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Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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I have been so inspired by other project threads, I have decided to start my own.

We have a 2.5 acre farm in the "sugarbelt" of Western Kenya. Prior to my husband inheriting this piece, it had been a sugarcane plantation for decades.  The heavy acidic clay soil was dead, bare and eroded.  Even the weeds didn't want to grow there. We took over in 2011.

This is a very remote village.  Most of the other villagers are poor small holder subsistence farmers that are still desperately trying to use the big ag techniques that have been preached by extension agents and Monsanto sponsored NGO's.  They just ran power lines out here last year, so most of us are still off the grid. Our road is not a road, and is really only accessible by motorcycle or foot.

The weather is tropical and beautiful nine months out of the year. Temps in the 80s during the day, 50s and 60s at night.  But from late DEC to early march we have the dry season, when its too damn hot and there is almost no rain.

I am posting a pic I took today from down in the ravine I call the toilet bowl. This is my uncle-in-laws house, and one of the properties which "flushes" into the bowl.  I think it gives a good feel for the village landscape.

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Tyler Ludens
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It looks very lush compared to here.  I understand you have a pretty severe dry season.  What is the annual rainfall?

 
Maureen Atsali
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Hi Tyler!
I actually don't know the annual rainfall! I'll look it up and get back to you.

In noting the weather, I forgot to talk about the rain!  When it rains here, its not a gentle shower, it is a torrential downpour with monsoon winds and sometimes hail.  It blows my mind how often we get marble sized hail here on the equator!  So while we need the rain, its also very destructive and there is always a lot of erosion damage, wind fall, and hail damage.

Once it rains, things turn green overnight, it seems.  We've already had a few early storms, so there is already some lush growth.  If I had taken pictures a few weeks ago, it was mostly brown.  Some stuff, like the bananas stay green and lush.  Plus the toilet bowl has a beautiful microclimate, and holds moisture much better than the topside.

Also, weather here moves in unpredictable micro cells, as opposed to the big fronts like in the USA.  It can be raining cats and dogs here while a mile away it is bone dry.  So there is no weather reports beyond, "rain is likely (or not likely) in kakamega county this week.". (And still they are usually wrong!)



 
Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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So the internet says Kakamega gets 1200 to 1700 mm of rain per year.  We are in Kakamega county, but about 2 hours away from Kakamega town and Kakamega has a rainforest and gets a lot more rain than we get.  So I would say we are on the low end or lower than that scale. 
 
Maureen Atsali
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There are six people in my house, myself, the husband, and four kids.  I also have a part-time employee and a bunch of village kids that I call The Day Campers, because they spend every waking moment at my house, and only go back to their own homes to sleep.  I mention them here because I usually end up feeding all these people, and most of that food has to come from the farm.

We live in a traditional mud constructed house with an iron sheet roof. Its still a work in progress.  We try to put aside a little money each month to continue improving it.  We have no indoor plumbing or electricity.  We have a solar power system, an outdoor shower room and a pit latrine.  Its kind of like camping...every day, all year long! 

As for water... There is a well on the property, but it has silted up, needs maintenance and repair.  There are year round active springs down in the toilet bowl ravine, but they are dirty and very difficult to access.  We carry in water from a clean spring off site and put it through a Pure-it water filtration-purifier system for drinking and cooking.  We use rainwater catchment for all other washing, bathing, animals etc.  (Except during the dry season.  Then my employee carries the laundry to a river for washing.)

I think that kind of covers our family and home introduction.  Now I can get into the farm stuff!
 
Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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I think I already mentioned when we came in 2011 the soil was DEAD.  I wish now I had taken pictures of my first garden attempts.  It was a humbling experience.  Here I was boldly advocating for organics and permiculture with all my little packets of expensive imported heirloom seeds... And the garden was a total, complete flop.  Everything was stunted, diseased, infested with insects, failed to germinate or died shortly thereafter.  Looking back now, I think it was pretty damn funny, but at the time it was just embarrassing.  I looked totally incompetent, and I was! Farming in my fertile homeland in Vermont did not prepare me for farming in the extremes of the tropics.  So the last five years have been spent learning as much as I can about tropical agriculture, and applying it, while doing my best to improve the crappy dirt. 

