In November of 2007 we were asked by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) to go to Popayan, Colombia to conduct a two-year family gardening project. During the first phase we were expected to assist 100 families (60 LDS and 40 non-LDS) to learn and grow gardens.
We established a one acre garden on the Agriculture College campus of the University Del Cauca , including a large seedling greenhouse and storage shed.
Thirty five adult students committed themselves to being Leaders and investing at least 20 hours per week (plus travel time to and from their homes) for three months of intensive training. The training consisted of 2 hours in the classroom and 4+ hours in the garden, three days per week, plus time in their own gardens replicating what they learned, again with our assistance as needed.
In the greenhouse we grew 10,000 seedlings at a time, and tables outside the greenhouse could hold 10,000 more, so we produced ample seedlings for the demonstration garden, our students’ home gardens, plus many to give away to other families in the community.
In spite of very heavy rains 5-7 days per week the Model garden flourished, and after about 6 weeks the College Dean and many of the professors requested that they be taught these scientific gardening principles and procedures. One college class even conducted an experiment which proved the superiority of the Project’s (Mittleider) fertilizers as compared to their traditional materials. This turned out to be very impressive to all who saw it, and was beneficial to the Project.
In the first two months, in addition to the model garden, most of our student leaders created, planted, and cared for gardens at their homes, and very quickly they were being asked to teach and assist their neighbors and friends.
News of the Project soon spread throughout the community, and educators, government agronomists, and even the Mayor and Governor became interested. At the request of the Governor two student leaders created a beautiful and productive garden outside his bedroom window, which was tended by soldiers stationed there to protect the First Family.
The Governor’s support carried much weight in the region, as he was formerly a university president, the Colombian ambassador to Brazil, and the National Defense Minister.
After our departure in the spring of 2008 the man we trained as our replacement started a new training cycle with another large group of students. He was also asked to teach about 90 University Agriculture students. And that Spring six of our best student graduates were hired to replicate the Project in the city’s high schools.
We believe the Popayan Project has the potential to make a very big difference in the way family gardening is done in that area of the country, and that many more than just the 100 families’ lives will be blessed.
After only 10 days to recuperate at home we traveled to Armenia and the Republic of Georgia for a month, to help with on-going projects in those countries.
In Armenia we assisted the FFE Foundation’s Country Director with the current year’s demonstration greenhouse and garden near Gyumri, the country’s second largest city. They are receiving positive attention from growers in that region, with many people requesting seedlings and advice on growing.
The Georgia project is funded by USAID through the International Relief & Development Foundation (IRD). The IRD Country Director, Mr. Charles Specht, had us assist him in teaching and showing 1,080 small farmers in 36 villages how to grow tomatoes using the FFE foundation’s methods.
It was IRD’s second year using our methods, and they had several trained supervisors in place already, so our work this year was made much easier as a consequence.
It was very gratifying to watch and assist as needed, as these good people grew more than 100,000 tomato seedlings in 36 small greenhouses, then transplanted them into the individual farmers’ gardens.
After transplanting they installed T-Frames, with wire and baling twine strings for all those plants to climb, and then fed and watered, pruned and removed sucker stems, and guided them up the strings, so that tomato plants only 8” apart received ample water, food and light, and grew faster, healthier and more productive than anything the country had ever seen before.
The year 2009 was a monster-travel time, with multiple trips to Idaho, Utah, and Arizona, where we taught 15 free day-long seminars to more than 1,500 people from February through April. In May and early June we traveled to Armenia (with a few days in London in transit), and expected to assist another large project in Georgia as well, but a civil war made us decide against taking that risk.
The Foundation’s model/demonstration greenhouse and garden in Getk, Armenia continues to be a success, as it is almost the only garden in the region that survived a couple of severe hail storms in June. The Foundation’s Country Director grows varieties of vegetables that are “impossible to grow” in that region, and is highly respected. She provides seeds and seedlings, answers questions, solves problems, and is highly regarded throughout the community.
After returning home we worked on creating a good greenhouse and garden on our own property, and filming everything as we went, in order to produce an educational DVD outlining the process in as much detail as possible. This has its unique challenges, since the material in which we’re growing consists of a little subsoil and sandstone.
After trying to prepare the beds with a large tiller – going over and over the garden 8 times, we still had to use a pick-axe to get every plant in the ground. And water runs off so quickly that we must water at least once daily, and in the hot weather twice was sometimes not enough. We really got a chance to prove our promise to the world of a “great garden in any soil, with no soil amendments”.
We also worked on putting gardening training materials on several websites, so people, wherever they are around the world can have access to simple methods that will always work no matter what their circumstances are.
We have already created 7 different gardening websites in addition to the Foundation’s main site, and we were successful in getting the simple but highly effective Mittleider Gardening Basics Course onto www.ProvidentLiving.com/familygarden/index.php and the Benson Institute’s website at bensoninstitute.org/Publication/Pamphlets/FVG_Containers_Oct08.pdf. These websites receive more than one million visits each year from LDS Church members, and we have high hopes the gardening module will do some good.
We continue to look for opportunities to assist other groups and organizations wherever possible. In 2009-and into 2010 we have found many opportunities to send gardening training materials to dedicated individuals and groups to assist them in teaching and demonstrating highly productive family gardening principles and procedures.