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How Three US Mini-Farms Are Sowing the Seeds of Global Food Security (continued from Page 1 )

Sammy Kangethe, an intern from Kenya, teaches visitors at the Golden Rule Mini-Farm.
Sammy Kangethe, an intern from Kenya, teaches visitors at the Golden Rule Mini-Farm..
PHOTO CREDITS: Rachel Britten

Sammy Kangethe, a Kenyan who is planting potatoes alongside Benedict at the Golden Rule Mini-Farm, is also a serious student of agriculture. Less ebullient but just as driven, he taught HIV patients in Nairobi slums to grow food on small communal plots of donated land before starting this internship. "I saw that the HIV drugs didn't work if patients didn't also eat healthy food, so I came here to learn more about growing it in a small space," he says.

Kangethe's experiments involve amaranth, artichokes and beets. "The goal is to empower people to grow enough food with less land and water so they can feed themselves and their families and even sell some in the city for income," he says.

The Jeavons Center Mini-Farm
Mlegwah, also a Kenyan, interns at The Jeavons Center Mini-Farm nearby. The Jeavons Center has been here since 1982, when Jeavons broke ground at the first of three Ecology Action mini-The Jeavons Center intern Jonnes Mlegwah plans to share his new knowledge through Garden of Hope, a community-based organization he founded in Kenyafarms in the county (backyard gardeners and schoolchildren are taught at a fourth farm in Palo Alto).

"If you give the soil what it needs—the nutrients in compost—it gives you what you need to eat," Mlegwah says. "If the soil is healthy and strong, the plant is healthy and strong, and the people are healthy and strong who eat the plant. Too many chemicals are used in Kenya, which suffocate and poison the soils, causing a chain reaction that leads to polluted soil, water and air."

Mlegwah notes that key to Biointensive's success is to provide the right water, soil, organic-matter, biological and mineral conditions for plants to thrive. Through Garden of Hope, a nonprofit he founded in Kenya, he aims to teach this approach to children beginning at age 5. "We will start by teaching them the value of preserving the environment and sustainable growing," he says, "and to analyze what they eat."

Fellow intern Jean Apedoh is from Togo, where he was raised on a rice farm. For his experiment, he is growing rice with minimal water.Jean Apedoh, an intern from Togo, is testing strategies for growing rice with minimal water at The Jeavons Center Mini-Farm.

"Rice doesn't need that much water, or any chemicals, to grow well," Apedoh says. Through a nonprofit he founded in Togo, the agricultural engineer trained 2,000 farmers in 2015 before coming to Mendocino County to enhance his knowledge of sustainable practices.

Like the soil at the farms, Jeavons' spirit is constantly renewed by the interns who have come and gone, scattering the seeds of Biointensive knowledge to small-scale farmers around the globe. He learned Biointensive methods from British horticulturist Alan Chadwick—and notes that they were used for centuries in China, Japan, Korea, Greece, Guatemala, the Philippines and Iran. His mission is to bring them back to the world, which he's done through 44 years of garden research, sharing the results through publications and online materials, establishing the intern program, writing a book and leading multi-day GROW BIOINTENSIVE mini-farm workshops that have been completed by more than 2,000 people.

Another Way
While The Jeavons Center Mini-Farm is at the end of a dirt road where the only sign at the turn reads "Another Way," the nearby Golden Rule Mini-Farm is less remote, on land owned by a back-to-the-land commune that dates to the 1960s. Ecology Action staff and interns help commune members farm the land and in return are given accommodations in an old bunkhouse and nightly dinners at the communal dining room. This model, with staff and interns all working, eating and living in close proximity, also applies at The Jeavons Center and a third site, The Green Belt Mini-Farm, at a Mendocino County coastal resort. That's where a diet was designed that can feed one person on as little as 1 percent of the land that's currently required to feed one average American.

"We're like a family, so it's sad each year when the interns leave," says Golden Rule Field Coordinator Rachel Britten. Gazing over the crowded crop rows that emit the fragrance of new grains, vegetables and seeds, Britten notes that much thought goes into what's planted. "'Carbon-and-calorie' plants such as corn, sorghum and barley—which offer high yields, calorie density and lots of stored carbon from which to make compost for soil replenishment—are a critical part of the system," she says. So is balance, with a goal of 60 percent carbon-and-calorie plants, 30 percent root crops (such as potatoes, parsnips and leeks) and 10 percent traditional vegetables and fruits for dietary variety, vitamins and minerals. All edible and biomass yields are measured, and soil tests ensure closed-loop soil fertility.

Global Impacts
The successes stemming from mini-farm visits by agriculture students from abroad are legion. Juan Manuel Martinez returned home to Mexico to found the sustainable-agriculture organization ECOPOL in 1992, which has delivered instruction to a large portion of the estimated 3.3 million farmers who have adopted Biointensive practices throughout Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Boaz Oduor returned to Kenya in 2008 to help found Organics 4 Orphans, which trains farmers in Africa. In 2012, siblings Julio Cesar Nina and Yesica Nina Cusiyupanqui went back to Peru to train hundreds of farmers in the Andes. Four Sri Lanka interns training between 2012 and 2014 have gone on to spread Biointensive practices throughout Southeast Asia.

Ecology Action is increasingly using the internet to spread information, with numerous free and low-cost videos, webinars and instructional materials in multiple languages at its website and educational portal, plus a growing presence on social media. But the heart of its efforts to plant the seeds of sustainable farming on every continent is still found at the mini-farms in the big-hearted zeal of the interns.

"With Biointensive, we could sustainably produce food for everyone on Earth and still leave half of the farmable soil untouched," says Jeavons. It's a big goal, but devotees of these farming methods believe that if they can convince enough people that it's practical and essential, they can achieve it, one plant at a time.

Bob CooperBob Cooper is a San Francisco-based freelance writer with recent stories in National Geographic Traveler and Hemispheres. He covers travel, outdoor sports and many other topics, but the stories he most enjoys writing are profiles of people who are making a positive difference in the world.

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