I also had to stop the farm from siphoning money.  The first couple years were a huge drain, financially, until I set some rules for myself.  First, I stopped importing exotic seeds that were totally not adapted for this climate, and started studying indigenous crops.  Those things that the  grands used to grow and eat before the sugarcane moved in.  I started sourcing my seeds from little old ladies in the village.  I made a rule that I only grow what can reproduce for itself, be it by seed, stem, sucker. Whatever.  I am not buying seeds or starts every season.  I buy a few experimental things, but my main crops are from my own seeds now.

The same is true for my animals.  I do not buy any commercial feeds or buy supplemental foods from offsite.  If the farm can't support it, then we have exceeded the carrying capacity of our land.  Because the tropical biomass grows so prolifically, we are able to support a surprising number of animals.  This "no input" rule has made our livestock projects much more efficient and productive.

So here is what we grow:
Trees: eucalyptus, mango, avocado, loquat, jackfruit, guava
Bananas: sweet and starchy varieties
Rootcrops: sweet potato, taro root, cassava
Legumes: cowpea, pigeon pea, common beans, peanuts, bambura groundnut
Maize (corn)
Squash and pumpkins
Green leafies: black nightshade, sun hemp, amaranth, cowpea, Jews mallow, cleome, collards, pumpkins cilantro
Papaya, pineapples, passion fruit
Hot peppers, onions
Domestic sugarcane
Fodder crops: Napier grass, Mexican sunflower

I'm probably forgetting some stuff, but that's the general overview.

For Animals:
Chickens: kuroilers, kenbros, and kienyeji
Ducks: Muscovy
Rabbits: indigenous domestic breed
Goats: SEA meat goats
Cow: zebu
(Sometimes we have kept hair sheep, and pigs, but not right now)
We also have a fishpond for tilapia and catfish that is not in use.

We sold most of our animals recently to raise funds for my son's emergency surgery in January.  So I will have to work on rebuilding my flocks and herds in the coming year.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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Sweet potato lines under the eucalyptus saplings. The leaves are allopathic, but these trees haven't yet dropped enough leaf matter to adversely effect the potatoes.
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Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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The challenges...
-All of the soil issues I have touched on before.  It has improved, but it is still pretty pathetic.  I dump all the mulch and compost on it I can, but the tropical conditions eat through it faster than I produce it.  As for the erosion factor, I haven't done much about that yet, except to try and keep the soil covered in mulch, planted, or otherwise undisturbed.  More erosion control is on the to do list this year.
- By far my biggest losses come from my nearby neighbors - on two fronts.  Their domestic animals which escape or free range onto my property.  Cows, pigs and chickens.  And its not just accidental... I have found their cows TIED in my garden. Secondly thieves of the two legged variety.  They will steal anything.  Sugarcane, greens, fruits, fish from the pond, the dog's chains. The man next door tries to sneak in and cut my Napier grass for his cows.  This last fall my husband caught 4 of that man's kids digging up sweet potatoes and hiding them in the coat of the littlest one.  A few weeks ago someone dug up two young papaya trees that were about 4 feet tall and took the whole trees.  This is a cultural problem here...people pull each other down.  This mentality of "if I can't succeed, neither should you."  Aside from that, especially during the dry season, people are experiencing hunger. 

My husband thinks a good fence will curb that problem.  I am not so optimistic.  It might deter the animals, but I think it will just be a challenge to the people.  Either way, we can't afford to fence the entire 2.5 acres right now, and we have so many other projects on the table.  And projects are a subject for another post.

- The third challenge is ME.  I pretty much handle all the farm work alone.  My husband hates farm work, probably because he was forced to do it as a child.  He runs a tree and timber service.  I love the farm work, but find 2.5 acres an awful lot for one person to manage.  And I am slightly disabled and there is no mechanization.  I can only put in about 2 hours of hard labor a day.  Ohh and add to that that I am highly distractable.  I get side tracked, have too many things going at once, and have a hard time finishing a project.

