Do You Want to Go to Kenya?

Do You Want to Go to Kenya?

Let’s Go to Kenya

When Brian said we were going to throw gas on the fire, he wasn’t kidding. Building garden towers with 500 families required us to go to Kenya, and expand to three different communities. We wanted to get a more realistic picture of what growing the garden towers looked like in different climates. Believe it or not, an hour away in Kenya from Bomet is the dry desert region of Narok County. 

This was February 2021, and the world was still in the middle of a pandemic. I had gone back to Kenya in October to buy furniture for Kokoo’s Guest House so that it would be ready for our teams, but we hadn’t gone in as a team since getting stuck in Kenya the year before. 

Garden Tower in Nkareta

Eating Greens Grown in a Garden Tower

Allen Roberds, Marissa Waldrop, and I decided that we would go to Kenya to help get things organized and set up for expansion. One day, I was at a sew-a-thon at The USANA Foundation and asked Brian if he wanted to go with us. There was almost no hesitation on his part, and we set the date for late April. A few other members of our team found out we were going and jumped in, and suddenly, we had a full group and the opportunity to stay for the first time at Kokoo’s Guest House. 

However, opposition came in full force when a month before we were scheduled to leave, Kenya locked down 5 counties, including Nairobi County. Their mandate was that people could travel within the 5 counties, or outside of the 5 counties, but they couldn’t cross the border. 

That put a wrench in our plans, and we went back and forth on whether or not to go for a few weeks. Finally, we got word that if you were a tourist, you would get a special permit to go to the Maasa Mara. We decided to take the chance, and boarded the plane. 

When we started driving a few days later to the Mara, a collective prayer went up that it would work. As we drove through the first checkpoint, we saw cars pulled over by police lining the road. And then, the first miracle occurred. As we drove past, every police officer turned away from the jeep. It was almost like they didn’t see us. We weren’t stopped or prevented in any way from driving through. 

We still had the second checkpoint to get through, and the same thing happened! We had crossed the border of the counties, and we were free to continue. 

The first few days were spent in Nkareta and Bomet, as we got video of everything the teams were doing to make and build garden towers. Watching Brian’s reaction was priceless. Truthfully, we were all pretty emotional about how it had impacted families. There are many stories that we hear when we are on the ground in Kenya, that are too sacred to share publicly. 

Next week…Can I build a cottage here? 

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The USANA Foundation

The USANA Foundation

The USANA Foundation

Sometimes, it’s better to say yes and figure it out, than show doubt that it can be done. When we walked into Brian Paul’s office at the USANA Foundation on May 20, 2019, my mind was made up to say yes. Whatever he asked, it was a yes. 

We had talked over zoom, but holding up a garden tower to a webcam doesn’t quite have the same impact as live and in person. I knew Brian was skeptical, because why wouldn’t he be? I was telling him that with a tube of shade fabric with some holes burned into it, we could feed the world. Or at least teach them how to grow their own food. 

Garden Tower in Nkareta

It’s Time to Say Yes

At that point, we had built about 15 garden towers in Nkareta, Kenya, and ONE in Bomet at our training center. We had no statistics on how many meals they would provide. We didn’t know how long to let the seedlings grow before starting to harvest. We didn’t know how much soil each garden tower used, and we didn’t know the dimensions of the garden towers

We knew they cost $10 and we had to buy them from Nairobi. That was about it. 

For the next several months, I answered Brian’s questions to the best of my knowledge. Finally, in September 2019, he said, “Okay, let’s do a pilot project with 200 families in Bomet. Two garden towers, a water storage tank, and fencing to protect the garden towers from the animals. We need reports on how many meals per family member per day.” I wrote the proposal. 

A few weeks later, the funds were in our account, and we got started growing seedlings in Kenya. It was a slow start, and after around 30 families had the garden tower system, the world went crazy with Covid, and Kenya shut down for 13 weeks. 

During that time,100 Humanitarians fundraised for food relief for families in the 3 communities we worked in at that time. Our goal was to focus on helping widows get past the worst of it, since markets weren’t open and food was harder to access. We fed over 150 families with a daily meal of rice and beans for those 13 weeks, because of the generous donations that came in. It was truly witnessing a miracle.

What we didn’t realize at the time, was that it created a stronger list of families who would later receive garden towers. It also built a level of trust between our organization and the families that we wanted to reach. 

