the beautifully complex interaction of nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide (which is why he raises clean herbivore rabbits in the same house with dirty greens-eating chickens) – until my brain was swimming in farm facts. But the bottom line is this is a man with a passionate love for farming who believes that to plant a seed is a sacred deed and who is utterly devoted to working with local communities to share his knowledge. In addition to all the work he’s done on his own land, he’s also started 4 community gardens in neighboring Santa Cruz, with local women choosing a youth to organize and run their market (thus educating the next generation).

Papayas

Papayas– a money crop!

Of course, my unspoken question was – how does your wife feel about living way up here, with no electricity (but a rocking sauna) and a 5-mile round-trip walk to her daily work as a teacher?

So pretty --( but their previous "house" was an 8' x 8' shed)

Such a pretty house( but their previous abode was an 8′ x 8′ shed).

Colleen wasn’t there to answer, but I suspect she’s just as dazzled by Shad’s incandescent energy as we were….and by the simple truth of his philosophy:

A quick lesson in grafting avocado trees (Shad's grows 5 varieties).

A quick lesson in grafting avocado trees (Shad grows 5 varieties that ripen at different times).

Growing and selling good food can heal people and heal the earth.

Tree tomatoes

Tree tomatoes

Unlike any other form of “development,” there is no moral ambiguity to clean farming.

A pomegranate grows in Tzununa.

A pomegranate grows in Tzununa.

You plant a seed. You nurture your plants, trees, animals and soil. You feed other people good food.baby lamb

That’s what drives Shad Qudsi, International Farmer and owner of Atitlan Organics

sunflowerIt’s Farming for the Future (And p.s. that’s exactly what Heifer has been about for the past 69 years…)

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Environment, Farming, Guatemala, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Two Gorgeous Farms & One Heavenly Market

bee on blossomIn my last two days in my last country in this incredible year of travel with Heifer, (sob!) we visited Ambato, a market town south of Cotopaxi, about 2 hours from Quito, Ecuador. After the bone-dry forest of Vega Alta, it was like dipping my eyeballs into a green misty pool — how delicious! land

It made me remember why I’m going to miss these countries so achingly much – and introduced me to yet another awesome Heifer partner: PACAT, an agro-ecological association that’s been working with indigenous farmers here for over 12 years to help  them increase their production, income, and food sovereignty.

Gloria & Lizbeth Pomaquiasa on their land.

Gloria & Lizbeth Pomaquiasa on their land.

PACAT is boots on the ground – running 34 different community groups in 9 counties with 508 families to help them commercialize their agriculture, livestock, fish and cuy ventures. These are small farmers growing on plots of just 1 to 2 acres… but PACAT is no small-thinking organization. pacat market

With Heifer’s help (financial and advisory),PACAT has hired a doctoral student to analyze the market to determine what sells best (they’ve narrowed it to 70 items), what people want that they’re not getting, as well as consumer buying patterns and preferences. They encourage farmers to use their ancestral traditions and to farm organically – for the health of the producer and the consumer.

Yes, they're organic!

Yep, they’re organic!

And when you see agro-ecology in action, it’s simply fantastic. We visited Jorge and Sonja Chonato’s farm in the Low Sierra (at 2000 meters), where temperatures are moderate and lots of crops flourish –citrus

…and Gloria & Francisco Pomaquiasa’s farm in the Alta Sierra (at 4000 meters) where it’s cold, windy and challenging to grow much besides cabbage, potatoes and root crops.Patas

Jorge and Sonja’s farm, at a lower altitude, had about 80 products in full flourish – and because agro-ecological farmers are “very curious always trying new things, grafting, experimenting, seeing what works,” the creativity was amazing!

Jorge's growing 4 different varieties of babaco - and I'd never even heard of babaco!

Jorge’s growing 4 different varieties of babaco fruit – and I’ve never even heard of babaco!

I saw produce and trees I recognized, and dozens of fruits and vegetables I’d never seen before. Jorge just got 2 new milk cows from Heifer, and he was ecstatic… more manure to grow things! His children were healthy and engaged in their farming, his wife was unbelievably organized and capable, and their spirits were so buoyant, they couldn’t wait to show us all the success they’d had.

