The Challenge is the Solution: Social Change in an Era of Climate Change

The Speed of Social Change in an Era of Climate Change

The GreenPath Permaculture Apprenticeship Program proudly presents Ethiopia's first cohort of certified organic fruit and vegetable outgrowers!The GreenPath Permaculture Apprenticeship Program proudly presents Ethiopia’s first cohort of certified organic fruit and vegetable outgrowers!

Nothing in nature is a straight line- social change, least of all. Over the past two years, I have had the privilege to work with a team of what is now 65 farmers and 13 regular staff in an effort to achieve what many doubt possible: scaling up the power of smallholder farmers to feed themselves and the world through organic permaculture practices. We have grown into Ethiopia’s first certified organic fruit and vegetable company, and the first permaculture outgrower company in the world. That said, this growth hasn’t been easy. It’s a beautiful struggle, and I’m overdue in sharing these stories. For the sake of friends, family, and fellow food justice activists, I am renewing my effort, starting today, to share a little bit about the work I’ve been doing out here with GreenPath Food in Ethiopia on the Permaculture for Peace website. My hope is that these experiences can spark conversations between others working at the intersection between international development, social business, and the intercultural exchange of ecological wisdom necessary for building a resilient food future.

Permaculture and Agroecology in the Gurage Zone

G&M beside their avocado trees, with intercrops of lavender to increase pollination and lemongrass to deter insect pests.

G&M beside their avocado trees, with intercrops of lavender to increase pollination and lemongrass to deter insect pests.

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design that mimics patterns in nature to create regenerative systems. Some researchers describe permaculture as a social movement that borrows from traditional farming systems around the globe, and then synthesizes common design elements and themes to articulate a set of ethics and guiding principles, creating a framework for sustainable ecological design. Some aspects of agroecological farming are alive and well in Ethiopia. Most farms are shaded by multistory homegardens and fruit orchards, and livestock are integrated into crop production systems. (In fact, the traditional kitchen is located in the stable, and meals are cooked right next to the cows!) On the other hand, Ethiopia has fallen victim to a push for agricultural modernization that has caused more harm than good. Destructive practices such as excessive tilling, use of imported pesticides and fertilizers, and a focus on producing nutrient-poor monocultures of cheap commodities have become entrenched in Ethiopian society over the past 30 years. In a volatile ecological and economic climate, smallholder farmers here are understandably risk-averse. My role has been to codevelop farming systems that produce an abundance of nutritious foods using locally available materials, while meeting the demand of international organic markets- in a place that alternates between flood and drought about four times per year.

Profitable Biodiversity Through Modular Polycultures

There is happenning in this sketch than meets the eye. Farmers plant a permanent, double-dug row of perennial crops that are rich in phytochemicals that deter pests, while also developing deep carbon-storing root systems. Each bed is surrounded by a 30 cm deep swale that captures and stores water into the dry season. Between these "perennial pathways" are "annual alleyways" that are a rotation of intercrops. In this case, local chili and nitrogen-fixing legumes, followed by a succession intercrop of magnesium-rich beets and late-maturing brussel sprouts. the Fava adds nitrogen to the soil, which increases chili yields.) The following rotation consists of a succession intercrop of beets and brussel sprouts. Each component in the system provides multiple services to the elements around it. and has a value on international organic markets. The modularity allows for systematic yield predictions.

There is happening in this sketch than meets the eye. Farmers plant a permanent, double-dug row of perennial crops that are rich in phytochemicals that deter pests, while also developing deep carbon-storing root systems. Each bed is surrounded by a 30 cm deep swale that captures and stores water into the dry season. Between these “perennial pathways” are “annual alleyways” that are a rotation of intercrops. In this case, local chili and nitrogen-fixing legumes, followed by a succession intercrop of magnesium-rich beets and late-maturing brussel sprouts. the Fava adds nitrogen to the soil, which increases chili yields.) The following rotation consists of a succession intercrop of beets and brussel sprouts. Each component in the system provides multiple services to the elements around it. and has a value on international organic markets. The modularity allows for systematic yield predictions.

Diversity is the key to resilience. By growing a diverse array of crops, farmers are ensured yields regardless of fluctuations in local climate or market prices. Over the past year, my team has implemented a system of modular polycultures that we call “Permaculture Pathways.” Each permaculture pathway is made up an intentionally-designed polyculture that consists of 30% perennial and 70% annual crops that provide ecological services to each other while also having a value on the international organic market. While some agronomists advocate intercropping and others advocate crop rotation, our systems are designed to be a rotation of intercrops between a series of soil-building perennial crops. Each “intercrop package” costs around 100 ETB (about 5 USD) and covers 50 sq meters of space. (Our company doesn’t make any profit whatsoever from these seedlings, but we’ve observed that when people have to pay for something, they’re more likely to take care of it.) Based on a farmer’s budget or level of comfort, she can buy 2 intercrop packages or 20 packages. Under this program, we’ve seen biodiversity on farms accelerate from 1-2 crops per field to a mix of 6-8 crops on a single plot. There have been some fascinating developments under the permaculture intercrop package program that would be worthy of a Freakonomics episode- but I’ll save that for another post.

