Week 13 (Chicago Week 11)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Chard
  • Basil
  • Maxibell French green beans
  • Kentucky wonder pole beans
  • Sweet corn
  • Melon
  • White Lebanese squash, patty pans, and zephyr summer squash
  • Broccoli
  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Artichokes
  • Bell pepper

Leaving farm to volunteer in Senegal, West Africa

In an international airport halfway between home and Africa, in a swirling mass of anonymous people, I must let go of the known, the familiar. I must embrace the unknown, the uncertain. Each time I do it now, a frailty I’ve felt as a farmer is greatly amplified. It is the frailty of being just “one.”

People have been asking me since before my first journey to Africa in August 1975, why I’d want to go there. At first, they fretted for the naïve, innocent youth of the Midwest that I was. I turned 21 during my training program in the Peace Corps. It was my first time to live away from home.

Now those who love me trouble over a 61st birthday and a greying head of hair. My son who served in the Marines, especially, worries about me. He served a year in Iraq. He reads about troubled “hot spots” of anti-American activity. No one wants the old man to go beyond a cell phone call, beyond reach and help.

A “dark continent” long ago acquired a reputation founded in myth and reality. It was blackened and made horrifying by European ancestors. Hollywood and comic books contributed. There’ve been outbreaks of disease.  Civil strife.  Famine.  None of it has helped anyone in the West discern the whole truth about Africa.

Yet is my wanting to go there to help any different really, from any journey I’ve made the past 40 years?

  • Why did I go to speak at meetings, public hearings, court room battles, appeals boards – all to wage unsuccessful battles for the health of my neighbors against mega dairy farms?
  • Why did I organize and drive to field days, research plots, workshops, conferences, markets – all to help farmers and farm communities  improve their quality of life, help them arrive at sustainability, when it did not stem the loss of farms?
  • Why does anyone take on tasks that seem incredibly futile? Why does one leave the comfort of home, the arms of loved ones, for distant, strange lands – or moral struggles, or arduous causes? Why are Dela and I going yet again Saturday for two weeks to West Africa?

In Africa, I find dignity in poverty. I find joy despite physical want and severe need. I walk streets filled with human life instead of mechanical devices. I feel friendship in strangers, kinship within moments of first meetings.

African farming people taught me to reverence food, savor food, value the work of food production. And on my 4th Farmer to Farmer volunteer assignment – in Africa, I look forward to giving back a little from so much I carried away in my heart and soul those first 2 years there as a young man so many years ago.

Dela, too, incredibly in just her first two weeks in Senegal in January 2012, found the people, especially women and children, so endearing. Their laughter, their colorful dress, their thirst to learn and to grow with Nature’s lessons – it all captured her heart.

We’re taking things Senegalese have told us, shown us they need. They are things people, still living as Old Testament characters did 2,500 years ago, never had. They are things they need to practice organic food production, to sustain their families and the land in Africa. Seeds. A solar food dryer. Tools. Instruction. Encouragement.

We’ll be training people in farms and community gardens along a river in the region of Matam. If you google that name, you’ll find history and photos. And if you can tune into WEKZ FM or AM in Monroe, I’m going to try to send back audio filings about our service. Later on, perhaps we can figure out how to burn my ramblings to our website or Facebook.

While we’re gone, Jim and Jenna will need volunteer help even more than when I’ve asked you to help us all. Please come for a volunteer visit at Scotch Hill if you can. It’s a way that you, too, can help farmers in Africa. It’s a way we can all be more than “one.”