Jorge Chonato - one happy farmer!

Jorge Chonato – one talented, happy farmer!

By the time we got up to Gloria & Francisco’s farm, it was almost dusk but the family was still working in the fields, hurrying to harvest the crops they’d take to market the next day.

Francisco Pomaquiasa. 20- year PACAT member.

Francisco Pomaquiasa, a 20- year PACAT member.

Francisco has been part of the Atahulpa Association of PACAT farmers here for 20 years  (since he was 20) and like most farmers who’ve had Heifer trainings, his crops are now diversified and chemical-free.Gloria's farmDespite the biting wind, the heads of cabbage, peas, radishes and turnips were gorgeous – and the family was equally proud of the 100 cuy (guinea pigs) they’d raised from Heifer’s gift of 60 cuy last year (they’ve already sold 60 males at $10 each and passed along the original gift).

cuy

Almost too cute to eat … almost!

Five year-old Lizbeth was an expert packer of lettuce, carefully wedging the last head in the yellow market box, her little hands red with the cold, but her eyes dancing with excitement. Market Day was almost here!

What a good helper!!

What a good helper!!

We arrived at Ambato Market the next day at 5 am, in time to see the farmers come in with their wares (some live 2-3 hours away)…truck loaded

… and to watch the first shoppers trickle in at 6 am.

The frenzy begins..

The frenzy begins..

Heifer/PACAT farmers all work under the same banner and wear distinctive aqua jackets so people can recognize the farmers whose meat, produce and fruit are known to be chemical-free and luscious … the bee’s knees!

So beautiful! And GREEN.

carrots

Maize

radishes

Inkaberries

Last call for berries!

Last call for berries!

By 8:30 am, all the good stuff was all gone and the farmers were packing up their wares.But first, Lizbeth would get a sweet reward  - Lizbeth with treat

…and then her family would pocket their $80 of income and go back home and start farming again.family at work

That’s the way it goes all over the developing world — and at this time of year when we’re swimming in abundance & relaxing, it’s good to remember that for a billion people around the planet, it’s hard work just to eat every day. farmer's daughter

And they are so grateful for the little help they receive…Gloria

– so THANK YOU!

Categories: Agriculture, Ecuador, Farming, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Viva Vega Alta!

big ceiba

The mighty ceiba tree is not supposed to be blooming.. but the climate is changing.

On Day 3 of my trip to Ecuador, we drove up from the watery coastal towns of El Oro province to spend the night in Loja Province, in the crackly dry forest town of Vega Alta on the very border of Peru. The environmental contrast was stark, particularly as this was the very end of the dry season and every blade of grass seemed dry as kindling.

sink

Water, water — almost nowhere, barely enough to drink.

 Our host family, headed by Rosanna Apollo, is part of 26 families (most of them related) that live in this sparsely populated town where land is plentiful and cheap, and goats outnumber people by about 30 to 1. young goat Rosanna and her granddaughter Cecilia cooked us a beautiful lunch…

Simple .. and sensational.

  …then we walked to her brother Santos’s house and up, up, up through the dry forest to see the town water supply and irrigation well that Heifer has helped to provide.

The Santos boys walking through the dry forest.

The Santos boys walking through the dry forest.

The challenge in Vega Alta is water, pure and simple. These woods used to boast millions of hardwood trees, before agricultural clear-cutting and burning stripped the mountainsides up to the very summits.

(You can see the burning hillside on the left.)

(You can see the burning hillside on the right.)

Heifer’s agro-ecological project in Loja will include training 600 families to cope with ever-diminishing water supplies by undertaking irrigation projects, planting trees, diversifying crops, and managing soil moisture with crop rotation, organic fertilizer and mulching.

cleraing the pipe

Santos’s son Alexis clears the irrigation pipe.

