Monday, February 3, 2014

Outgrowing Poverty, In The Backyard

Statistics aren’t fun and facts aren’t always true, but what seems to be true about Honduras is most people are poor.

Poverty looks different here than it might on a UNICEF commercial. Children have clothing, though it is holey and thin. Families have food, though it is monotonous and unbalanced. There is transportation, though unreliable, and there is healthcare, though expensive. There is education, but it is only mandated to age 12 and the “cracks” to slip through here seem to be gorges compared to those in the United States. Trash is burnt, radio stations crackle and Monday through Saturday those who can work, do work, return home covered in dirt, cement, or grease, and save nearly nothing.

Bryan Butler, a Canadian professor who lives north of here came to lecture on Friday about alleviating poverty with agriculture. This guy was sharp, with credentials and experiences so vast he couldn’t have possible fabricated them: developing farm systems in Africa for over ten years, building schools out of shipping containers in Honduras, sustainable farming in Cuba, Guatemala, you name it. It gets me all tingly to be around intelligent go-getters who aren’t deterred by the size of global problems!

He spoke simply and with humor: In the area of a large-ish backyard, any Honduran could surpass minimum wage and keep their family well-fed and have extra to share and plan for the future, if they practiced integrated agriculture. Two 250-square-foot beds of tomatoes could set you up good for life. Even better if you grow carrots and lettuce and radishes, too, all in the space of a two classrooms. Grow trees with fruit you can eat, use them to line your property, stoke your fire and feed your compost. Have chickens and pigs and feed them any organic material your family doesn’t want and you can’t sell. Save your urine and fertilize your plants with it. (An squeamish ayyyyyyyy passes through the students.) You could do all this in the morning and still have time to watch soap operas in the afternoon, he touted.

Most of the women were impressed but not about to rush out and ask rich uncle (which everyone seems to have!) for $1000 to buy an acre of land (Yes, that’s all it takes). The majority would like to own brick-and-mortar businesses to provide whatever their community is missing, like school supplies, and don’t fancy themselves slopping carrot tops to pigs and peeing in composting toilets. But they could do it in their yards! They could feed their parents and grandparents and children and neighbors. They could save the world using what they have an abundance of in Honduras: earth.

We've got gardens, yes we do!
Why not? I couldn’t stop thinking. Why not here, or there, or at home, or anywhere. If you’re in California where you can’t sell it, then eat it and stop paying Berkeley Bowl for quality you can make yourself. (Except they give you free cheese, and you can’t beat that unless you own a dairy cow and make your own.) All of the volunteers were similarly affected. Don’t waste the land you have growing things you can’t eat or share. Stop messing around: put some seeds in the ground right this very minute!

Dear Mom and Dad, I will not dig you a compost toilet, but I will be turning your backyard into an oasis of nutrition, beauty and sustainability. We will not collect our urine, because Kiera will freak out.

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