Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19

by Seed Programs International
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Gardens Grow Food for Families During COVID-19
Potato seed donations in NC ready for distribution
Potato seed donations in NC ready for distribution

Hi all,

Today on this Earth Day, we at SPI have been reflecting on the ways in which our relationship to the earth is, at its core, characterized by reciprocity. Nature is not something outside of us; the landscape is not something we are excluded from. Deep down, we are a part of the landscape. Cultivating a garden is one of the best ways to return to this knowing. When we grow a garden, when we tend to the earth, we build relationship with the landscape, and learn that just as the earth supports us, so do we support the earth. It is our aim to continue to strengthen this reciprocity.

Gardens provide food security, and sadly, in many parts of the US, food insecurity continues to be an issue. Since 2020, we have partnered with Conscious Alliance to build food security from the ground up in one of the most food insecure communities in the US: Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Pine Ridge Reservation covers 3,469 sq miles, and yet there is only one full-service grocery store for its 40,000 inhabitants. Calling it a food desert may be an understatement. Most families struggle with hunger and when there is access to food, the food is most often poor in nutritional value. This was the case prior to COVID-19, and in its wake, the situation has only gotten worse. 

Conscious Alliance's garden program on the reservation began in 2017. Due to the intense climate with a short growing season, compounded by poor, infertile soil, home garening has not been a common practice on the reservation. The primary community garden is located at the Pine Ridge School, with a plethora of raised beds, green houses, and various gardening systems. Pine Ridge youth manage the gardens during the summer, offering these young people an opportunity to build relationship with the earth, care for their community by providing fresh produce, and learn more about self-sufficiency and sustainability. Much of the produce is hand delivered to the doors of elderly in the community, as well as given to local families and children. Every year since 2017, ten new families receive a raised garden bed, an introduction to gardening, as well as all garden inputs, including seeds and starts. 

We at SPI have been honored to support this program with Conscious Alliance to help empower and support the 40,000 Oglala Lakota that call Pine Ridge home, and who continue to thrive in spite of centuries of marginalization. 

This year, our partnership with Conscious Alliance is off to a great start. We just got 3,500 pounds of potato seeds donation, all of which are going into the hands of Conscious Alliance. Pine Ridge Reservation receive preference in how many seeds are desirable and needed in their communities for gardens. Additionally, a large bulk of the seed is currently en route to Chicago Grows Food, a grassroots organization that is building food security from the ground up in urban communities in Chicago. Finally, many of the seeds will remain in Buncombe County, North Carolina to support local community garden projects in Appalachia. 

We are able to focus on food security at home here in the US thanks to supporters like you. We want you to know that your donation matters, and that everytime you donate, you are supporting full bellies one family at a time, and the resilience and wellbeing of a community.

Thank you for your commitment to that. 

Home garden at Pine Ridge
Home garden at Pine Ridge
Healthy pumpkin harvest!
Healthy pumpkin harvest!
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Buzunesh, farmer and mother, in Ethiopia
Buzunesh, farmer and mother, in Ethiopia

Hi all!

Greetings from Ethiopia, where we work with GrowEastAfrica to reduce hunger and malnutrition, while also providing women with income to keep their children in school and increase their financial stability. Currently, our focus is on improving the lives of internally displaced persons through active women’s groups. We’d like to introduce you to Buzunesh, one of the women of the Birhan Ladies Group.

Before, Buzunesh and her husband, Oume, worked on the family farm growing teff, beans, and wheat. She sold excess cereals, like teff, at the local market, but had neither the training nor the support to expand her trade. Money was tight on a good day with a good harvest, and Buzunesh, like many women like her, knew that one poor harvest–due to missed rains, grazing cattle, or a rise in internal conflict–could easily put her and her family in a dire situation.

After being approached by her community coordinator, Buzunesh joined the Birhan Ladies Group with the hope of expanding opportunities for herself, her husband, and their six children. Since joining the group, Buzunesh has not only received training for new skillsets, but the camaraderie of a group of like-minded women all trying to do right by their families with the resources they have. Now, Buzunesh has worked with the group to cultivate her vegetable and quinoa farming skills, and has been a part of trainings that taught her important skills in market development approach and bookkeeping.

That’s not all. GEA, a local organization driven by local solutions, ensures that every training is holistic and all-encompassing. In addition to market development and bookkeeping, as well as basics in diversifying crop types, Buzunesh also learned to incorporate modern drip irrigation systems and solar energy into her farm. Her farm has expanded to include tomatoes, kale, round head cabbage, onions, peppers and carrots. With a growing family, she values the added nutrition and food security the new crops provide her and her children.