Caritas Allemagne, a Catholic charity, built the big irrigation system that provides metered water for 60 Vega Alta families from a source 13 km away, but it’s the small irrigation pump that Heifer invested in and 60-year old Santos put in himself that has created a small garden of Eden here.irrigation star

Santos showed us papaya, lime, lemons, sour oranges, cacao, coffee, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, beans, bananas, guavas, peppers, passionfruit, achiote, and yucca that were all thriving under the soft rain of sprinklers from his Heifer irrigation pump.

Achiote, also called the "lipstick tree" produces seeds that are used in food coloring.

Achiote, also called the “lipstick tree,” produces seeds that are used in food coloring and flavoring.

With irrigation and the manure from his goats, Santos has increased his farm’s production by 300%  –and that’s no small potatoes.

fresh papaya

Heifer’s Leonardo Mendieta samples the luscious papaya.

As the dry forests across Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador grow ever drier and water grows ever more precious, Heifer irrigation & agro-ecology and Heifer livestock may well make the difference between children here eating .. or not. Alexis, Darling & goats

That night, after we ate a beautiful meal of vegetables and fruit, (but went without a shower because there was no way we were going to use more water), I had my computer open to show everybody their photos, and Rosanna and her family began looking over my shoulder at the photos of farmers around the world. Rosanna & parrot

They were so intrigued to see the crops people were growing in Haiti, in Cameroon and in Vietnam (it seems everybody, everywhere grows cassava)…cassava!

… and they could see that they were hardly the only poor people working hard in the world. They asked a hundred questions about the people they saw in my photos…

They all liked her face .. and her hat... and her giant Black Tiger Shrimp!

They all loved Trinh from Vietnam — her smile, her hat… and her giant Black Tiger Shrimp!

…and once again I cursed myself for being such a language laggard, and thanked heaven (and Heifer) for Michelle, my awesome translator. As we fell asleep that night on their beds they’d generously offered us, we prayed we wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the black night to use the dry latrine out back (another Heifer innovation!) and that their pet parrot would clam up until dawn. aw geeOur prayers were answered! And in the morning– after a beautiful breakfast that was 10 times what we could eat –

corn cakes…the hardest thing was saying goodbye.bye bye

But I know these folks in Vega Alta are in good hands with Heifer folks like Leonardo Mendieta to look out for them.

Arcela (Rosanna & Santos's sister), Leonardo and her baby goats.

Arcela (Rosanna & Santos’s sister), Leonardo, and her baby goats.

And I’ll just pray the rains will come.

Miguel Santos - my hearthrob!

Miguel Santos – my hearthrob!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL … AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!

Categories: Agriculture, Ecuador, Environment, Farming, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The many ecological wonders of Leonard’s world.

Leonard!Leonard Manda is a big man with a big heart and big ideas.

KasunguHe’d better be. As Heifer Malawi’s program director of the Enhanced Community Resilience Programme, Leonard is responsible for helping 1,600 families in 45 villages around Kasungu National Park cope with climate change and the increased occurrence of drought. These conditions cause folks to go into the nearby national park to poach for meat and cut down trees for firewood, so every day Leonard hops on his motorcycle and goes out to teach people in these far-flung villages to make better choices.

Rennie and the 20-liter water bucket they call "friend" because it takes one to lift it down from your head.

Rennie Katundu and the 20-liter water bucket they call “friend”– because it takes one to lift it down from your head.

Quality control tools.

Quality control tools.

Simple energy stove.

Simple energy stove.

And boy, is he creative! I learned so much from Leonard, I couldn’t write down notes fast enough. He’s taught women like Rennie Katundu in Mzumbatu Village to make energy stoves, using clay from anthills that is pure and uncrackable. First, the women cure the clay by burying it in a pit for 2 weeks. Then they smear ash inside a bucket mold to prevent sticking and spread the clay inside the mold with their heels. They use “quality control tools” Leonard fashioned from sticks to precisely measure the width and depth of the clay, then place the molds inside to dry overnight, release them in the morning, finish with the handles and pot rests… and voila! A time-and timber-saving treasure!