Fourth is finances.  We survive on 400 USD a month, give or take.  Because we have no debt and no bills and life is fairly cheap here, we are able to survive. But it doesn't leave much for savings, investments, improvements, or emergencies.  We had a terrible problem last month when my 13 yo needed an emergency surgery.  Really opened my eyes for the need of some reserve, which really requires more income.

Always open to new ideas in solving these problems!

 
Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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So I finally get to the post where I get to list my projects and goals for 2017.  My son's emergency surgery last month kind of derailed us and set us back.

1. Finish planting bambura groundnut and cassava in the lower banana forest.

2. Plant peanuts and sunhemp in the upper banana forest.  And plant more bananas in the waiting holes.

3. Plant the well plot with a 3 sister rotation.  Maybe.  My mother in laws pigs have destroyed this plot twice in a row.  Is it worth it to try again?

4. Plant the moringa plot with experimental lentils.

5.  Continue to plant 1 fruit tree a week until I run out of space.

6.  Improve the edible landscape in my yard.  Add more papayas, pineapples, bananas and fruit trees.  Once the fence is up, passion fruits.

7. Finish the stairway down into the toilet bowl.

8. Rehab the fish pond and restock.

9. Hire some strapping young man to clean the waterways in the toilet bowl.

10.  Work in the toilet bowl erosion problem.  Sealed at the top. Diversion lines at the bottom. Lines of Napier grass and sugarcane to slow water and hold soil. A dead hedge along the western boundary.

11. Build some foot bridges to make accessing plots in the toilet bowl easier.

12.  Build a goat house with a raised floor.

13.  Repopulate my goat herd.

14.  Build a new chicken coop with a run.

15.  Repopulate my chicken and duck flocks.

16.  Continue to improve our house.  Interior doors, windows, and another layer of mud on the outside.

17.  Expand the taro root area, basically fill up all the marginal swampy places with taro.

18.  Start a table at the local market to sell excess eggs, veggies, maybe baked goods.  Have enough excess to sell!

19.  Try again with tomatoes.  Import some op seeds.

20.  Organize myself better.  Keep a journal, keep this project thread up to date, take more photos and keep better records.

There you have it.  My top twenty!  If I get even half of it done, I'll be a happy woman.
 
Mike Jay
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Wow, you have some interesting challenges.  I'm enjoying reading your thread, thanks for putting it out here.

When I saw your #9 goal I thought it was going to say "Hire some strapping young man to presumably tend to the animals but really be there to deter theft"
 
Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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Mike, we have discussed hiring a night watchman!  There are always young Masai men who hire themselves out for that job. (And while you pay for one, they always seem to come with a few friends.). We decided its not in the budget yet, and we'd rather apply that money toward some of these infrastructure projects... But it will definitely be a future consideration!  Just as long as the watchman doesn't also steal!
 
Tyler Ludens
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About the erosion - can your husband bring any tree materials left over from his work to your place which you could use to make brush berms on contour?  I've found these to be very helpful, even if they aren't very large.  They don't need to be hugelkultur, they don't need to have dirt piled on them to help slow run off.

I also make rock berms on contour, but I don't get the impression you have a lot of rock there.

 
Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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Hi Tyler,
I have lots of rocks!  They are just on the opposite end of the property from where I need them. 

Tree matter is like gold around here, so unfortunately when the husband processes someone's tree, the customer usually keeps everything, right down to the sawdust.  Firewood is still the main cooking fuel for most homes, and its so hard to get that people use even the small twigs.

But, that being said, I generate a lot of brush on site.  Once the rains start, the jungle grows like crazy.  I slash down the jungle and feed it to the goats, then I am left with the sticks after they strip off the leaves and tender bits.  I have been piling this brush on the western boundary where the neighbors property drops on to ours.  There is a steep slope and then about a 5 foot drop off.  I am stacking the brush under that drop off on the hopes it will catch any organic matter in the water, and slow the waterfall that comes off that hill.  I also pile thorns and thistles in it to discourage people from harvesting firewood from it and I hope it might deter kids from crossing the boundary there if they have to scramble over six feet of thorns and prickers.  I got that idea from your thread on rehabbing the creek bed, and also from a guy who talked about using a dead hedge to fence his goats.