Modular Microclimate Management

L supervises her soil as it is tilled for one last time. Under our modular permaculture systems, farmers build resilient soils that build soil and store nutrients, never requiring tillage again.

L supervises her soil as it is tilled for one last time. Under our modular permaculture systems, farmers build resilient soils that build soil and store nutrients, never requiring tillage again.

As my inspiring colleague Peter Jensen likes to say, “You can’t change the climate, but you can change the microclimate.” A big aspect of the Permaculture Pathway design is the way it extends the growing season into the dry season through micrcoclimate management. By creating double-dug raised beds that are 50% organic matter surrounded by rainwater-harvesting microswales, and mulching and soil amendment topdressing on a fortnightly basis through fortnightly phone call push notifications, our partner farmers’ crops are healthy and productive without the use of synthetic fertilizers or expensive imported irrigation schemes.

Research-based Regeneration

This on-farm research plot is researching two treatments: Traditional ploughing vs double digging, and nutrition per hectare between chili moncultures and and Permaculture Pathways polyculture program.

This on-farm research plot is researching two treatments: Traditional ploughing vs double digging, and nutrition per hectare between chili moncultures and and Permaculture Pathways polyculture program.

Designing good Permaculture Pathways isn’t easy. Many dogmatic permaculturists assume that intercropping automatically increases yields. Sometimes this is true, but at other times crops compete with each other for resources and decrease yields. The farmers I serve depend on these polycultures for their livelihoods, and having a space to measure the effectiveness of different kinds of intercrops is incredibly important. One farmer was open-minded enough to offer up a portion of his farm as a polyculture research plot. We pay him for everything that we harvest, but his field is structured like a randomized split-plot design. On this site, my team is monitoring and comparing not only yield per hectare, but also nutrition per hectare and profit per hectare of GreenPath intercrops as compared to monocrops. I am grateful to some strangers from afar (Rafter Sass-Ferguson and Matthew Kessler) and the Dr. Paul Struik at Wageningen for guiding my team through the process of developing a research plot.

A Decentralized Network Designed for Smallholders

Our Butajira Farmer Service Center nursery, made entirely of local materials, produces 25 different varieties of organic seedlings, over 40% of which are perennial. In a country where most nurseries produce monocrops, this is usually what surprises local visitors the most.

Our Butajira Farmer Service Center nursery, made entirely of local materials, produces 25 different varieties of organic seedlings, over 40% of which are perennial. In a country where most nurseries produce monocrops, this is usually what surprises local visitors the most.

Some big steps on the Farmer Service Center end include the construction of our nursery, construction of Butajira’s first cold store, and the construction of our packhouse. These accomplishments are largely the work of my colleague Tigistu Kebede. In a country where big agribusiness superfarms and processing plants dominate, we have developed a model for decentralized farmer service centers that work with 100 farmers across a network of sites. Visitors marvel at the diversity of our nursery- we have more than 20 different varieties of crops available for sale to farmers as part of our intercrop packages. Our modern cold-store was built almost entirely from local materials, for about 5% of what large Agribusinesses spend on their imported industrial-scale cold stores is a boon to Butajira farmers. Traditionally, fruits and vegetables are not staple crops because they cannot be stored or transported easily. Through these technologies, we are able to give farmers in Butajira access to markets that are willing to pay a premium for crops that are organically and permaculturally grown.

Ethiopia’s Organic Advantage

Sorting and packing organic produce for export in our new packhouse.

Sorting and packing organic produce for export in our new packhouse.

Many scholars have written about the failure of the so-called “Green Revolution” in Africa, but as the permaculture adage goes, “The challenge is the solution.” Growing organically may be a competitive advantage that Ethiopian smallholder farmers have over other world food producers. While so much of international development focuses on training farmers to move towards urban and industrial professions, GreenPath’s aim is to help farmers pull themselves out of poverty by growing organically. There are, however, barriers to entry for organic certification: namely, the immense expense of certification, and the copious amounts of paperwork and monitoring needed to maintain certification. We have developed some pretty great online and offline systems to help farmers of various economic and academic levels earn their organic certification, and by extension, richer livelihoods.

Partners in Permaculture

The Amazing Butajira Team.

The Amazing Butajira Team.  I am so incredibly, incredibly grateful to each and every one of you.  Thanks for being my Butajira family.

The most important aspect of encouraging farmers to change how they farm is the relationships of trust that we build. Our dedicated Agronomy Team visits each farmer on a weekly basis to conduct harvests, monitor progress, and offer training in permaculture and organic growing techniques. Farmers realize that we are an integrated part of their weekly routine and local community, and that we aren’t going away at the first sign of trouble. We’re not a charity, with the gentle racism and classism that comes with that. We’re not a profit-maximizing agrocorporation, either. We are partners in permaculture business. We have survived floods, drought, hail, disease, and dismal regulatory paperwork together. While GreenPath may not be an overnight business success, real social change is happening- at an organic pace- and it is lasting.

