We walked through fields, small huts, gardens, and over a stream. Then, finally, a student announced to me “we are here”. The land of the demonstration garden is beautiful. Truly remote, filled with the sounds of rustling grasses, birds, palm fronds, and the occasional sheep or cow. No time to waste, students knew exactly what to do and began tilling the field.
“Do you know how to dig?” Lydia, a 17-year-old student asked me, she was the first of a handful of students to ask us the same question. “Yes? I think so?” I responded, and began pulling up the earth in what I genuinely though was the same technique as the dozens of students around me. Hysterical laughter brought to light that fact that, no, I apparently do not know how to dig. At least, not in the efficient, powerful manner required for tilling a field. Every new student who moved into my vicinity gave me a demonstration of how to properly till.
After about twenty minutes, I was exhausted. But the enthusiasm of those around me made the thought of stopping leave my mind. Tilling the field was a joyous occasion, filled with laughter, smiling, singing, and sweat. Being a part of the experience made us finally feel a part of those around us. For once we were not singled out by our skin color or treated with privilege we do not feel we deserve. We were all covered in dirt and sweat, and grinning. “Oh, you’re strong!” we were told, with much surprise, by the students; they were not expecting us to help with the manual labor.
This day of land preparation was an important step in preparing the demonstration garden for the beans and sweet potato vines we will be planting this week. It was also a chance to practice minimum tillage, which helps improve soil structure, fertility, nutrient retention, and water infiltration while requiring less resources and time.
Power is in numbers. With 40 students, Calvin, Seren, and myself, we had tilled the whole field in a little over two hours. Calvin redirected the student’s attention with effortless leadership to begin creating a nursery bed for the cabbage. Even though the students were tired, they were captivated by Calvin’s lesson. All eyes were on him and they actively participated in the measurement of the soil, planting of the seeds, and building of a protective roof out of dried reeds.
The nursery bed helps protect the cabbage seedlings from the hot sun and the hard downpours while they are young. Keeping the seedlings in one place also allows the farmer to give particular care to soil preparation, provide optimal growing conditions, and protect from pests.
The class ran over by an hour and a half, but on one noticed until we had finished our day’s work and began the walk back to the school. There was a sense of proud accomplishment among the students. We were beaming.