I also have a hope that as the brush decomposes, it will rebuild that eroded drop off and create a more gradual slope.

I am planning to dig some actual s w a l e s at the top.  (Stupid autocorrect changes s w a l e to sealed every time I type it!). I am also planting my fruit trees along the rim.  adding brush seems like a good idea too, especially since digging s w a l e s by hand is going to take time.  Moving all those rocks by hand... Meh.  Maybe I'll work on that, when planting projects are done.
 
Maureen Atsali
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This is the spot I am working on right now.  Its not an area we have done much work on because it is right on the boundary with our very troublesome neighbors.  We started putting some bananas down here last year, and got a decent harvest on them in Dec and January.  I did a small section of peanuts in the bananas last season, and they did crazy - good. But the neighbor's kids started pulling them and eating them raw before they were fully mature.  That forced me to harvest all of them immature... They were at the edible stage but not the seed saving stage.

So this season I decided on tsimbande (bambura groundnut).  This bad boy grows much like a peanut, putting down pegs, but it is otherwise much more like a bean.  It is not tastey raw, and therefore I hope not such a target for the munchkin mafia next door.  It also does well in poor soils... And this soil is crappy.  The whole time I have been planting, I have only seen three earthworms, and a ton of ants.  Not much else for soil life.  I interplanted with cassava stem, a combination I have not tried before.  Everything is an experiment!  I try to put in 5 lines a day, and I am almost out of seed.  Hmmm do I break my own rules and buy more so I can finish the plot?  Or do I throw down sunhemp in the remainder and leave it to duke it out with the weeds another season?

Yep, you'll see I plant in lines.  Weed control is such here that scattered seed hasn't worked well.  Also being disabled, I need stuff that is easy to work with.
Doesn't look too impressive at the moment.  Hopefully I'll have a good after pic in a few weeks.  Or rather, an in progress pic.
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Maureen Atsali
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Ever seen a bambura ground nut?  I had not, before I came to this village, and an old lady gave me some as a gift

They cook like a dry bean, or you can boil them fresh like a peanut.  The taste is kind of like a bean with a peanut butter aftertaste.  It is supposed to be super nutritious, and is touted online as being a key food to eliminating food insecurity.  It tolerates poor soil, and will tolerate drought once established.  But here in this village, the locals have a funny attitude toward it (and I have read that this kind of attitude is pervasive throughout Africa.). This is considered "poor peoples food," a crop for old grandmas to futz with, not a serious food crop for a serious farmer.  And yet, you want to see a happy Luhya man?  Make traditional food with this in it.  They go nuts for it.  Since nobody farms it seriously, its hard to find, and actually fetches a hot price on the market, averaging about $5 per goro goro (2kg).  To compare, maize is less than a dollar, beans are about a dollar fifty, and peanuts are about $3.  Kinda makes you scratch your head, doesn't it?
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Maureen Atsali
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Location: Western Kenya
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This is Caesar, a 6 month old SEA goat we sort of rescued.  We paid USD 18 dollars and rescued the owner is probably more accurate.  We considered using him as a new herd sire, but he isn't very impressive.  Unless he really grows into himself in the next few months, he'll probably be off to the market.
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Maureen Atsali
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And this is Miss Moo, the Zebu calf I didn't want.  Our bushy property is much more suited to goats,  and it will be iffy to see if we produce enough fodder to support cows.  And I told the husband there is no way I am going to be roped into milking her when that day comes!  But for now she is small and cute and kind of funny.  She is weirdly attached to Ceasar the goat.  They sleep together, play together, graze together.  The odd couple.
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Alan Kirk
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You might need one of these in the garden!

https://www.facebook.com/potoaction/photos/a.314256591958569.91682.219440488106847/1414727681911449/?type=3&theater
Staff note (Rebecca Norman):

This facebook photo is not visible to me: it "may only be visible to an audience that you aren't in". If you edit your post and upload the photo here it would be visible to all.

