Kenya 2012…Challenges & Blessings of Farming

Like I wrote last week, I will be talking again about my trip to Kenya that I took this past January. I went for many reasons, and one included teaching about different farming practices. The program that I helped to teach is called Farming God’s Way. It is a program that was started in South Africa and is spreading all over southern and central Africa. It is a form of no-till farming that they can do by hand. Right now they are plowing their land, letting it sit, waiting for the rain to beat down on it and flush their topsoil literally down hills and into streams and rivers. Then the ground dries up so quickly because they are so close to the equator and with that hot sun, it’s taking so much nutrition from the plants. Their main crop is Maize, or corn. With the traditional type of farming there they are lucky to get one good crop of maize, if they are able to no-till and use mulch to cover their ground, that same plot can get up to 3 or even 4 crops in a year! One farmer’s testimony talks about his shamba’s (farm) succession from his father to him. He was more willing to take a risk and try some new ideas and was taught Farming God’s Way. He implemented the practices and took the shamba from a 6 to 7 bags of maize per year, to over 65 bags per year! I’m telling you right now, this is HUGE! He can now feed not only his family, but he can sell to make income at the market, and also give back to his church in tithes to help his community. This is truly something that has the potential to change the outlook of the hungry in Africa.

Farming in Kenya with the students!

I won’t tell you too much about the details of how this program works, you can look at their website and let me know if you would like more information. I would though like to talk about some challenges and some blessings that have been going on there.


  1. Getting food from abroad coming “out of the sky”. This seems like an odd challenge for these people, since they are hungry, you would think that getting food would be a blessing. However it becomes very challenging when they become to rely on the relief packages. Last year some farmers were given seeds to plant for corn, and instead of planting them and nurturing it to bring more food to their families like you would think would be the best option. They ate the seeds and promptly went to the food kitchen to be fed for the rest of the year. I can’t blame them; they are being enabled, in a sense, to be lazy.
  2. This is Africa. Maybe you have heard it before but the saying, “This is Africa” sort of encompasses some of the mentality that I experienced. It basically says this is how Africa is now; this is how Africa will be in the future. Tradition is hard to overcome anywhere, but in a place where sometimes that is all you have, it makes it even more difficult to get people on board with new ideas. I felt like we were making some
    The neighbor farm plowing to get ready for planting.

    great progress and then I saw the farm right next door plowing a few days after we got there. That farmer hadn’t come to our seminars and I asked some of the people at the training center why he didn’t, it seemed so obvious that he would want to come check out how to be a better farmer. And I was told that he farms how he has always farmed, he won’t come to seminars and isn’t interested in learning the new ways. “But has he heard how good this can be for his farm? How much higher his yields can be??”, “Of course he has, but he doesn’t care. This is Africa Brenda.”

  3. They will be the first to tell you that it’s hard to change anything in Africa. Which I think is true among many agricultural communities and people. We’re a traditional bunch, and at times change can be considered a bad word. We’re more likely to do something because my dad did it that way, and his dad did it that way, so of course that’s still how we’re doing things! So I think that although some are coming around to a new way of farming, it will still take a long time to get a culture turned around and to start listening to their neighbors and see how this is producing more food.
  4. Timing is so important in farming. When it plant, fertilize, harvest, etc. In Africa time is usually the last thing on their minds. Time goes at its own speed there and it is of no importance, I can’t even count the number of times they would say a class would start at 9, 9:30 rolls around, maybe even 10 before it really starts rolling. So that was a hard concept to get across, that you have to do things in a timely manner. For instance when your weeds are only 1-6 inches tall and you’re hand weeding. It will take one person 7 days to hoe a hectare. The weed cycle there is 10 days, so you would have 3 days free to do other crop maintenance. But if you wait until the weeds are 7-14 inches tall, it will take that same person 13 days to hoe the hectare. Leaving him instantly 3 days behind and with a huge battle ahead of him.


  1. Isaac Rutto, with Tim & I

    They have a wonderful extension team at the training center. These two men, both named Isaac are incredibly helpful and innovative when it comes to ways to help spread the word when we can’t be there to teach the seminars. Isaac Rutto goes out into the community all the time to put on seminars and teach classes. He hasstarted teaching in Tanzania with an interesting approach. He taught a portion of the class to a few farmers. Then told them that to get the rest of the class and information they could come back, but only if they brought a neighbor. And so it went on and on, they are up to 80 farmers and still growing!! What an amazing accomplishment.

  2. Isaac Mwebe is the other teacher that is instrumental in getting this program to
    Isaac Mwebe's Family, and their beautiful Maize!

    continually grow. He works at the Agricultural School that is located at the training center. He not only teaches the practices but also farms this way himself. Well his wife is the actual farmer; he just comes home to help on weekends. He gives her so much credit and she is doing a wonderful job! They have 8 ft tall corn right now and it looks beautiful, it’s also their 3rd crop on dry land! A huge blessing!

