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My task: turning barren land into a food garden for disempowered women and girls in India

 
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Hello fellow plant lovers and permies!

I am currently volunteering at a grassroots organization in Jodhpur, India. Their aim is to empower and give support to greatly suppressed women and girls. This organization does *so* much, but one aspect I'll briefly share is that they sponsor 50 girls to live in one of their boarding homes (they have two). These girls are able to go to school and live in a safe environment that allow personal growth and peace.

I recently sat down with the founder of the organization to share an idea I had since before I even got here. I would like to establish a food garden for the girls at the boarding home to use. This would allow fresh, organic food in their boarding home kitchen and allow the girls to have another place they can safely go to. Plus, I think gardens are healing places and these girls have gone through so much. Not to mention...being able to sustain yourself is incredibly empowering.

He loved my idea and MAGICALLY already had land that could be used for this goal. So, now my dream is to build this food garden. I only have three weeks left here and then will go back home in the states. I will fundraise and research how to turn this barren land into the food garden supportive of these girls. I will then return in November to begin and execute the plan.

My first thought is I could build and heal the soil while I'm still here. Also, of course, visit this plot of land as much as possible to really read it and understand it. However, I am a newbie to desert growing!!! My experience in growing comes from the mid-west and in Guatemala. I'm trying to find people I can reach out who have sustainably healed desert-like lands. Anyone have any suggestions? Water storage and catching will be crucial as well...
 
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This sounds like a noble effort and I wish you great success with it.

You are probably familiar with Geoff Lawton. He has some very good videos concerning his efforts in Jordan.

This sounds like quite an undertaking, so I think the most important thing for success is that you make sure that others share your vision and are willing to help. It would also be a good idea to create a spot now, where every bit of organic waste can be piled. You are going to need lots of compost and mulch. Maybe the girls could be enlisted to gather materials from a vegetable market or other places where it accumulates. They can bring it home to feed chickens and then you'd have more material.

Is this a place for orphans, or girls who have been abused in some way? No matter what their situation, it can really build self-esteem if they are able to participate in the creation of something good, and see the results and reap the benefits. So you want to make sure the person in charge is behind you 100% and can make sure that you don't run short of labor.

A spot like this needs to produce food but I think it would also be nice to have some seating and maybe a place to have lunch. I hope you'll include some trees as well as row crops or whatever is planned. There are some things that will give you a canopy very quickly.

From a technical point of view, your greatest challenge will be securing year round water. So you want to have that sorted out because without it you don't know how extensive the garden can be.
 
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The website lost my first attempt at responding to your question. (loud sounds of frustration emit from my lips) LOL!

Water is a foundational concern. The adage is "Slow the water, Spread the water, and Sink the water". In a desert, you must think in terms of capturing all the rainwater that touches your land.

If you control where the water goes, you will know where to plant your Food Forest garden guilds (a plant guild is a collection of plants that create a symbiotic web of mutual support).

Brad Lancasters' two-volume tomes on Rainwater Harvesting will serve as your bible for supplying water for your garden. They are available on Amazon.com and Chelseagreen.com, among other online resources. Other books include Stella Otto's books about orchards and berries. Look at some of the other "greening-the Desert" threads for links that I have posted pointing to videos and articles on Restorative Pastures and Intensive Livestock Management.

You need to set for your new gardeners the task of observing the land and plan how best to use the whole property. Then determine a plan of development that starts with small steps that following actions can build on. For instance, some areas may be suitable as pastures at first as a method for restoring larger tracts of poor soil. If a self-sustaining pasture can be established, it may be possible to offer livestock herding services to local livestock owners, which could provide funding for other garden projects.

Establish a place to compost all organic materials, such as food scraps, manure from livestock, and other restorative gardening techniques, such as restorative pastures and intensive livestock management techniques. I have posted links on some of the other threads on this site.

Figure out where your "food trees" and "nurturing trees" can best be established, and plant your rainwater harvest where it will support those trees. Those trees will serve as the "Anchor Plants" for the rest of your food-forest plant guilds.

Early on, establish a "seed-saving" library and a system for saving seeds, and a plan for collecting cuttings to propagate new plants from existing perennial food plants. Also, create a library for books on gardening that can help your charges to research and teach themselves in your absence. Perhaps you can get some donations of books from the many experts on this site. The garden project should be integrated into any literacy project that may already be in place.

I am a "soils and water" guy, I hope the plant experts will soon chime in on the best plants to use. Observe what the other farmers in the area plant, but also observe what native food plants are supporting the local wildlife.

I will cut this comment short, but be sure to reply with any more specific questions that your situation brings up. Good luck in all of your endeavors.

 
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For garden beds perhaps you should look into depressed garden beds. These are gardens that are sunken into the ground. you'd also want to mulch. Alongside plants like squashes to shade out the ground and keep in moisture. if you plan on putting in trees you'll need something to shade the ground in the meantime. Zai pits would be something to consider. Along with other things swales might be useful but also terracing any hills
 
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