February 10, 2017

In January, Big Garden staff members Cait Caughey and Nathan Morgan traveled to Haiti to learn alongside local famers in Dieulece, La Gonave, a small island off the coast of Port-au-Prince. They traveled at the invitation of the Rev. Kalaba Chali, Mercy & Justice Coordinator for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church, and Sheryl Crooks, the chair of the Great Plains Haiti Partnership. Below is a report by Nathan Morgan, Executive Director of The Big Garden, submitted to the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church:

Our friends Moise and Mathieu coordinated a visit from Anse a Galets to a small village called “Dieulece,” translated in English to mean “God knows,” up in the mountains of the island. The trip up the mountain was challenging and made us realize how difficult transportation is on the island. A trip of less than 20 miles took more than three hours in the back of a pickup truck.
More than 100 people, including many members of a local farmer’s cooperative, were waiting for us in a church. Rev. Chali and Mathieu translated for those of us in the group who did not speak French. The farmers reminded us that all farming was organic and expressed no interest in leaving La Gonave for the city. They love farming and growing food. During a Q&A, several people stated that they were particularly interested in improving their animal husbandry skills.
The farmers listed several crops in production in the area: corn, bananas, oranges, eggplant, tomatoes, etc. They did mention that they used to grow more citrus but there has been a disease that has killed many of the trees and reduced production. A young farmer expressed concern that irrigation was a problem for some farmers. We later learned that he had attended an agricultural technical school at Cape Haitien. He had a garden near the church that he showed us after the meeting where he had cultivated raised beds and had dug a small culvert under the road to channel water to his field, an impressive task as the soil is extremely rocky and all of the work was done by hand or with the help of donkeys most likely. Another farmer commented that they could use more tools such as shovels, picks, hoes, rakes, and scythes as these tools are the common used tools in this part of the country and do not require expensive means to use or fix, like tractors would.
Our group discussed several responses to the farmers concerns. These discussions were informed by the fact that, although our United Methodist Conference is a rural area, agriculture in Kansas and Nebraska is very different than in the tropics. Varieties of crops that are common here may not be suited for the climate there and might cause more problems than they solve. We also want to support the farmer’s desires to remain in their communities and farm without chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. With these things in mind there were three general suggestions we came away with for further discernment: 
1. To contact Heifer International, which is already active in Haiti, to include the La Gonave area.
2. To explore whether the agricultural school in Cape Haitien could benefit more farmers and how we might be able to facilitate any training there for the farmers in Dieulece. 
3. To consider raising money through our Haiti partnership for hand tools for the farmers' cooperative in Dieulece. To support the local economy, it is important to purchase the tools in Haiti, preferably in La Gonave.

As a mission agency of the Great Plains Conference, The Big Garden is grateful to offer support to the Haiti Partnership and our friends in La Gonave in their efforts to grow food in Haiti for Haitians. We invite you to pray for our Haitian friends, particularly La Gonave and their farming work.

To learn more about the Great Plains Haiti Partnership, contact the Haiti Partnership Chair, Sheryl Crooks: scrooks63@gmail.com or the Rev. Kalaba Chali: kchali@greatplainsumc.org.