 
Su Ba
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Those Bambara ground nuts sound really interesting.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Haha Alan, I love that!  Since our soil is sticky clay, it would probably work too!  The locals are already speculating that I am using witchcraft to keep my garden growing during the dry season
... I wonder what they would think if they found a mud-man?
 
Maureen Atsali
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I only got two rows planted this morning.  I got distracted by the wild mushrooms!  They pop up when the rains start, and only last a couple weeks.  My husband says that when he was a kid these mushrooms were EVERYWHERE and so prolific that a kid could go out and fill a 50 kg sack in an hour.  They were dried and were a staple of the poor villagers diet.  Now they are kind of scarce and you have to hunt for them.  Do you think this is because the soil has been so ravaged by mono cropping sugarcane and maize for so many generations?  What can be done to restore the mushrooms?

Anyway, they were delicious!  I didn't think to take a picture until after I cooked them.  Ooops!  Next time!
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Tyler Ludens
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To restore the mushrooms I think there would need to be land restoration using chop and drop mulch to provide sufficient organic material for them to live on.  The "Greening the Desert" project was even able to get mushrooms to grow in the desert just by mulching in swales.  Mushrooms seem to especially like woody mulch.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Well, I mulch with everything I can get my hands on.  Its not nearly enough to cover everything, but I like to hope that something is better than nothing!  Most of my mulch is actually semi composted weeds that go back to the garden.  I can't get my hands on much wood product suitable for mulching.  It will be interesting to see if the wild mushroom harvests improve on our property over time.
 
Francesco Delvillani
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Maureen Atsali wrote:
So here is what we grow:
Trees: eucalyptus, mango, avocado, loquat, jackfruit, guava
Bananas: sweet and starchy varieties
Rootcrops: sweet potato, taro root, cassava
Legumes: cowpea, pigeon pea, common beans, peanuts, bambura groundnut
Maize (corn)
Squash and pumpkins
Green leafies: black nightshade, sun hemp, amaranth, cowpea, Jews mallow, cleome, collards, pumpkins cilantro
Papaya, pineapples, passion fruit
Hot peppers, onions
Domestic sugarcane
Fodder crops: Napier grass, Mexican sunflower



You could plant many other tropical fruit trees as: Carambola, Cherimoya, Soursop, Black Sapote, White Sapote, Canistel, Lacuma, Syzygium jambos, Mammey Sapote etc....
 
Tyler Ludens
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Maureen Atsali wrote:  I can't get my hands on much wood product suitable for mulching.


Can you plant legume trees specifically for mulching?  This is a typical permaculture strategy.
 
Regan Dixon
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Location: Zone 4b at 1000m, post glacial soil...British Columbia
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Hello Maureen, I first saw this thread last night.  I woke up this morning remembering you'd said that you get a lot of human garden predators.  I'm unfamiliar with the culture there...I note you said that others will bring a successful person down, because nobody's supposed to get ahead, or something to that effect.  I wonder if a couple of things might be going on here:  might that be the negative form of a cultural value of everyone working for everyone's benefit?  The ideal being that if one person is succeeding, they should share that success with those who are not?  If they laughed at you at first for doing everything wrong, I doubt they are laughing at you now if you are keeping your garden green in the dry season.  Could you share your green garden secrets with them, the benefit of your knowledge, if anyone is willing to listen?  That knowledge would help them do better with their own crappy soil, too, and if adopted, everyone could do better.  Or perhaps you've tried that already.
 
Cath Brown
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I agree with Regan Dixon...reach out to the women (check out Wangari Mathaai)....Kenya's culture has sadly become like that of its politicians, i.e. grab/ steal what you can at any cost.
If firewood is a problem...introduce your neighbour to wood burning rocket stoves....they are available now in Kenya for a reasonable price. Good luck!
 