Starting Small and Scaling Up

I’m privileged to be writing this brief update from the MIT D-Lab in Cambridge, an exciting place that I like to call “Shop Class for the World.”  So many inspiring people doing exciting things!  Great thanks to the D-Lab for their generous support to GreenPath!

GreenPath’s team has expanded to 13 staff members working together in Butajira and Addis.   We have now increased to 70 partner farmers in our permaculture apprenticeship program and are scaling up soon. We have established a fully-functioning farmer service center and have begun our first regular exports of avocados and herbs to Dhubai!

25 of our partner farmers have applied for EU organic certification, and we are eagerly awaiting the results.  This is the first time organic fruits and vegetables have ever been certified in Ethiopia (Coffee and sesame have been certified in the past) and certainly never with farmers so small.  I am really proud to have been a part of this innovation.

We have kicked off an exciting intercropping program called “Perennial Pathways/Annual Alleyways” (PPAA) that helps farmers transition into using permaculture techniques in a  modular, scaleable fashion.  This has diversified farmers’ crop base from only 1-2 crops to polycultures  of 6-8 crops, 50% of which are perennial. PPAAs build soil, conserve water, are modular, scalable, and are designed so that every single crop is mutually beneficial for all other crops in a permaculture system- all while being profitable from an export market perspective.

My distance PhD at Wageningen University in the Netherlands (aka “The Harvard of Agriculture”) has officially begun.  Designed for working professionals, Wageningen’s PhD in International Sustainable Agriculture allows me to continue working full time for GreenPath in Ethiopia while researching what motivates smallholder farmers to transition to growing organically.  Plus, I get to visit Holland two weeks per year : )

I’m also excited to announce that I will be presenting on “Starting Small and Scaling Up: Making Permaculture Profitable with Smallholder Farmers” at the first ever “Ukrainian Permaculture Convergence” in Lviv, Ukraine on May 14-15.  It’s an honor to exchange permaculture wisdom in the land of my heritage.  Please sign up to attend remotely or in person at: https://www.facebook.com/events/491421141043296/

I’m very excited to see friends and family during this brief visit to the US.  Please call me at my old US number or message me on facebook if you would like to meet up.

Photos coming soon!

Warmly,

CZ

 

 

 

A Whirlwind of Synchronicity- Around the world and back again

So, I’m sitting in Cairo airport, marveling at the miracle my life has become. The last two weeks of hard-earned vacation have been a whirlwind of synchronicity. After eight months working as a permaculture specialist for GreenPath in Ethiopia, I’m liking the woman I am becoming and the adventure that lies ahead.

 

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After reading every Egyptology book in my elementary school library and studying colloquial Egyptian Arabic as a peace activist in college, I never imagined that I would ever, really, wind up in Cairo! I am grateful for the incredible job that allows me travel the world while helping farmers earn money by growing organically. Thank you!!!

First, let me give a brief update as to the work we have been doing with GreenPath smallholder farmers since my last blog post back in April. Last month, we had our first export of 2.8 metric tonnes of Hass avocados, in collaboration with partners from the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and MASHEV (Israel’s version of USAID.) It was, in fact, Ethiopia’s first export of avocados ever. You can read more about it in the news here.

Sharing one of my favorite places with one of my all-time favorite people : )

Butajira farmers’ beautiful avocados!!

We aren’t limiting ourselves to avocados alone. Last month, our nursery introduced GreenPath’s “Guild to Goes– modular, over-producing perennial polycultures that allow farmers to quickly and easily plant scaleable rainwater-harvesting “avocado micro-ecosystems.” All components of the guild to go are chosen and arranged to generate higher income for farmers, reduce soil erosion, conserve rainwater, attract pollinators, detract pests, and increase avocado yields. You can see a diagram of a perennial “Guild to Go” here:

An example of our rainwater-harvesting perennial over-producing polycultures-- nick-named "Guild to Goes"

An example of our rainwater-harvesting perennial over-producing polycultures– nick-named “Guild to Goes”

We have been experimenting with a number of annual vegetable crops as well, and have been experimenting with larger-scale rainwater harvesting swales and barrier berms that help farmers plant strategically around growing organically. Farmers are excited to be earning a 20% premium for growing organically, and the number of smallholder farmers our Agronomy Team is working with has more than doubled. Yes, it’s been a long, hard, and often lonely road, but really, a lot has been accomplished in a relatively short period of time. I owe this to incredible support of GreenPath’s brilliant, open-minded, and encouraging international management, as well as the dedication of my hard-working and devoted staff in Butajira.

Helping Z install rainwater harvesting swales and barrier berms at her farm.

Helping Z install rainwater harvesting swales and barrier berms at her farm.

