Gardening for Haiti’s future

by Joe

My Haitian friend André can see into the future. When he’s tending his gardens, he pictures in his mind what they will look like next year. And the year after that.

He plants mango, banana and plantain trees he knows will shelter the soil from the drying sun and protect critical microorganisms working the dirt; he cultivates woody perennial plants to prevent erosion on the mountainside; and he builds small dams to redirect flooding during the spring rains.

He plants vegetable seeds in discarded containers — like a bucket or broken wheelbarrow — with compost he’s collected, then transplants the seedlings to his gardens after they’ve sprouted. Later, he saves seed from a few of the better plants so he can repeat the process next season.

He’s slowly transforming what was once a rocky and barren landscape into a fertile field of green.

And his work is not going unnoticed.

Most other farmers clear a plot of land, turning over the soil with their cast-iron pickaxe hoes to plant rows of corn. Or beans. Or cassava. Their fields bake in the sun. The soil quickly becomes depleted, sandy and rocky. During rains, the dirt erodes down the mountainside. The plants grow spindly and wilted.

But a few of these farmers have watched André’s gardens produce abundant harvests. They’ve seen the fertility of his soil improve. And now he’s now begun teaching his fellow Haitian farmers the value of companion planting, no-till seedbed preparation, erosion control and other sustainable gardening practices.

For the past five years I’ve brought open-pollinated vegetable seeds to Belle Fontaine to share with farmers there, particularly Brother André and a few farmers like him.

Twice this year I was tapped on the shoulder by different Haitians who, like André, want to teach sustainable gardening techniques and wanted me, the “seed man,” to help them do it. They had in place already a group of farmers wanting to learn how to improve their gardens. These teachers tapping me on the shoulder just wanted help: seeds, tools and supplies.

While the bulk of the support we provide our sister parish is used for basic classroom teacher salaries and student supplies, a small but growing portion is making a difference in the life sustaining gardens of Belle Fontaine.

Renmen Bondye, Sèvi Lòt Moun, Fòm Disip
Love God, Serve Others, Form Disciples.

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