It took an entire year to build garden towers with those 200 families, but at the end of that year we had the statistics we needed: 

1. Each garden tower fed 5-6 people a meal of fresh vegetables almost daily. 

2. Families could sell the excess vegetables, making an income of $12-15 per month. If a family was living on $1/day, this was increasing their income by 50%. 

3. The families used the $12-15 per month on other things they needed like food staples and soap. 

4. The water storage tanks reduced the number of trips taken to the rivers and springs each day, creating more time for women.

5. It provided jobs in sewing and garden tower building for 10 women and men. 

We met with Brian, took a picture of that momentous day, which we look at from time to time now and remember how little we knew back then. After going over the numbers, Brian said, “It’s time to throw gas on the fire. Let’s do 500 more families.”

Next: Do You Want to Go to Kenya?

 

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The First Garden Towers

The First Garden Towers

The First Garden Tower – Did it Work?

It was a moment of truth. Five years ago we decided to make the switch from the square foot gardens to the garden towers, in hopes that they would be successful. One day, our team visited Kotolian School in Nkareta, Kenya. Our Community Director, Jacob, was chairman of the school, and they had agreed that they would assign students to take care of the garden towers. We also decided to plant two garden towers with one of the families we had previously worked with. It would take several weeks to see how they would grow in an area without much water.

The Garden Towers Succeed!

Months went by, and we received almost no feedback on how the gardens had grown. Our team returned for our November expedition, somewhat discouraged about the project. We had agreed to plant garden towers with 10 more families, but without knowing how they had done in the area.

Jacob had asked us to visit the farm where he was planting seedlings first, so that we could see what he had set up. As we pulled up, Moses said, “Has Jacob told you how the garden towers are doing?”

I responded, “No! I have been begging him to send pictures.”

Moses then said, “Oh, it didn’t work.”

We got out of the jeep, walked around the corner, and saw the picture above. After I finished punching Moses in the arm, I got a bit teary. All around us was dry and brittle bushes and trees, but the garden towers had grown beautifully, and were providing vegetables for the women who were helping them to grow.

Our team went on to plant the 10 garden towers with families in that area, and our project officially switched from the square foot gardens to the garden towers. Our March 2019 team built a garden tower in Bomet, Kenya, to see how it would do in another community.

You see, it wasn’t just whether or not it would grow, but whether or not the families actually wanted the stewardship and responsibility of growing them. As with everything, there are challenges and blessings to trying new things.

We had built about 25 garden towers in Kenya when one day I got a call from Allen Roberds. Allen had joined us on the March 2019 expedition, and afterward had run into an old student of his from when he taught high school, Hayden Paul. That chance encounter was to change the entire trajectory of not only the garden tower project, but 100 Humanitarians in general.

Next: The USANA Foundation

 

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The Square Foot Gardening Project: 21 Boxes in Kenya

The Square Foot Gardening Project: 21 Boxes in Kenya

Testing Square Foot Gardening

Back in March 2017, we had the brilliant idea to start square foot gardening with families in Kenya. While many had land that available to grow food, they lacked the resources (seeds, equipment, water, knowledge) to get started. 

We took a small group of 4 women to Kenya with a goal to build 7 square foot gardens in two different communities, and then see what the results would be. 

We faced some challenges with those garden boxes. First, the wood wasn’t exactly straight, as trees were cut down and planed in small shops. It bothered us that trees needed to be cut down for this project in an area that often has extreme drought. 

Second, it was expensive. At about $50 per garden box, plus seeds, we weren’t sure how it would really be scalable. 

On the June 2017 trip, we had an incredible team that built 15 more garden boxes, bringing our total to 21. Some had worked. One family built out an expansion of their garden that brought tears to our eyes. Another family did nothing with it, and it had been mostly buried. 

When we went to visit Mama Joyce, she had expanded her garden and fenced it. She was selling some of the extra vegetables in the village. We were so excited to see the success, but still struggling to find the solution to the high cost. Even worse, we realized that because the garden towers were wood, termites would dig in and eat them away in no time. 

We needed a better solution, but decided we would keep going until we found one. 

It wasn’t too long before Jacob, one of our Community Directors, reached out to see if what later became the Garden Tower would work. 

 

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