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

: )

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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!