Tyler Ludens
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I wonder if PRI Kenya can give any helpful advice.  http://pri-kenya.org/
 
Maureen Atsali
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Francesco- I very much want to diversify and plant many more varieties of fruit trees.  But as I mentioned in another thread, I am in a very remote location and having a hard time sourcing seeds or seedlings for other types.  There are a lot of things that should grow well here, but nobody is growing them.. If you go to any nurseries here you will mostly find what I have already planted.  On my next trip to Nairobi I will see if I can find something new and interesting.  But that's a 9 hour bus trip I usually only make once a year.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Tyler-
I don't want to sound like a negative Nelly here- but PRI Kenya is SO far out of reach for the average Kenyan.... They offer some great workshops in Nairobi, and last year they held a pdc at a fantastic eco resort on the coast.  But the average farmer here makes less than USD 1.50 a day.  Who can afford a $600 workshop plus all the related expenses of travel, accommodation, and food?  Just saying...
 
Maureen Atsali
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Regan and Cath,
This is a really difficult and complicated culture, Kenya as a whole and this tribal community in general.  I don't want to sound like I am badmouthing my neighbors, but this is my experience:

Because of being colonized by the British and then being inundated with missionaries from the Western world even up to the present day, I find a culture that has absorbed the attitude of "learned helplessness".  They want hand-outs and tend to despise a hand up.  They expect all foreigners to come "bearing gifts". 

Speaking of this village in particular, I have found these people do not have a teachable spirit.  Conformity is HUGE.  There is one agricultural group that has made inroads here, called "One Acre Fund".  They form groups of villagers and attempt to teach " modern" farming in the form of monocropping Monsanto seed and applying chemical fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides.  They have been successful at reaching these groups because they offer LOANS specifically to enable the members to buy these chemical inputs.  I disagree with almost everything this group teaches. BUT they do try to get the farmers to practice crop rotation.  My mother-in-law is a group LEADER.  And she has NEVER rotated her crops.  She has planted maize in the same place for as long as I have been here.  My point being, they join the groups to get the loans, but they still don't follow the teaching.  Mother in laws fields are becoming infested with striga, her yeilds go down every year, and every year she has to put in more and more chemical.  But she won't try something new.

Another cultural strong hold is the idea that you have to start at the top.  I have run into this over and over.  I tried to open a health clinic, and it went no where because the people I was trying to work with expected me to build and fund a full blown hospital.  The idea of a two room clinic was outrageous.  In a tiny village with no healthcare.  I was asked by a British NGO to speak to a group about poultry rearing for profit.  I worked with them to come up with a plan to furnish participants with 10 hens, a rooster and a chicken tractor.  The members were outraged and insulted by such a small start.  They wanted a fullblown battery chicken factory.  It blows my mind how people can despise a small start so much!

What I am trying to say here is that I am ready and willing to help my neighbors, but they aren't ready or willing to be helped... Or to receive the help I am willing to give.  They all mocked my farming attempts, but I thought they might be more receptive if they saw it working in action.  Instead, people were literally saying I used WITCHCRAFT to make my vegetables grow during the dry season.
 
Maureen Atsali
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The husband brought me a few more wild mushrooms this morning.  So here is what they look like:
IMG_20170304_092302_1.jpg
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Maureen Atsali
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These are some of my bewitched dry season vegetables.  This is omurere (Jews mallow) I planted, and amaranth which self seeded.  They look a bit pathetic because we only eat the leaves, so we prune the plant, and let it grow again.  We can get 3 or 4 harvests, and then we let the exhausted plant go to seed.  These are being left to seed now.