  3. Their climate is very conducive to many crops. Since they are so close to the equator their daylight only changes by a half hour year round. Also their temperatures never vary beyond about 15 or 20 degrees. The only thing that changes is during the rainy season it pours buckets of rain from about 10am to 3pm. So if they could do a better job of harnessing that water when it does come, and not let it go flying off into the streams with their topsoil, they could truly have huge yield increases.
  4. Their chance to use farming as a way to praise God. This program brings together the idea that God gave you everything you need to be successful and bountiful with your land. We just need to be able to use what he gave us in the right order, at the
    Praying over our community farming plot.

    right time and with excellence. So farmers now who are using these techniques are finding that it is proving their hope in God is real and they can share that with their neighbor.

  5. What struck me most, was their ability to open their arms to us and really truly want to hear what we were teaching them. They were taking notes like crazy, asking questions, and truly paying attention to any advice we could give to them. I thought this was so interesting because I’m pretty sure that if someone came on to my farm and told me they were going to completely change the way I did things, I would probably kick them right off. I think for them however the difference is that they are somewhat at the end of their ropes. People are truly starving and not able to feed their families on what they can produce on their land. I think many of them are at the point where hope is all they have left, and what we have to say, even though it’s different and new, might be worth a shot.

This trip was a true blessing to me personally. I got to meet so many interesting people and was humbled by their stories of survival and hope. I think that they live in a world where hope, at times, it just about all you have got in the world. I think that we forget many times how much we have to be thankful for and we owe it to them to give thanks for our fortunate situation here. I hope that you see how we were truly trying to empower the Kenyans in that area to find what works best for them, teach them how to do it, and they leave with a hope that it will continue to be taught! I know that there will be a team going back next year, I’m not sure if that will include myself or not just yet. But I do know that I left a piece of my heart back there and will think of them every day until I get to go back and see how what we taught has helped and find more ways to empower them.

Top: Farming God's Way Plot at the Ag School. Bottom: Hanging out with a few very fortunate orphans.

Wild Goose Chasing…Is it working?

I have run for a lot of reasons in my life. I ran after the gypsy that robbed me in Spain. I ran a marathon. I ran through Los Angeles Airport dressed like a chicken. I ran to catch many a train. I ran to catch a ship bound for Tanzania. I ran when I felt sad, happy, anxious, excited, bored, tired and energetic. I ran to get in shape, to feel good, to get something off my mind. Really the reasons I run are fairly endless, however the most recent running experience I’ve had probably proves to be the most silly. I ran while on a very literal wild goose chase!

It was a nice day a few weeks ago and I was out driving around looking at a few fields. We have a particularly interesting situation here in Oregon, when the, as we like to refer to them Canadian Air Force (aka Canadian Geese) come into town they can wreak havoc on your crops. They eat like a buffet across all that you’ve worked so hard to get into the ground and get growing. This was a particularly large gaggle around 2,000, munching down and cackling away on the other side of a 50 acre field. After spotting them I reached back for my gun, as any self-respecting country girl would do, to find that I had forgotten it at home. I looked around some more hoping to find something to get these geese off my crop, unfortunately all I found was two arms I found and 6 legs (mine and my dog Yukon’s). I jumped out of my rig and set off across the field.

Now to give you a description of the best techniques for scaring geese with only your dog and yourself, I would say it looks quite ridiculous. It involves arms flying in the air like a crazy person, yelling at the top of your lungs anything you can think of, running as fast as you can over uneven grass stubble, and yes of course tripping along the way. To add to how funny this must look, my companion Yukon is not the best at this activity. He had a run in a few years back the first time we went to scare geese. He took off at Mach 5 right toward the geese. All it took was 6 of them to turn around, start squawking and flapping their wings for him to turn tail and run back into the bed of my pick-up, with this look like, “holy cow those things look mean!” So now he does more barking at me and as I imagine he’s saying, “You’re so CRAZY mom, those things are really dangerous…GET BACK IN THE PICK-UP!!” But I keep running…they must leave! As I get closer they are getting more and more nervous, I’m getting more and more winded, praying for them to just freaking leave already!!! And then the moment comes, a few pop their heads up and decide they have had enough. Off they go with the greatest of ease and in a very loud exit they are off to the next field. Although they don’t really make it to the next field, they just go to another corner of mine…Now I am truly on a wild goose chase. And we’re off again, Yukon barking, me yelling and yes doing quite a bit of laughing praying no neighbors drive by. I finally did get them to leave that day, only after they left me a wonderful surprise by crapping on my pick-up the green digested grass that I was hoping would stay in the ground. Life is so ironic at times!

