Here’s the skinny on kitchen garden construction: locate a circular area, maybe eight feet in diameter. Dig out a few inches of dirt. Line the foundation with bricks. Fill it with dirt. Create a smaller circle inside the first. Line it with bricks. Fill it with dirt. Create a smaller circle inside the second. Line it with bricks. Fill it with dirt. Add fertilizer to each level. Cover the whole shebang with dirt. Make a circle out of stakes on the top. Fill it with rocks. Gather the team and assorted neighborhood youth and photograph for posterity. It’s simple, effective, beautiful.
I study food access and sustainable farming, and I am extremely excited about the kitchen garden initiative. We build the gardens at the homes of families whose children who are HIV positive. It’s a community driven project, it’s ecologically sustainable, and it’s historically appropriate. I’ve cried with joy just thinking about it.
I love building kitchen gardens. I would happily spend the entirety of our time in Gashora hauling bricks and moving soil. I love seeing the neighboring towns. I love the shared division of labor amongst the community. I love being outworked by buff women three times my age. I love chatting with the neighbor women and their children. I love that our presence at the project is positive. It is such a happy atmosphere, and a sense that real change is underway.
Before I left the states I did a research project on agriculture in Rwanda and kitchen gardens. Now please believe that I did not expect to enlighten the ignorant masses or to create a perfectly nourished community. I may be a do-gooder, but I’m not that obtuse. I did, however, think we could have a conversation and discuss improvements to the current model, you know, be useful in some way. But no. Enter Jean-Baptiste, destroyer of naïve dreams and of gardenless spaces. He is formally trained in eleven styles of kitchen gardens and has the arms of an Olympic rower. I, on the other hand, know the theory behind construction that I read on gardening blogs, and also one time I saw with my own eyes a garden of similar style in America. Clearly the language barrier is preventing Jean-Baptiste from realizing the incredible resource that stands before him every day. Me.
I think I have a pretty progressive view of international development. My school was created in large part on the premise of social justice, and I’ve taken half a dozen classes with cultural, international, or global in the course title in the last year alone. But I still assumed that in a developing country, I would have valuable knowledge. We are here to build relationships with the community, but I still wanted to save the day. Here’s the reality of constructing kitchen gardens – the Americans do as the Rwandans say because they know what’s up and we do not. It is the inverse of so much of what conventional knowledge says about foreign aid.
I think discovering my own bigotry is a little like having a tooth extracted. It’s a painful, but ultimately I’m better for it. And honestly, it’s a relief. There’s a lot of pressure in having all the answers, and it leaves so much more time for making relationships and connections with the people we meet.