Lessons From the Farm:
The Rocky Soil of Haiti and My Heart
Written by Becky Rosaler on August 11, 2016 in Haiti, Lessons From the Farm
This week our Marketing Coordinator Becky Rosaler and HR & Intern Coordinator Kenzie Leas are taking over our blog and social media, sharing their recent adventures of visiting Plant With Purpose’s team in Fonds-Verrettes, Haiti with a group of Plant With Purpose volunteers and intern alumni.
Pictured above are Plant With Purpose staff including Becky, Ketty (agricultural supervisor), Jean Emmanuel (regional coordinator), Kenzie, and Guy (country director).
Stick around to hear more! And follow us on Instagram (@plantwpurpose) for additional posts!
The diversity of landscapes in Haiti caught me off-guard; some moments felt like we were driving through barren Baja California while others the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. As we slowly climbed the hills on roads only passable by SUV or dirt bike, the Haitian proverb, “Deye mon gen mon … Beyond mountains, there are mountains,” began to make sense. The route is a white thread of rough-hewn road full of rocks, potholes, and ribbons of erosion that cast everything within reach in a fine white dust. Cliffs of limestone are mined with the sand and pebbles used as construction material. Limestone.
I’ve traveled to the Dominican Republic and seen the thick red clay that covers the east side of Hispaniola. How could the geology be so different when the border of these nations was in view?
Walking through farms cultivated on the hills of Haiti, the red soil is there yet it anchors numerous white stones. It is rumored that a Haitian farmer once shared, “I thought the ground grew these rocks.” Years of deforestation have left the soil in Haiti a mess (in 2015 the FAO measured the percentage of forest cover in Haiti to be a meager 3.5 percent). The dark, organic rich soil that you find under a pine forest was missing. I struggled to understand how farming families could make a living growing crops in this frustrating mix of substrate.
All the odds seem stacked against subsistence farmers in Haiti.
Plant With Purpose’s Fonds-Verrettes office opened in 2006. A severe flood that killed the likes of 2,000 people, following three straight days of rain in 2004 motivated this regional expansion. The consistent rain was too much for the barren hillsides and became an important reminder of the role trees play. Their branches and leaf waste buffer the topsoil from the pounding of rain while roots help water to absorb into the soil. Without trees, the runoff was quick, catching up many who had settled in the dry riverbed in the middle of the night.
Pulling over on the side of the road we spotted Jean Nicole, one of Plant With Purpose’s staff members, waving from the top of the limestone cliff. In disbelief my mind jumped to thinking, “There are farms up there?” A small trail with a quick gain of altitude allowed us to catch up with Jean Nicole. We climbed further eventually spotting a group of people with rudimentary farm equipment, pickaxes, shovels, and hoes, an A-frame level and sticks.
Martial Jules welcomed us to his farm and quickly introduced his savings-and-loan group. Written into their group’s bi-laws, which act as a contract, is a structure that I found incredibly beautiful. The group meets twice a month to save their money and go through the traditional business of a Village Savings and Loan Association. During those meetings, they determine what agriculture activity they will complete at the same time the following week. That designated meeting time is spent working together on one another’s farms. And they rotate through the list of group members.
On this day, they were digging into that hard, Haitian soil creating a soil conservation barrier to slow the process of erosion and build up healthy soil. The ditch runs the width of Martial Jules property. He is digging these canals every 12 meters. Each group member had a role: marking where to dig so the channel is level, picking apart the hard soil, hoeing the rocks into a mound, and smoothing the canal with a shovel.
Martial Jules shared, “We used to organize ourselves in committees. We lost this in 1994 because of NGOs offering cash for work programs. With Plant With Purpose, we started working together again. We live together, we work together, we share meals together, and we put our money together so we can help each other.“
Our group jumped in to provide comic relief rather than help and quickly learned that this was hard work. As the ditch was completed, this band of neighbors stood together in a circle and prayed over the work of their hands. And one by one they made their way back down the mountain to their homes.
Jesus often took agriculture references and turned them into teachable moments. While walking Plant With Purpose partnering farmers’ land, life-lessons often present themselves.
How often is my heart like the hard soil of Haiti with rocks of stubbornness, pride, and jealousy rising to the surface? But beneath these barriers is something that God can work with, soil that has the ability to support life. Yet it often takes community to chip away at the hard stuff, to loosen the vices that keep me stuck in self-centeredness.
Images of Martial Jules’ farm high in the hills of Haiti will hold special memories of not only the impact that working together can have but also the change that community can bring to the hearts that are open to it. For that lesson from the farm, I will be forever grateful.