My vacation to the US helped clarify some things I have been questioning about my life, and I was astounded by the amount of love and synchronicity I experienced during my time here. After arriving in DC, I was blessed to be picked by my old activist friend Drew Hornbein, a web designer who has been working with organic farms and intentional communities across the country. After having dinner with my dear friends Naeem, Natalia, and GreenPath Colleagues Eric and Rachel, Drew and I headed to the Southern Exposure Seed Company, where folks were kind enough to walk us through the operations of a successful for-profit seed business. I look forward to adopting the methods I saw to Butajira, where we are beginning to save and propagate hard-to-find seeds. Thank you Southern Exposure!

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Deep thanks to David B for sharing Southern Exposure Seed Company’s impressive operation!

Once I arrived in Blacksburg, I felt like I was home. There is no place or group of people that I love more in the world. I hiked with my favorite friends in my favorite places, was healed by a mad scientist, rode around in the most inventive of vehicles, was forgiven by a friend I feared was lost, and was told, unanimously by the wise who want the best for me, that I should devote myself to GreenPath and an international PhD in Sustainable Agriculture (an opportunity I was afraid of taking due to my extreme loneliness in Ethiopia.) The professors at Virginia Tech were unanimous- Wageningen University’s program in International Sustainable Agriculture is the best in the world, and the work GreenPath is doing is cutting edge and needs me to “lean in” even further. As my wise mentor, Crystal Allen Cooke told me, “The people who love you most will still be here” and the Fairy Godfather of my PhD, reassured me that, as lonely as my time in Ethiopia is now, the work I am doing there now will open doors for me later.

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G’s family in their lush new organic vegetable intercrop : )

I also got some great news from my Permaculture for Peace colleague Junior Beauvais. The Haitian Heirloom Seed Bank is already half-constructed in Fondwa, Haiti! He showed me photos of the building with my name painted on it, along with Fang Wan’s and Laura Zanotti’s. They (Junior and Enil) have invited me to come to the grand opening of the Seed Bank in March 2016. It just goes to show you that you never know how the small things you do can make a difference. No matter how much you might hate your day-job or where you are in life, step back and look at the problems differently. Think, “What can I do with the people and resources I have available here and now to make a difference?” Divergent thinking and dedication can transform your impact on the world if you would only let it. I look forward to collaborating remotely with Junior’s team as we establish our GreenPath seedbank and they establish the Haitian Heirloom Seed Bank.

Junior Beavais and Fang Wan winning the Barilla Good 4 Grant for the Haitian Heirloom Seed Bank back in February!

Junior Beavais and Fang Wan winning the Barilla Good 4 Grant for the Haitian Heirloom Seed Bank back in February!

I got to see high school friends I hadn’t seen in over ten years embark into their next stage of life: one into marriage, the other into a graduate program in Edenborough, Scottland. I enjoyed some R&R with my Ukrainian diaspora community in Narrowsburg and got to visit my old farm (Gypsy Wagon Farm in PA) and be friends with my old business partner again : ) We’re both happy doing what we’re doing now. Sometimes something isn’t working because something better is supposed to be working. I’m happy to see that he is doing so great, and I think he’s happy to see that I’ve spread my wings as well.

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Sharing one of my favorite places with one of my all-time favorite people.

I had a great time with Mama, first in Narrowsburg and again in New York- we enjoyed good meals over the Delaware River, visited museums and talked heart to heart. I had fantastic food and family time with my Aunt and Uncle at their restaurant, John’s of 12th street. And best of all, my brother Nicholas is back from England, now engaged to an amazing young woman and working at a charter school in Brooklyn that he’s just wild about : )

Spending time with my beloved family, Nicholas and Mama : )

Spending time with my beloved family, Nicholas and Mama : )

My time in Brooklyn was poignant as well. I spent a day bicycling down to Brighton Beach to enjoy pierogies and vodka with my old from Indymedia, Jed Brandt. It was exactly what I wanted to do. The visit ended with a bitter-sweet farewell to my dear friend Tom Martinez– the one person outside of my family who has impacted my inner life the most. He’s heading off to Arizona to a new a job and PhD in ecopsychology.

A shot from Tom's farewell bash. You will be loved and missed!

A shot from Tom’s farewell bash. You will be loved and missed!

On my last day in New York, I was interviewed on Pacifica radio about permaculture. This morning, I landed in Cairo, Egypt, and rode a camel to the Great Pyramids of Giza. If you had asked me two years ago if I would be working as a permaculture specialist, jet-setting to Ethiopia, Haiti, and Egypt, talking on news radio and doing cutting edge PhD research at the best Sustainable Agriculture program in the world, I could never have believed it.

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What kind of woman am I now? I’m still the same as I have always been, but less anxious about it. I’m becoming more accepting of who I am. I am weird. I am different. My brain behaves differently. I perceive the world and relationships differently from other people. I am learning that being alone is more a sign of uniqueness than of failure. Sure, I’d love to have a partner. But apparently the love in my life is so much more radical than that. And the universe never throws anything at you you can’t handle.  I feel like the bird being nudged out of the nest, being urged to fly. May fierce passion, innovation, and adventure blaze the path forward on my return to Ethiopia. Thank you universe for this terrific opportunity to experience life and impact others in a whole new way

: )

Permaculture Professionalism- A Leap of Faith

Butajira Farmer's market gives Union Square a run for its money!

Butajira Farmer’s market gives Union Square a run for its money!

So those of you who know me personally know that I am a huge fan of Tina Fay’s 30 Rock.  In the past few months, I have dubbed myself the “Liz Lemmon” of permaculture.  Like Liz,  I can be socially awkward, career-focused, and unconventional.  At the same time, Liz Lemmon has her redeeming qualities- she’s hilarious, driven, and a leader in times of chaos.  Flawed but brilliant, we love her for this, and without her there is no show.

Liz Lemon- my spirit animal.

Liz Lemon- a kindred spirit.

I am learning to embrace the flawed, quirky creativity that makes me the permaculturist I am.  In America,  I have often felt more connected with immigrants, refugees, and than hipsters from my generation/level of education.  I’m action-oriented, results-focused, and would rather innovate than go with the flow.  I like to fight for what I believe in, run events rather than attend events, and bridge people and ideas from different backgrounds– just “Hanging out” has never been my strong-suit. Here in Ethiopia, I am learning that perhaps my quirks do belong somewhere, and they can be used for good, and even be appreciated.

My entourage : )  Mohammed and Mickey

The GreenPath entourage : ) Mohammed and Mickey rock the Bajaj.

First of all, am feeling truly stimulated by my job on every imaginable level, and I find myself surrounded (okay sometimes virtually) by those who feel the same way.  I was speaking on Skype with somebody I will call the “Jack Donaughy” of permaculture.  He professed, “I want to work until the day I die.  If I’m not surrounded by people who are constantly solving problems and making business decisions, I don’t feel truly alive.”  I feel exactly the same way.  I went out for coffee in Addis with another eco-entrepreneur I have huge respect for. I asked if he had any hobbies.  He confessed, “Really, I only work.  But I love my work so much, it  fulfills me.”  Wow!  At long last, I am surrounded by workaholic visionaries from foreign backgrounds– maybe I am finally working in an environment where my quirks are perks.  I honestly feel more fulfilled and happy by the work I am doing now than I ever have before.  I can see myself working as a perma-preneur in international sustainable development for a long time.

Aychelew and Mickey planting perennial herbs in an eyebrow swale.

Aychelew and Mickey planting perennial herbs in an eyebrow swale.

“A good manager,” as the Jack Donaghy of Permaculture puts it, “is a person who is willing to make the best decision with imperfect information, and then follow through with it.”  Well, that is certainly what I’m doing in Butajira.  I have developed a 10-week Permaculture Apprenticeship Program and Regrarian Rubric (unique to GP) with which I am training farmers to apply permaculture principles and techniques. The farmers I work with on a day to day basis are warm, hard-working, and have put a lot of faith into permaculture practices that are unconventional.  Some of these techniques I know well from over 7 years of experience, but many others I have only read about in books.  All of this is a leap of faith.  My belief in the practices of innovators like Geoff Lawton, Mark Shephard, Masanobu Fukuoka and Bill Mollison will be put to the test.  These next five weeks are critical as we prepare each of our partner farms for the rainy season.  Compost-building, rainwater harvesting, berms and swales, perennial intercropping– these are all new approaches that farmers are preparing in good faith.

Building Compost at B's farm.

Building Compost at B’s farm.

Everybody is praying for rain, everywhere I go.  It is the constant topic of conversation.  To put it in perspective, I’m lucky if I have enough water to take a cold shower once a week.  That said, when you dig below the mulch under each GreenPath farmer’s avocado trees, the earth is cool and damp, thanks to the slow, simple solutions that permaculture provides.

Mickey reviewing the bilingual Regrarian Rubric with one of our partner farmers.

Mickey reviewing the bilingual Regrarian Rubric with one of our partner farmers.

The most beneficial thing I am learning from my work with GP (and this may surprise the people who know me) is that I am learning how to think quantitatively about what I’ve been doing intuitively (or haphazardly) for the past 7 years.  We are developing a mobile app that allows us to analyze how many fruit we have at different stages of development, for example, and I’m learning a lot from this kind of long and protracted observation.  How many days does it take for an egg-sized avocado to mature?  How many tons of compost do we need to propagate 300 pomegranate seedlings?  What is the profitability of different perennial intercrop packages?  How is GP’s Permaculture Apprenticeship model improving yields and livelihoods?  When I finished undergrad, I was interested in going to grad school for Agricultural or Environmental Economics.  My econ professors gently suggested that I consider law school… too much math for a “free spirit” like mine, as one put it.  Now, here I am 10 years later, crunching numbers that are genuinely going to help the farmers I serve in a direct way.  I feel like this work, while challenging, is changing me intellectually, spiritually, and creatively.  I like the woman I am becoming.

