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November 2004: News

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News from the Mini Farm, Friends and Colleagues

This is the fourth growing season for the joint Ecology Action/Golden Rule Special Internship Program, and the soil and plants are beginning to thrive. Some of the corn is 15 feet high and often, as you walk on a path between beds, you are surrounded by a tunnel of vegetation.

  • Three presentations were given in the Willits area to acquaint county residents with Salik and Yaquobi, the two interns from Afghan, and the proposed Afghan GROW BIOINTENSIVE project. About $4,000 has been raised locally, plus another $1,000 from an anonymous donor in the Bay Area, of the $42,000 budgeted for the 18-month Phase One of the project.
  • We received a report from Wycliffe Mabonga, a graduate of Manor House Agricultural Centre who was a six-month intern at the Willits Mini-Farm in 1997. Printed here are slightly edited excerpts of his report:

Kenyan Biointensive crops 2000

Currently I am working with community groups, individual farm families and church groups. Through facilitation, consultation and trainings I have managed to set up a GROW BIOINTENSIVE mini-farming training centre (70-bed unit) at a project known as LINK-AFRICA. This is a community-based organization charged with the responsibility of supporting and caring for the HIV/AIDS, the infected and the affected people supporting the orphans, the widows and vulnerable children. Through LINK-AFRICA I am conducting weekly trainings on Biointensive techniques and at the same time sensitizing community people on the HIV/AIDS scourge. Basically the trainings offered to groups are geared towards food-raising techniques and income-generating activities. Since November 2003 I have managed to train seven community groups and thirty-five individual farmers.

As the millenium wheel keeps revolving, unemployment still befalls many MHAC graduates after a two-year apprentice program course. For the last six years I have been identifying some of the MHAC graduates who have not been absorbed or employed. I have brought together six MHAC graduates to form a networking organization known as Community Agriculture Environmental Support Services. This six-member organization is charged with the responsibility of working with the poor resource farmers in food-raising initiatives in rural communities. Every member works with farmers groups and individual farmers within the community he/she hails from.

  • This is part of a letter we received from Cameron Miller of Santa Maria, California:

I was one of the participants in the Workshop in March. While I have allowed a few months to pass, my time with Ecology Action has long stayed with me. I was the guy who kept fighting the soil during your double-dig demo. I was trying to push the blade through the earth. You quite patiently and persistently didn't let me do that. At one point, I was able to let go, stop driving, and allowed the weight of my body to guide the spade into the earth. The action was as effortless as a knife through soft butter. I wasn't thinking, just doing. I found that moment scary (giving up control) yet also exuberant as it was freeing.

Since returning from the workshop, I completely redesigned my garden in my urban backyard and fit in almost 475 sq ft of double-dug beds. I'm still not very good with double-digging, but I'm no longer afraid of it, and I'm not fighting myself so much. Thanks for your patience and not allowing me to give in to my fears.

As I have had time to think more about it, in some ways that experience in your experimental garden with double-digging was like a metaphor for my life. I have always been drawn to working with the earth, finding a connection and meaning that is absent in most other types of "work." But I would struggle with gardening. My past gardens, even after I turned to organic practices, were labors of struggle. I felt a need to try to force things and felt defeated when unsuccessful. When people learn that I'm double-digging, they think it's a lot of work. In a sense it is a lot of work. But I'm finding that as I learn to work with the soil, a kind of connection with the soil develops that is very satisfying. Words don't exactly capture what I'm trying to say, but I think you'll understand.

  • We also received feedback from four people from Cornell University who attended the Three-Day Workshop John Jeavons gave in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, in May:
  • We are finally sending our belated but very sincere thanks for your generosity during the conference in Spring Grove. Together we presented a talk about our experience to many other grad students and faculty that generated lots of good discussion. In fact we have been asked to give another presentation this fall. On a personal note, I know that any of us who attended and returned to start our garden, started things off with a double dig and have used the books for reference.
  • I've got raised beds in my neighbor's backyard! (We're kind of sharecropping since we have no space.) I've experimented with many of your techniques and am having a lot of fun. There is a lot of interest at CU on the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method.
  • I've had numerous discussions with people here since coming back about lots of bits and pieces of what we all discussed/heard about in PA. Thanks very much and pass along our thanks as well to the Moores.
  • Thank you for your generosity and all of the insights, perspectives, and stimulation of thought you provided for us! I really enjoyed the workshop and have installed a little double-dug lettuce bed in my tiny front yard. I've had lots of discussions about this with people-it's been great.
  • We received a note from an architect who is working on self-sustaining modular villages in Afghanistan and South Africa. He stated that these villages will "stress Biointensive agriculture in an effort to create economic and energy independence for the citizens." This is particularly interesting to us since the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Ecuador was so impressed with the Biointensive gardens that refugees from Colombia had created in the Amazonia area of Ecuador that he wanted to recommend that all refugees in Ecuador use the method.



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