A Good day of Hunting

Fighting with geese has become an interesting problem in the Willamette Valley.  How do you find a good way to keep them off your ground and from eating your crop? We do a lot of hazing and I think that is fairly effective, but the problem becomes when you miss one day and they graze 20 acres of clover in that one time you were out of town, or had other things on your list and just didn’t get to it. To haze we use what we call goose crackers. They are like an M80 that is in a shotgun shell cartridge. When you shoot them they fly into the air before exploding, so that you can get particularly close to the geese with the loud noise. We are licensed in the state the carry these shells and use them, so when we went to buy more this past year we were frustrated to find out that now not only do you need to be licensed in the state, you also need a federal permit. Just another hoop to jump through that is added on to the most effective tool that we have out there. I know many farmers who just gave up because the process to get federally licensed was so tedious. I did go through the process and am waiting to hear if I get approved or not. It took quite a bit of work, including getting finger printed and filling out pages and pages of application.  I think the worst part was realizing that while we’re struggling on our farms to protect our crops, government is making it more difficult to legally help with the problem.  They don’t want their protected birds to be killed, and I don’t want them on my crops, so let me do what is right and haze without all the hoops and frustration!  Hopefully we’ll be able to have that tool back as a way to help take care of our crops, if not , it looks like I’ll be spending more time goose hunting than farming in the years to come.

5 Crops and what to plant?

When people first find out that I’m a farmer, usually they don’t believe it.  I am a 28 year old single woman, I look nothing like the 57 year old male married farmer that most people think of and makes up the majority of our farmers in the US.  But once I say again that yes, I am a farmer, the next question is inevitably, “What do you farm and how many cows do you have?”  And I proceed to tell them that we actually don’t have any cows, we’re purely a crop farm and we grow 5 crops; grass seed, hazelnuts, wheat, crimson and green beans.  And here’s about how the rest of the conversation plays out information wise…

  • Grass seed.  We grow perennial grass seed as one of our main crops.  We farm in an area that has wonderful growing conditions for growing the seed that is used on golf courses, in lawns, and on sports fields.  This crop stays in for anywhere from 2 to 4 years depending on the variety and available irrigation.  Our largest battle keeping these fields healthy is battling slugs in the winter which will eat your crop down to nothing in the dormant season so that once the sun does come out and things start to grow, these plants have been hurt so bad they will never come back.  Also fighting off-type grasses is an issue.  This is why we have chosen to use rotation crops so that we can cut down on our chemical usage.

  • Hazelnuts (Also known as filberts).  These are grown in orchards on trees.  We produce a type of nut that after harvested is dried down and sent all over the world.  They dry them down even more in a salt brine and then crack them and eat them as snacks, like pistachios.  For harvesting, the nuts fall off the tree naturally when they are mature, we come by and sweep them up into rows between the trees so our harvester can then pick them up off the ground and after going over some chains and through a fan they are taken via conveyer belt to a tote and then out of the field.  This is usually the dirtiest part of our harvest season, lots of dust and dirt.  Our biggest battle with this crop is a filbert blight that came over from the East side of the state.  It is slowly killing our trees.  We are trying to hold it back by using pruning, scouting, and also chemical programs to keep it at bay.  However Oregon State University has been working very hard to come out with blight resistant trees.  In the past few years they have been very successful and we have seen hundreds of acres of filberts being planted all over the Willamette Valley.

  • No Till Wheat growing through stubble

    Wheat.  We grow winter and spring wheat here.  In the past wheat here has always been a last resort for crop rotation, but with the better prices in the past 5 years the mentality has changed and we are using it more and more as a tool to help with weed issues and keep our fields away from grass seed for at least 2 years.  The winter wheat we plant into minimum tilled ground.  Originally we did this to help save on the rising fuel costs and we have been very happy the results.  However like I mentioned in the grass seed section, we have a very large slug problem so we haven’t mastered no-till yet on the winter wheat.  Spring wheat we grow for seed as well and have had great success with no-till.  The spring wheat is very fast growing and seems to grow faster than the slugs can eat it.

  • Field of Crimson Clover in Bloom

    Crimson Clover.  Our clover is used mostly as a rotation crop to clean up our fields after the perennial grass has been in the ground for 3 years.  We grow it for the seed and it is used all over as a cover crop for other farms.  Also it is a crop that puts nitrogen back into the soil, so it will help with our soil and plant health for the next crop we plant.

  • Green Bean Harvest

    Green Beans. This is another rotational crop that is also DELICIOUS!  We have been growing green snap beans for the past 3 years and it’s been a learning curve.  We went from crops that took all year to produce to one that only takes a few months and it’s ready to be harvested.

So what to plant next year?  It’s a question that our farm faces in our future planning all the time.  We aren’t looking to diversify more in the next two years, but have been looking at a few other options.  Basically we want to be able to keep our land healthy and use continual rotation to help keep weeds down.  And hopefully continue our increase in the use of no-till planting to save not only our topsoil, but our diesel bill as well!

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