Tagging trees for data collection.

Tagging trees for data collection.

In a funny way, I am realizing that the chaotic circumstances in which I grew up have made me uniquely suited for the constant flux of challenges, risks, and rewards involved in making permaculture profitable in East Africa.  When you’re on the right path, the road unrolls before you- and its never in the direction you thought.

Puppies at the avocado nursery!

Puppies at the avocado nursery!

I took a leap of faith coming out to work for GreenPath.  A young company.  A foreign country.  A challenging climate.  An untested model.

I risked everything.  A beautiful home.  A fun job.  A fully-funded PhD.  A community I cared about.

Now, I am asking farmers to take a leap of faith and apply permaculture on their farms.

Butajira hosts many sporting events for the region, such as this bicycle race.

Butajira hosts many sporting events for the region, such as this bicycle race.

Do you have faith that the rains will come?  That the desert will bloom?  That the challenge is the solution?  That every crisis is an opportunity?

I have faith that when the rains come, my farmers will be growing perennial medicinal herb forests that will restore the soil, nourish their families, and generate much-needed income in a sustainable and equitable way.  And if that’s a great leap I am grateful to be taking.

‘Til next time,

CZ

Enjoying Korean food in Addis Ababa!

Enjoying Korean food in Addis Ababa!

 

 

 

International PermaGardens: Making Progress and Meeting Master Teachers

Our first 100 kilo delivery of Ettinger, Pinkerton, and Bacon avocados!

Our first 100 kilo delivery of Ettinger, Pinkerton, and Bacon avocados!

I am pleased to announce that GreenPath food made its first delivery of organic Fair-trade avocados to Fresh Corner Supermarkets in Addis Ababa yesterday. The purchasers had never seen avocados of such size and quality. Our only hope is that we can grow enough avocados to meet demand— Nature is an abundant system that works at its own pace.

GreenPath goes beyond the "Low-hanging Fruit."  Mohammed harvesting hard-to-reach Ettingers.

GreenPath goes beyond the “Low-hanging Fruit.” Mohammed harvesting hard-to-reach Ettingers.

It has been an eventful two weeks since I last had access to 3G internet. This month, we have initiated a few new stages in developing our permaculture designs with our partner farmers. These include:

Engaging with farms as Family Systems:  The Yrma family is excited about their goals!

Engaging with farms as Family Systems: The Yrma family is excited about their goals!

Engaging with Farms as Family Systems- I have been working hard to develop relationships with our partner farmers as a complete family system. Rather than a “One Size Fits All” approach, I am meeting with farm families on a bi-weekly basis in order to co-develop goals in context. Through in-depth interviews, permaculture land surveys, and measurable goal-setting strategies, our team collaborates with farmers and their families to develop and execute farm-specific permaculture plans.

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Surveying for Sustainability- Female farmers participate in creating baseline maps of their property, developing numeracy and geospatial reasoning skills while creating tools for long-term strategic thinking and permaculture planning.
This month, we created baseline maps for 9 partner farms.

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Assessing Every Avocado- We are currently developing a database for every avocado treewe survey. Using a QR code scanner, we are able to record and keep track of each tree’s history, progress, and production over time. This up-front investment of time will pay off as we scale up. We can use this “plant portfolio” to communicate tree-specific recommendations for improved health and productivity to other team-members or stakeholders tapping in to our database. No tree left behind!

Peace Corps PermaGarden workshop!  Notice the berms and swales!

Peace Corps PermaGarden workshop! Notice the berms and swales!

On a more personal note…

You know how, at the times when you feel the most lost and alone, the universe conspires for your success? I feel like this week, may prayers were answered by the arrival of Peter Jensen to Butajira. The founder of International PermaGardens, Peter has been working as a trainer for the Peace Corps for the past 30 years, and has been working in Ethiopia for the past 6. He describes International PermaGardening as “An intercultural blend with a family classroom targeting the most vulnerable, specifically mothers, children, and HIV positive individuals.”

Peace Corps Compost workshop- talk about a Hot Topic!

Peace Corps Compost workshop- talk about a Hot Topic!

After a fantastic exchange of ideas over lunch, Peter was generous enough to invite me to observe his Peace Corps PermaGarden workshops over the course of the week. Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about GrowBiointensive gardening (Peter’s work is not “Permaculture” with a capital “P” but rather a fusion of strategies from Jeavons’ GROW Biointensive gardening, Mollison’s permaculture, and local practice), but I also managed to formally introduce myself to Peace Corps volunteers serving all over Ethiopia. To quote the feminist author Starhawk, at a time when I was feeling very much alone in what I was doing, I was offered “a seat at the table.”

Peter Jensen photographing a Peace Corps PermaGarden.

Peter Jensen photographing a Peace Corps PermaGarden.