Leonard also teaches the women to make super-smart fireless cookers (think of it as a wireless crockpot) so they can cook rice and protein-rich beans in a fraction of the time. This cooker is so clever it delighted me to no end…fireless w lid

Instead of wasting 4 hours and bundles of firewood to cook beans, women can boil them in water for 40 minutes in the morning, pop the pot into an old basket lined with banana leaves, cover it with an insulated top, and four hours later (lunchtime!) the beans will be piping hot and ready to eat.fireless Everything to create this fireless cooker is readily available to the women – old baskets, banana leaves, old cloths – and it can make the difference between a family eating a diet of all carbs and enjoying protein-rich meals. (And rice “cooks” in 40 minutes after just two minutes of boiling!)

But Leonard’s bag of tricks goes far beyond the kitchen. He’s also teaching people to use the local public dambos (wetlands) to grow community gardens all year round – and to make vegetable “sack gardens” using plastic bags of soil, manure, river sand and permeable stones to hang in the house for immediate use.

A dambo filled with winter lettuce

A dambo filled with winter lettuce

To combat deforestation in Malawi’s densely populated land, Leonard is helping to create tree nurseries in villages like Mzumbatu, where the women are growing thousands of seedlings in an empty plot. watering trees.

Heifer and its partners provide the seeds, soil, and training – but the women do the work of planting each plastic sleeve of soil, and watering the tiny acacia, senna semia and other indigenous trees that will soon provide firewood and poles for the community.

Miss Ruth DeoThe indomitable Ruth Deo showed us what the resulting Community Wood Lot will look like. With Leonard’s guidance, her village grew the trees from seeds for months, then 20 villagers spent 5 days planting the 5,500 tiny trees on a hectare of land the village headman had donated. In 5 years, these trees will be grown and each of the village’s 88 families will be allowed to take 4-10 trees every year from the lot (depending on need). And since seedlings will be replanted every year, the village will ensure its supply of sustainably-grown wood for the future – right in its own back yard.

Big trees... soon to come!

Big trees… soon to come!

Leonard’s also a big fan of conservation agriculture – and he took us to Joseph & Bibiana Phiri’s farm to show us how minimum tillage, crop rotation, and crop residue management can replenish exhausted soils and increase production.

Bibiana Phiri

Bibiana is a force of nature in her own right, and was eager to show off her fields covered in corn husk residue that cuts down on parasitic witch weed, improves sandy soil, and decomposes in the rainy season to form compost. She’s kept the trees in her fields, adds manure on top of the crop residue, and is now using 1/2 the expensive fertilizer her maize used to require. Bibiana’s goats – 2 of the 1,268 Leonard has placed in Heifer’s 45 villages – are thriving and she and her husband are big fans of the useful trainings they’ve received.

The Phiris... knee-deep in conservation agriculture!

The Phiris… knee-deep in conservation agriculture!

Now it’s not like Leonard is doing every bit of this work himself. The ECRP is a $15 million, 5-year, 61,000-family endeavor funded by the Department for International Development, Irish Aid & Norway, and implemented by a consortium of aid organizations, with Heifer as the leader in livestock. In that role, Leonard is a trainer of trainers, working with multiple ministries of the government to make sure these programs endure after Heifer’s role has ended – but his leadership, passion and just plain sweat equity were a marvel to behold.leonard3

In our final hour together, Leonard showed me the cool Energy Kit Heifer has put together to offer at a discount to smallholder farmers. The kit consists of a solar panel, solar light, rechargeable battery, and transistor radio for crop information and news (illiterate people can still listen), …. all at a 30% discount. energy pack

I thought that was a perfectly fitting metaphor for Leonard–an indefatigable source of sound and light for Malawi!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

heifer-international1-640x501And for all you technophiles (and Mac-ademics) … check out what MASHABLE had to say about the new Heifer catalog app… the FIRST non-profit magazine tablet app ever.  Click here to download it on your iPad or Android tablet & you’re good to give! Whoeeee!

Categories: Africa, Agriculture, Environment, Farming, Heifer International, Inspiration, Malawi, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com. Customized Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,257 other followers

%d bloggers like this: