Thursday, November 20, 2014

Variety Trial Garden in Thomazeau, Haiti

            IDEA Ops and LiveBeyond are conducting a research variety trial garden in Thomazeau, Haiti.  The purpose of the experiment is to determine which varieties of garden plants germinate, survive, produce, and seed the best under local conditions, what time of year is best to plant the different varieties, and which varieties are best suited to the local palate.  The experiment will last two years and is repeated every three months to obtain a thorough understanding of the seasons best suited for each plant. 

           The garden is delineated into four columns and eight rows creating thirty-two sections.  Each section is hoed into eight furrows.  The first furrow is planted with legumes (peas and beans), the second with a solanaceae (eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers), the third with onions, the fourth with root crops (beets, turnips, carrots, etc), the fifth with cucurbits (cucumbers, squash, melons, etc), the sixth with leafy greens (lettuce, arugula, basil, kale, etc), the seventh with another solanaceae (different from furrow two), and the eighth is a trench of compost.  This order is maintained for the majority of the garden but tapers off as varieties are repeated.  Every three months when the study is repeated the order of plants shifts down a furrow.  This practice of crop rotation ensures that the study will not be tainted by soil nutrient deficiencies or pest buildup.  Below is a chart of the current garden (as of September through December 2014):

             The purpose of the garden is not to produce a large quantity of fruits and vegetables with the intent of selling but instead to learn which plants will do best in this climate.  As the plants are harvested the produce is weighed and measured for quantitative cataloging and then prepared and served to a taste-test study sample to determine which varieties best fit the local palate.  The sample group is then questioned on each variety, (e.g. which variety do you prefer the taste of?  Which variety would you prefer to grow yourself?  Which variety would you purchase in the market?  What do you like about variety A?  What do you not like about variety A? Etc.).  All of the data is collected and compared over the course of the entire experiment.

            The variety trial garden also doubles as a demonstration farm.  As the plants are grown and harvested the local farmers have the opportunity to see the success of failure of the different varieties for themselves without taking on any inherent risk.  As the best crops are selected, IDEA Ops and LiveBeyond can promote the adoption of the selected varieties with the assurance that the local farmers won’t be deciding on blind faith but with the knowledge of the experiment’s history.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

2 weeks in Haiti

As many of you know, David and I just moved to Haiti. We packed our bags after school ended for the fall semester to go on our honeymoon and then visited family after we got back until January 22. On that wonderful day we left for our new home at the Live Beyond base in Thomazeau, Haiti. IDEA Ops is being contracted to begin agricultural and educational projects for the area. It has been almost two weeks since we moved and they have been a great couple of weeks. We have already got some of our projects up and running!
David is overseeing the building of a rock wall around the ~25 acres of land to be used as the demonstration farm. He will use this area to show local farmers in Thomazeau how to better grow, better harvest and better care for their crops and livestock. He has it sectioned into three parts: the orchard, the vegetable garden and the livestock area, which will be primarily for a few goat projects he is planning. The planting will begin soon, and David will oversee field test trials of different varieties of crops to ensure that local farmers are growing or begin growing the best possible crops for this area. The land workers (who are happy to have jobs to provide for their family) have already finished the west wall and began work on the east today. The southern wall will be the largest project so we will save it for last. The major benefits of building a rock wall around the field is to protect any projects started in the field from destruction by goats, cows or thieves and it helps us rid the land of rocks. The soil in the area is a rich, sandy loam but we can’t reach that until we get through all the rocks. You’d think we grew them here or something. David will be welcoming two graduate students from Texas A&M (Whoop!) this Wednesday to live here at the Live Beyond base where they can work on research projects for their theses and benefit the local farmers simultaneously. They are excited and ready to work.
            I have begun an English as a Second Language class with some of the Haitian staff that works for Live Beyond. A group of men that we use as translators are in an Intermediate level class, and a few women who work in the Maternal Health program here start the Beginner level class this week. It is amazing and encouraging how excited they are to be in the class. When they were informed about the class they said that other groups had come to teach English but had never stayed long enough.  English opens up doors for us here at the Live Beyond base when we work in clinics because when the translators can communicate more clearly about ailments it allows us to better treat patients. It also opens up many job opportunities and educational opportunities because Haitian Creole is not a common language. There is much more educational literature to better oneself in English than there is in Creole.
The intermediate class is doing a lot of good because not all of our Haitian translators learned English in a school setting. This class enables them to iron out mistakes they might make, ask questions, and learn more about reading and writing in English.  We get to explore the more technical side of English grammar rather than conversational English. Eventually we will open a class to the community for anyone who wants to come learn but we are starting small so we don’t make any major mistakes that could hurt the English program. I was really nervous about teaching English because I taught history in the states but with the right tools it isn’t hard, and somehow I know enough English to do it. I am using a series of books called Side by Side and they are fantastic. I would recommend them to anyone who is teaching English in a foreign country. They make sure that the learner can comprehend conversational English while fully engaging the technical side of the language. I have numerous plans for the education program that will begin this year. I will tutor the children at the Children of Hope Orphanage and Hospice in English and any other subject necessary. I will provide professional development opportunities for schoolteachers to improve their skills as educators to better provide for their students. I will also begin a literacy program for the mothers in the Maternal Health program. Only 2% of the expecting mothers in the program can recognize their name in print. If they can’t read, they will not read to their children. Their children will never know the importance of an education. It is imperative that the people in this area understand how important a good education can be and how many doors it can open.

The dreams that David and I at IDEA Ops have for this area can be fully realized through the help of the Good Lord. I am so thankful that I already feel his blessing over our work and I know that blessings will continue.