Peter’s expertise not only validate my intuition as a permaculturist working in a new climate, but it also saved me from making some unnecessary errors. It was also encouraging to find another colleague who shares the vision of valuing the marginal, diversity, and slow simple solutions for lasting change. Last but not least, Peter is what what educators call a “Master Teacher.” The strategies he uses to make gardening concepts “stick” in the minds of the people he serves are admirable. He makes what takes a tremendous amount of planning look effortless. I have to say that I have had a few great teachers in my life: Dick Andrus, Ray Buteaux, Neha Khanna, Crystal Alan Cooke, and of course, Irene Zawerucha. Despite our short interaction, I would put Peter Jensen up high on this list of great teachers. I hope that, with 20 years of experience, I could be half the permaculture teacher he is. And I hope he writes a book. Soon.

Me and my friend Tamar from the Israeli NGO Fair Planet chilling at the nursery : )

Me and my friend Tamar from the Israeli NGO Fair Planet chilling at the nursery : )

Sometimes, I feel very much alone as a woman practicing permaculture. Sometimes, the realities of Ethiopia can drag me down: Fractured foot, no internet, no house, no mobile service, not atm service, nobody speaking English… these are the basics, but these are also the little things. When it comes to the the big picture, synchronicity works in mysterious ways. Who could imagine that a permaculture expert would be sent right into my backyard when I needed it the most? You can’t make this stuff up. I often think of the poem “Footprints,” specifically, “During the darkest times of your life, that is when I carried you.” Thank you, Universe, for guiding me and carrying me on this terrific journey.

Growing My Hands: My First Two Weeks Working in Butajira

The Abeza family processing Ensett (false banana) a staple and highly productive chorm that Ethiopians use to make "kocho."  See Mohammed in the GreenPath hat?

The Abeza family processing Ensett (false banana) a staple and highly productive chorm that Ethiopians use to make “kocho.” See Mohammed in the GreenPath hat?

So, dear friends, I know it has been a while.  I want you to know that, despite the fact that I have posted very little on the permaculture4peace.org website or facebook, that I am having an exciting, life-changing experience working with GreenPath Food in Ethiopia. 

I have the most incredible job in the world!  While there is no typical day in Butajira, it generally involves some of the following: I ride on a motorcycle across mountains and fields to meet with small-scale Ethiopian farmers and co-develop permaculture strategies that help them produce more avocados and diversify their crop base.  The farms I visit are usually under 2 hectares in size, and are family-run.  They vary widely from those that are practicing strong agroforestry techniques and permaculture intuitively, to those that need A LOT of help with even the basics of managing their annual vegetable crops and water needs.  The people are generous and kind, the food is amazing, and the culture is fascinatingly beautiful.  And don’t let me get started on the fantastic “Bunna” coffee everywhere you go : )

Our partner farmer Hager (in the GreenPath hat) and Amerga Menji and the motorcycle that gets us all over Butajira : )

Our partner farmer Hager (in the GreenPath hat) and Amerga Menji and the motorcycle that gets us all over Butajira : )

The farmers are so excited about what we are doing. They’ve never met an entity like us- We’re not a charity, we’re not the government, and we’re not an exploitative corporation. We made our first harvest last Friday- our partner farmer’s first profit off of avocados! They had never gotten so much money for this “monkey food” before. The local markets are flooded with all the same products- we’re creating a supply chain that gives them access to markets that will pay fair money for organic avocados, as well as hopefully other crops in the future.

My biggest challenge? Getting information and materials. A lot of my job involves keeping my eye out for seeds/cuttings so I can collect them and propagate them out of our nursery at the Ethiopian Horticulture Center for Excellence. There is not a lot of crop diversity here, and farming practices are very destructive of the soil. I’m initiating restoration agriculture, but without access to cover crop seeds. When you go to the local seed union, the list of seeds is a half a page long, while the list of chemicals is 3 pages long (No exaggeration!)  Also, there is little to no internet (I’m lucky if I get 2G on a good day.) Google is futile. But I find that all I need to do is walk outside with my eyes open, draw plans in my notebook, and solutions present themselves from the permaculture muse.  My latest hacks? Creating rooting hormone with aspirin and water, planning a freshwater kelp harvest from a local lake to deal with Boron deficiency, and creating harvest bags out of used concrete bags.   

Furrow irrigation and ploughing are a common practice.  This has long-term consequences of eroding and salinating the soil.  Our goal is to integrate cover crops that rebuild the soil structure.  This "restoration agriculture" approach goes against convention here (just as it would in the US), and for now we are focusing slow, simple solutions.

Furrow irrigation and ploughing are a common practice. This has long-term consequences of eroding and salinating the soil. Our goal is to integrate cover crops that rebuild the soil structure. This “restoration agriculture” approach goes against convention here (just as it would in the US), and for now we are focusing slow, simple solutions.  Oh- and you can see two 2-year old Fuerte avocado trees growing in the upper left!

