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.

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2 thoughts on “International PermaGardens: Making Progress and Meeting Master Teachers

  1. I lead an NGO working with rural farmer groups in Kenya wherein we support them in agricultural enterpreneural activities aimed at bolstering their resilience to violent conflicts.

    We desire your hand of partnership.

    • Thank you, Davidson. I have an agreement working with my current organization, but would be happy to chat over the phone if you would like to share ideas. Thanks for reaching out, and for the work you are doing : )

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