Starting Small

This article was written by Derek Bargatze, who has just returned from a 5-month stint in East Africa. The Kurtz family was there with the Bargatzes, and remains there until December. At the beginning of the semester at Namaliga Church of Uganda Primary School, we (Josh Kurtz and Derek Bargatze) began an agriculture project with the aim of increasing the nutritional value of the students’ diets. While the primary goal of the project was to add nutrients to their diet, this developed into an educational opportunity to teach sustainable gardening to some eager young minds.

To have an organized setting for teaching, we joined Ssemakula Lawrence’s Science Class. Lawrence is not only a teacher at Namaliga but also one of our East African Cooperatives. His class had 30 students in primary 5-6 (10-15 year olds). The agricultural section of the class began by teaching the importance of proper disposal of trash. We emphasized the necessity for digging trash pits so that non-disposable items (i.e. plastics, glass) wouldn’t contaminate the soil with chemicals or hinder the roots from growing deep. Waste Management does very little outside the city limits, so trash is piled up in fields, outside homes, and near roads. Due to the lack of concern for proper sanitation by the local council there is also a lack of concern from the residents themselves.

You can imagine then, students and teachers seeing the science class walking around the school compound picking up all the trash and throwing it away in a burn pit created to keep trash in one specific area!

The following classes were spent teaching about the double digging method. To explain briefly, the double digging method digs 2 feet down in order to loosen the soil deep for roots, oxygen, and water. This method improves soil quality and helps plants grow strong so farmers will not need assistance from inorganic chemicals.

In all our development efforts, we understand the importance of empowering others to develop critical thinking skills so they can benefit not only themselves but also their neighbor. Because of this, we spent valuable time with our students making sure they understood each factor of grounds sanitation, the double digging method, soil maintenance, and plant growth.

One major issue that threatened our project was that cows, goats and chickens began eating and trampling our beds. Everyday we had to chase animals off of our garden beds. The annoying livestock slowed down our planting schedule because we could not plant until we knew they would be protected. For the double digging method, having loose soil is essential for oxygen, water, and roots to grow deep.  With the animals trampling our garden beds, the soil was becoming compacted, which would eventually prevent the roots from receiving the necessary amount of oxygen, water, and room to grow.

As simple as buying a fence may be, we wanted to help their students to learn cooperative problem solving skills. The kids not only recognized that goats and cows had trampled over our beds, but even came up with the solution of building a wooden fence together. It was great seeing each student bring wooden posts from their homes. The students’ willingness to give even encouraged the school to give some old iron sheets and bamboo to use as walls for the fence.

Now, the students are finishing the fence and we will soon move into transplanting corn, watermelon, tomatoes, squash, and carrots from the seedling beds to the gardens. Our hope is to see a harvest before the next term begins so that the kids could start adding more nutrients to their lunch diets. Since the school semester is now over, Josh Kurtz is working alongside Lawrence and some of the students to maintain the gardens .

The progression of the class has been encouraging. We continue to hope for these students to receive a more nutritious diet, and the fact that they might be able to do it with their own hands is incredible--not just for us, but for them!