I am in constant creative problem-solving mode, and loving it. I feel like I’m “Growing my hands.” That, even if I’m not a master permaculturist yet, by the end of my time here, I will be. I’m creating designs for 17 different farms- long term visioning but also day-to-day problem solving. Everything about this job is exciting and meaningful, on every level.

I am working with an incredible team of brilliant, compassionate people from all over the world. Sidhanth Kamath, our General Manager, is an incredible visionary, and one of the smartest, most capable people I have ever met.  Ezra Nigussie, our operations manager, is the most solid team-mate I’ve ever worked with- always on the ball, honest, positive, and on top of things.  I don’t know when he sleeps : )  Amerga Menji is our horticulture specialist, and is an expert on avocados.  His experience and good sense of humor fill my farm visits with joy, and we are learning a lot from each other.  Eden Getachew is my woman in Addis- she works for the Tony Blaire foundation now, and was integral in establishing GreenPath. She used to hold my job, and I have very big, classy shoes to fill. Eric Couper is a Technology Wiz, a voice from across the ocean that makes magic happen in digital space. Mirafe Marcos provides us with visionary guidance from the Agricultural Transformation Agency, and I like to call his Mom is the “Patron Saint” of GreenPath.  She is an entrepreneur herself and has pulled many administrative strings to help us.  And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mohammed, the 21-year old Butajira-native who is learning English as he assists me with all kinds of odds and ends.  He holds the other end of the tape measure, and takes me to the clinic when I’m sick : )  I think great things are in store for him as he grows with our company.

CZ & Ezra with the notorious red suitcase of books.  Without regular internet, I am grateful for every single one of these reference materials!

CZ & Ezra with the notorious red suitcase of books. Without regular internet, I am grateful for every single one of these reference materials!

Overall, I am honored and grateful to work with such an amazing team on such an important venture.  I could never have imagined being part of something so incredible, but now that I’m here, I feel like I am exactly in the place I need to be at this stage in my life.  The level of professional and personal growth I am experiencing right now cannot be expressed in words.  I am honored and excited to take on the challenges before me.

With love and gratitude,

Christina Z

Ethiopian epiphany celebration!  So very Beautiful!  People marched sang, and drummed in the streets, as they rolled out a red carpet before priests in brilliant robes carried icons under gold-embroidered umbrellas.  Ethiopia is at once an ancient and cosmopolitan mix of religions, languages, and cultures.  It's the most fascinating place I've ever visited.  I'd recommend it to anybody to come and visit.

Ethiopian epiphany celebration! So very Beautiful! People marched sang, and drummed in the streets, as they rolled out a red carpet before priests in brilliant robes carried icons under gold-embroidered umbrellas. Ethiopia is at once an ancient and cosmopolitan mix of religions, languages, and cultures. It’s the most fascinating place I’ve ever visited. I’d recommend it to anybody to come and visit!

Welcome to Addis! እንኳን ደህና መጣህ- i’nkwuan dehna metah

Welcome to Addis!

Eden and Aliyas met me at the Addis Airport with their favorite taxi driver, Getinet. There was a little snafu when the airport parking lot security guard tried removing Getinet’s license plates with a wrench (the airport has its own taxi drivers and they are very territorial about having somebody else’s taxi on their turf.) While Eden and Gestimet argued with the security guard, I got to meet Aliyas, whose couch I am fortunate to be crashing on. He is an Ethiopian American who has been working in Addis for the past two years. He is currently working for the Agricultural Transformation Agency. Specifically, he is creating a phone database where people can call in and get information on how/what/when to plant different crops. Think of it as 411 but for cooperative extension, and in four different regional languages. This is terrific because internet is hard to come by, but many Ethiopians do have mobile phones via satellite. While Aliyas only speaks English himself and has no academic background in agriculture, he is running this terrific project. All it takes is creativity, hard work, and patience. This is very reassuring for me.

View from my window in Addis Ababa!

View from my window in Addis Ababa!

The other thing I really like in Eden and Aliyas’ apartment is the special “Flex” stove. Two of the burners are propane gas and two are electric. This is great because if the electricity goes out (which it does) you can use the gas, or if the gas runs out, you can use electricity. I appreciate diversity and redundancy in a system. Now we’re cookin’!

Flex stove runs on electric or gas- great redundancies!

Flex stove runs on electric or gas- great redundancies!

Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon. Today, I went out to Chinese food with a bunch of people from the Agriculture Transformation Agency, and incredible organization that is working in all kinds of way to further sustainable development in Ethiopia. After that, I went to a French café with Eden, Amil and Barry. It felt like a Café straight out of Brooklyn. I’m using the internet at a local hotel, drinking a machiato and updating the blog. Internet is spotty, and I won’t be getting a phone until the weekend. But friends, rest assured that I am doing well in Addis. While it’s a little overwhelming to feel like I’m far away from everything and everyone I know, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

photo (4)photo (5)

 

Sending love from Addis– CZ