Her market endeavours have expanded too: she trades at fruit stands and prepares local drinks as a value-added agricultural product, which brings her more income than the base ingredient ever could. This is made possible by collaborating with the fellow women in her group and a GEA program which matches their investment dividends. For example, last year members contributed 1,000 Birrs ($21) each to a fund that GEA matched, giving the group a total of 10,000 Birrs ($214!) to invest in their community. After selling teff in the local market, their fund grew to 13,000 Birrs, and is projected to grow. This projection is in part due to the “Equibb” savings plan, where members save 100 Birrs a week to set aside for investments. With their newfound financial abundance, Buzunesh and her women’s group are excited to expand their vegetable and grain production.

The women’s group has been a smashing success, and it’s safe to say that the women are prepared to build off that success. With the group now having the skills to meet and adapt to problems as they come–from market changes to climate variability–the women have a well-founded sense of optimism for their futures. For example, Buzunesh explained to us that while the 2020 floods ruined their teff and quinoa crops, they were able to shift gears and invest their time and energy into preserving their vegetable fields. This hard work paid off, and shows that crop diversification leads to great resilience, as now they have multiple avenues for increasing successful seasons.

These programs are able to continue in part thanks to donors like you. On behalf of Buzunesh, the Birhan Ladies Group, GrowEastAfrica, and our team here at Seed Programs International, thank you for your support. We hope you’ll continue on this journey together, to provide seeds of change to communities throughout the world.

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Women with garden sign
Women with garden sign

Hi there folks, 

This update comes to us from Uganda, where Preserve International has pivoted from their original program to persist in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The realities of the situation on the ground have challenged many of our affiliates, including Preserve International. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, our partners have been resilient and, we’re pleased to report, have seen their continued efforts rewarded.  

Initially, the plan was to have women from the Swinga Women’s Group use seeds donated by SPI to become an agriculturally self-sufficient community within the BidiBidi Refugee camp. Due to complications and restrictions associated with COVID-19, their plans had to change. Now, the primary focus is on creating opportunities for Swinga Women’s Group members to earn money selling their crops. Over the last few months, Preserve International has trained and paid the women to manage farms on the Sparky Dryer at their new compound in Yumbe. Through this effort, the participants prepared a new demonstration farm and preserved the harvest from their pilot demonstration farm. 

The benefits of providing aid and seeds to the Swinga Women’s Group, in partnership with Preserve International, are evident. Most importantly, at the new compound, women have access to beds, shelter, rooms, and education/training to ensure the health and safety of all the women, staff, and community members involved in this project. Participants say that they feel a renewed sense of hope and pride in their work. Meanwhile, Preserve International notes that the opportunity to create their own business from the food they grow has helped some women avoid making difficult decisions, such as early marriage and dropping out of school. Long term, it is expected that this new direction will only grow as the success of Swinga Women’s Group continues to succeed.

Moving forward, it is clear that the ramifications of COVID-19 are not going away anytime soon. The original goal to provide the tools and training for this community to be agriculturally self-sufficient was originally scheduled for 2020, but any semblance of a post-covid world is unlikely to come to Uganda until at least late 2022. Similarly, travel to Yumbe had to be put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions, but we expect to deliver a new shipment of SPI seeds in early 2022. We look forward to seeing Preserve International continue to meet the moment and address the most pressing needs of their constituents. With your sustained donations, we will help make the new goal of total self-sustaining communities a reality. 

From our team at SPI and our partners at Preserve International, thank you for your support.

Women in classroom
Women in classroom
Drying okra
Drying okra
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Junel with cabbage
Junel with cabbage

Hi Folks, 

This update comes from our partners Feed the Children, who are working with private and public schools in Haiti and Guatemala to implement school gardens. These gardens will be cultivated areas around the school premises and will be cared for by students, parents, and school personnel. School gardens in Haiti are particularly important for supplementing healthy student meals that are rich in vitamins and nutrients. Healthy meals enable students to grow, develop, and focus on their learning during the school day. This program will focus on four schools in Guatemala and three in Haiti.

As you can imagine, the project was widely affected by COVID-19 when schools shut down the entire school year in both countries.During the school shutdown,, Feed the Children prepared different aspects of the project so everything was in place for the students’ return. 

For example, in Haiti the primary source of water for the school gardens will be the potable water systems on site at each school. During the rainy season, very little irrigation is typically necessary. However, due to significant changes in weather patterns, including long droughts, it is necessary to have irrigation year-round. Since water is scarce for many of the schools, having the capacity to capture and store rainwater is important for day to day school activities. To ensure water access, Feed the Children implemented a conduit and capture system to collect rainwater off the school roof during the rainy season to be stored throughout the dry months.

Junel, Director of the Père Coatalem de Dufresney school in Haiti had this to say about the projects and their impact on the community:

I would like to thank Feed the Children and Seed Programs International for all the support provided in our community, particularly the school support. I want to especially highlight the school garden project, which has become more important than the initial objectives, namely, to diversify and strengthen the food that is given to children in the canteen.

The whole community benefits from this project, in the sense that people discover other economic opportunities because of what we produce in the school gardens. The vegetables that the schools grow were not typical for the community. Initially, they did not think that the area could produce these vegetables or that there was a market for these vegetables. So, I'm talking about real economic opportunities that are opening to us in the community because its products are indeed in great demand.