Jews mallow is a traditional food here.  It is kind of slimey, like okra, but if you can get past the texture, the taste is delicious.
IMG_20170226_163959_1.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20170226_163959_1.jpg]
 
Maureen Atsali
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Another variety of wild mushrooms! These ones are quite rare, and they can get huge, well over a foot in diameter.  The husband snatched these up before kids could find them.  These did not come from our farm, they were found in someone's sugarcane field.  Kinda puts a dent in my theory that sugarcane farming is ruining the wild mushroom population.
IMG_20170304_153409.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20170304_153409.jpg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Maureen Atsali wrote:Tyler-
I don't want to sound like a negative Nelly here- but PRI Kenya is SO far out of reach for the average Kenyan.... They offer some great workshops in Nairobi, and last year they held a pdc at a fantastic eco resort on the coast.  But the average farmer here makes less than USD 1.50 a day.  Who can afford a $600 workshop plus all the related expenses of travel, accommodation, and food?  Just saying...


Not for a PDC, but for other information, sources, contacts etc.

Contact with other Kenyan permaculturists.

 
Maureen Atsali
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Thanks Tyler its a good suggestion.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Well this week has been a waste.  I had/have malaria and I have barely left the bed.  Malaria is endemic here, you can't avoid it. We sleep under nets and all that, but here I am.  Right when I should be busting my butt to get my seeds in the ground... Ugh. So frustrating!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Oh no, Maureen, I'm so sorry.  I hope you feel better soon.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Thanks for the well wishes.  I am back in the land of the living today. 

I went with the husband to Mumias today.  Friday is their outdoor market day and all the streets are lined with vendors.  We went nosing through all the nurseries and managed to find orange saplings and what I think is a mandarin.  Neither the guy nor my husband knew am English name, so I am just guessing based on their descriptions.  Citrus isn't usually grown in these parts, but I did find a wild orange on my mother in laws property, so I know they can.  Every time I stumble on something new I feel like I found a treasure... And it gives me a head start over trying to grow from seeds.  The husband also transplanted 2 avocados and a mango into our yard.  The yard is nearly maxed out for trees, so next its the ridge line of the toilet bowl.
 
Maureen Atsali
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Reevaluating my goals...

From the start my main objective with the farm was to be as self sufficient as possible.  Basically I wanted to feed my family.  Last year, we pretty much achieved that goal, eating almost exclusively from what we raised on the farm.  I was still buying tea, honey, salt and cooking fat.  (If I was really motivated, I could keep bees, plant oil palms, and grow tea... Then all we would really need is salt.). Occasionally the mono diet would make me nuts and I would splurge for store bought stuff... White rice, a loaf of bread, chocolate!  We had lots of animals, but since that's my main source of farm income, we were selling them rather than eating them... So my diet had become unintentionally almost vegan.

A little back story here: I have been obese most of my adult life.  I was over 300 lbs and a hardcore diabetic when I came to Africa.  Within weeks of arrival my blood sugar stabilized, and I was able to go off all medications, and over the course of a year I lost about 120 lbs, effortlessly.  I kept it off for 5 years and through two pregnancies.

But last year, I started to gain weight again.  And while I am out of strips to test, I think the diabetes is also back. (Ants in the pee bucket probably means sugar in the urine!). I was kind of mystified... I am working harder, physically, than I ever have in my life.  Most people would say I have an uber healthy diet. 

Then I had the lightbulb moment back before Christmas.  The farm diet is extremely high in carbs.  Sweet potatoes, cassava, taro, starchy banana and maize make up the bulk of our calories... And I think my insulin resistant body just can't process all that sugar.

So I have been thinking about how to change the farm so that I can still eat... Without overloading on carbs.  the answer I came up with is to focus more on livestock.  Still grow the starchy veggies, but let the animals convert it into energy I can safely consume.  The problem is keeping more animals means we need more infrastructure.  Another problem is that we sold off almost all of our animals to pay for Alex's surgery.  I have a handful of chickens and ducks left, a couple of goats, one rabbit and one cow.  So I feel like I am starting from scratch.  When we moved from my mother in laws compound to our own last year we had to leave behind the big chicken coop, the goat house, the pigsty, and the rabbit hutches.  So we have to build all those structures.  (Currently the chickens and ducks sleep in the chicken tractor, the cow and the goats sleep in the unfinished bathroom!)

Money, money money!
 
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