After 2 long weeks of field trips to farms and workshops on urban agriculture practices, our international exchange came to an end. While the exchange has finished, the sharing of knowledge, experiences, skills, and friendships will continue as we all return to our respective cities and countries. Elaine and I were astonished by the variety and scope of the local projects that we saw, as well as the farming activities and output that some farmers are able to accomplish even in a very small growing area.
For Kenya, one of the interesting things that we saw the number of farmers who are looking outside of seasonal constraints in growing different vegetables. We also learned about moist bed gardening, to cope with the dry season when there is very little if any rainfall. Essentially, moist bed gardening uses a large bed that is enclosed using polyethylene plastic. Rocks or other space filling materials are placed in the bottom of the bed to help provide aeration to the roots and to give some space between the roots and any water that may accumulate at the bottom of the bed. The remaining space is filled with good quality soil and plants like arrowroot (taro) is planted inside the bed.
We also had the chance to construct a sack garden the same way it would be constructed in Kenya. Using the help of a small fire and a metal rod, holes were poked into a water tube to be placed in the middle of the sack. We learned that it is important to have many holes throughout the tube as this allows water to percolate throughout all levels of the sack (aka multi-storey garden). The sacks are very affordable to purchase compared to things like plastic buckets which we use in Canada. We discovered that buckets in Kenya relatively expensive to purchase, compared to Canada where we find them commonly discarded at the side of the road.
Learning about value added products was another workshop that garnered much enthusiasm and interest from all the participants. We had a chance to get hands-on training in transforming milk into yogurt, turning peanuts (also called ground nuts) into peanut butter, and fresh mangoes into mango jam. We realized the value added products we were producing in Canada (such as dehydrating and fermenting) were more geared towards preserving the harvest, whereas the Kenyans practiced value addition, not only to prolong the shelf life of the products, but more so to add value to a raw commodity in order to sell at a higher price.
Other interesting things we learnt about, included water harvesting, bio gas production, and small scale livestock production. With water harvesting, this allows the farmers to think outside of the traditional planting times as dictated by the annual rainfall. With bio gas, we saw a farmer using cattle manure in order to reduce his need to purchase charcoal or electricity to cook his dinner. And with the small scale livestock production, we learned how some farmers are doing this to supplement their income and their diets with nutritious and wholesome food.
In addition to the things we learned, we also had an opportunity to share a number of farming techniques we use in Canada with the African youth. These included things on composting, how to build a solar dehydrator, how to make your own self-watering container using buckets, developing entrepreneurship skills such as sales and marketing, and a training on food security.
As we return to Canada and move into the preparation for our upcoming 2012 season, there are several things we hope to take back and implement in our gardens in Toronto. These include putting a more concerted effort into composting and building our soil, incorporating more vertical gardening into our gardens, and sharing the things we learn with our broader community at large.
Overall, this has been a great exchange and valuable opportunity for us to share and learn. Now it’s up to the youth (including us) to get back to work on our projects back home. Maybe this will be the start of a series of exchanges, but right now it’s too early to tell.