- Junel, Director of the Père Coatalem de Dufresney

 

It is important to emphasize that the school garden project goes beyond technical learning for the  students. Children who receive the training and knowledge become student advocates for garden activities and are able to teach other students, as well as their family members, to encourage additional  school, community, and household gardens. As part of project implementation, community leaders and volunteers were also trained to monitor the garden and provide on-going support.

This is especially important, going into the second year of the COVID-19. Widespread global food shortages are predicted, so being able to take these skills from the classroom to a home garden are necessary to combat pandemic food insecurity in communities worldwide.

We look forward to updating you as this project progresses. Projects like this are possible in part because of donors like you, so from Feed the Children and Seed Programs International, thank you for your support!

-the SPI Team

Creating garden beds
Creating garden beds
Learning about the garden
Learning about the garden
Planting seeds
Planting seeds
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Betty distributing new farm tools to the Group
Betty distributing new farm tools to the Group

Hi Folks, 

This report comes from Preserve International, our partner in Uganda who is working with Swinga Women’s Group and the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement. Preserve International aims to develop garden-based nutrition, increase income, and provide access to technical vegetable production knowledge within the communities they serve. These aims help to establish food security, an increasingly important goal as we continue into the ninth month of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Thus far, Preserve International has been pivotal in addressing some of the community’s immediate needs resulting from the pandemic, namely food shortages.

Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement houses over 280,000 refugees, primarily from South Sudan. Many of these refugees are receiving the majority of their food from the World Food Program and UNHCR affiliated organizations. Last month a 30% reduction in rations was announced with rumors of a further reduction to 50% in the next several weeks. This has put many families and communities in crisis. 

Preserve International supplies the quarantine center with food for people in mandated quarantine in addition to several locally run and managed orphanages, and individuals in the community living with mental and physical disabilities. Many are homeless, and the community donates extra food when they can. However, folks find it difficult to spare food in an already strained environment, which amplifies the risk for those who have additional challenges to accessing food and nutrition.

It is absolutely vital that farmers are able to plant now so that they have a strong harvest in a few months. Further, efficient preservation and distribution can help ensure that nothing goes to waste in the event that the food shortages continue. Unfortunately, because of the total lockdown, many farmers have been unable to access the necessary tools and seeds they need due to the closure of agro-shops.  

Preserve International has engaged with Swinga Women’s Group, refugees primarily from Bari speaking tribes in the southern region of Central Equatoria State in South Sudan. Most of these women fled South Sudan during the reignition of conflict and fall of Kajo Keji in 2016. Bari peoples are traditionally agrarian and the Swinga Women’s Group is particularly eager to begin work on increased vegetable production and food preservation processes. The group quickly became the primary caretakers of the demonstration farm. Seeds and farm tools were distributed. With supporting funds, two large Sparky Dryers — food dehydrators which run on solar power and organic waste to dry fruits and vegetables quickly — were purchased for the farm so the harvest can be preserved for months instead of days. 

 

“...the women were feeling hopeless and helpless to improve the situation for themselves and their families. Since we have begun working with them they now go with dignity because they have value in their homes and communities. Hiring the women to work the demonstration farm has had a double impact. Not only is it providing hands-on training, but it is also a means of income for women in an extraordinarily difficult time. 

This is especially impactful for some of the younger, school-aged women who have not been able to attend classes since spring. We are seeing a huge trend of very young women and girls marrying early or getting pregnant because they do not feel they have any other options. The young women that are working on the demonstration farm are learning about agriculture, food preservation, and food-based businesses as well as earning an income. They feel more hopeful about their futures and their ability to survive and thrive without marriage or pregnancy so young. 

For us, this is a huge win! Perhaps not the goal we originally set out for, but a wonderful result from the programs that we hadn’t thought about.

- Betty, Operations Manager with Preserve International

 

This year has been challenging, but in many ways it has still been a great success for Preserve International and SPI. The initial goals of helping that community to become completely self-sufficient through sustainable agriculture and food preservation in 2020 have been pushed back due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, our partnership has had a positive impact in the community — not only through the provision of high-quality seeds, farm tools, and food preservation training, but also through additional economic and educational opportunities provided by the demonstration farm.

From Seed Programs International and Persevere International, thank you. As you can see, our work together is more important than ever going into 2021.

— The SPI Team

The Swinga Women's Group with their new farm tools
The Swinga Women's Group with their new farm tools
Betty performing a demonstration with Sparky Dryer
Betty performing a demonstration with Sparky Dryer
Preparing the produce to be preserved
Preparing the produce to be preserved
Loading the Sparky Dryer
Loading the Sparky Dryer
Dried and packaged produce
Dried and packaged produce
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Seed Programs International

Location: Asheville, NC - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Greg Bonin
Asheville, NC United States
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