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Polycap holds the seeds he received from Calvin before planting them in the nursery bed. Someday, these seeds will be cabbages that will provide nutrition and an income source for households affected by war. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.

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.

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Nellie and the Farming for Peace students reach the edge of the demonstration garden. Photo by Saskia Sichermann.

“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.

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Students were eager to commence the tilling of the field. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.
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Calvin talks about the importance of minimum tillage while a group of students rest from hoeing. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.

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.

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Several students were curious about the cameras, not to mention those who were taking pictures of us with their cell phone cameras while they thought we weren’t looking. Polycap really wanted to take a photo with us, and this turned into a photoshoot.

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.

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Calvin explains a way of accurately estimating dimensions of a nursery bed. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.

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.

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Students help Calvin complete the measurements of the cabbage nursery bed. Photo by Saskia Sichermann.

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.

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After working with the students to prepare the soil for the nursery bed by tilling and adding manure, Calvin hands out the cabbage seeds. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.

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.

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We rode in the back of a truck bed with the supplies for the demonstration day. Photo by Saskia Sichermann.
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Calvin instructs on spacing the cabbage seeds in the nursery bed. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.
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Students lay the cabbage seeds in rows in the nursery bed. Photo by Nellie-Trenga-Schein.
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Students helped collect sticks from the land around the demonstration garden site to construct a shade structure for the cabbage nursery bed. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.
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After completing the nursery bed, a group of students fetched water from a nearby well and used it to give the seeds their first watering. Photo by Nellie Trenga-Schein.

 

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