Elijen has been the gardening assistant at the Matènwa Community Learning Center for over a year. Last year, he completed 9th grade at the Center’s junior high school, which is the last grade school goes to right now. Rather than continuing his formal education, he’s chosen to go to work as a gardener/teacher in Matènwa and as an agricultural advisor in his own neighborhood of Bwa Nwa, about a 50-minute walk from Matènwa.
His garden sits on a slope of Bwa Nwa, protected by mango trees. Here he is in the middle of his garden with Erik Badger, my long-time colleague in my work in Haiti and at Shimer College.
Elijen had to work hard just to create the space on his land that he farms. It’s extremely rocky soil. His first step was to remove the rocks. He’s used them to build a series of walls that hold the soil in place when it rains.
He cut channels that run down the slope to keep excess water from washing away his soil.
He chose some crops, like these sweet potatoes, that provide good ground cover.
And he uses plantain trees as supports for vines that can then be used to cover the soil.
He grows some vegetables that an American would immediately recognize, like these peppers. The first photo is a hot pepper plant, the second is sweet peppers.
He grows parsley.
Nothing is wasted. He just finished harvesting his coffee, and he is now letting the outer shells of the coffee beans rot. They make great compost.
He grows grasses, like this elephant grass. The various grasses help retain soil and they can be used as animal feed.
And the straw that they leave can be used as cover for the beds in which seedlings are planted. Here they cover a bed of tomato plants.
The soil is hard, so Elijen has been experimenting with different ways to soften it. He’s covered this bed of cabbage with local clay.
He plants a lot of trees, just as they do in Matènwa. Here’s a small avocado plant.
He also does a lot of grafting. Here he has grafted lemon branches onto an orange tree.
This old mago tree has been prepared for grafting. It’s a “mango fil” meaning “stringy mango”. Its fruit isn’t very much liked. So the big branches have been cut off so that thin new growth can emerge.
“Mango fransik” branches will then be grafted onto the old mango fil tree. Fransik is a great eating mango.
As seen at the Matènwa Community Learning Center, he’s even created a great outer meeting space where he gets together with the other young gardeners that he works with.