Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Why grandmother: what beautiful soil you have!

By Gail Taylor, Three Part Harmony Farm

"The better to feed you with, my child!"

Harvesting over 600 heads of lettuce this month, at some point I started to feel delirious. The 400 bunches of radishes we harvested from a single 100 foot long bed took an extra harvest trip on Saturday night after the farmer's market.

There are two things that I love about being a farmer:
1. Working harder produces measurable, tangible results.
2. The results of my hard work are cumulative, meaning each year it just gets better!

70,080 hours (or 4,204,800 minutes)

That's how long we have been growing soil at Three Part Harmony Farm. Getting to production level didn't happen overnight and we are still working on it. It took a lot of work to get to the point where we can pull 400 bunches of radishes from a single 3x100' bed.

Food for People

I started the farm with a naive but stubborn commitment that I would grow food for people. To me, that meant growing things like kale and collard greens. My ideal customer: people who want to eat high quality, nutrient dense food from a "socially responsible" and politically progressive local business.

3 years: we doubled our growth each year 

I wrote an ambitious growth plan to scale up and double our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program every year for 3 years in a row. In the 2019 season, we grossed over six figures. The multi-farm CSA offered agricultural products grown by over a dozen sustainable farms owned by BIPOC and/ or women or gender non-confirming folx.

7 minus 3 = 4

This season, we reduced the number of CSA pick ups by 3. We consolidated our CSA pick up days from 3 to 2. We reduced the number of CSA members by 80. We only staff 2 pick ups and that burden is shared equally with our sister farm, Deep Roots.
Photo by Anna Meyer

Slim margins

Running the farm on a wish and a prayer became untenable. No matter what plan I wrote on paper, the farm never increased its profits enough to pay me minimum wage much less a living wage. Why? The short answer is: not enough support. 

Welcome to the revolution

Even before the word "pivot" was on everyone's lips, our farm began to make a slow arc of a turn towards cooperation to solve our problems.

This year we will formalize our farmer co-op [and many thanks to Co-op Impact DC for awarding us a grant to get started!], "Cooperative Colibrí" and emerge stronger than ever. On a production level we scaled back. We right-sized ourselves and made smart, strategic choices about what would nurture us the most as growers of soil.
If you are one of the almost 1,000 new instagram followers or any number of the hundreds of new subscribers to this newsletter: welcome! If you donated: thank you. If you called me and I didn't answer, if you emailed and didn't get a response: I'm sorry. I'm completely overwhelmed right now by the number of inquiries. If I am able to answer I will.
In the meantime, maybe you want to learn more about Black farmers and how to support us?  The hard truth is, supporting Black farmers starts before you buy from us. You have to pay taxes twice: first you give money to the government. The USDA takes its share and favors big corporations instead of small, family-owned farms not to mention the legacy of racism and discrimination. Then you give again, a free-will offering in order to give to organizations that are trying to reverse the legacy of Black land loss and the effects of structural, institutionalized white supremacy that has made access to land, access to marketsaccess to capital so much harder for us than for white folks. It's not going to change overnight for us but your acknowledgement is a start.
For one of the best places to learn more about these issues, I highly recommend the SoulFire Farm website for a succinct, consolidated list of resources. If you spend more than 5 min enriching your mind and life from this gem of a resource, send them money :)

And if you don't already read Civil Eats I highly recommend it.

p.s. if you are confused about taking a strong stance against anti-Blackness and think that maybe it overshadows the importance of Black and Brown solidarity, please remember we are not the problem looking at each other, together we face the problem.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

On coronavirus and keeping everyone healthy

by Gail Taylor, Three Part Harmony Farm

A while ago I went to two different stores looking for cleaning supplies, gloves, disinfectant wipes and soap. Somehow, while at the grocery store I slowly began to fill my cart with pantry items that will last a month, including over 10 pounds of assorted dry beans!

It's hard to know exactly what to do right now, and things are changing daily. It's easy to let the imagination get out of hand even though I know that staying calm and maintaining good mental health is important to my overall health. Easier said than done!

What I do know is that a healthy community is sustained, in part, by the meals they are able to access and the quality of nourishment in those meals.

A few weeks ago I participated in a training of climate justice activists. We all introduced our respective organizations and the work that we do. I was really inspired by our sister Claudia, an organizer with FWAF (the Farmworker Association of Florida) who ended her presentation with this quote:

"In your lifetime, you might need a lawyer one time. In a calendar year, maybe you need a doctor once. But three times a day you need a farmer."

At Three Part Harmony Farm, our slogan has always been "Food As Medicine. Food As Culture. Food for our Future."

Now more than ever, I feel that food as medicine part.

Please know that our team is thinking about everyone during this time and we are right there with you, reading and thinking and talking about how the coronavirus and its disease, COVID-19 have upended all of our lives. We wanted to let you know that we are acutely aware of how important local food security is at this time, and we plan to do our part to provide that to our community, as always, but with added vigilance.

Please stay at home when you can. Enjoy the outdoors for fresh air but with a safe distance.

Monday, February 10, 2020

OMI CAMEROON: Maroua Counseling Centre: Another Oblate Initiative

Originally published in OMI Information November-December 2019 - www.omiworld.org

Fr. Thomas Bang, OMI

The city of Maroua is the capital of the Far North region of Cameroon. This region is often a victim of Boko Haram Islamic terrorism. The city of Maroua hosts many Internally Displaced People (IDP’s) with refugees from Nigeria as well. There are also displaced people from the English- speaking regions of North-West and South-West Cameroon. These two regions are victims of the violence of the political crisis, which has already caused more than 2,000 deaths and more than 6,000 displaced, according to the local press.

Maroua, therefore, is now transformed into a large centre for victims of war and poverty. Most of these people have often undergone various types of physical and psychological abuse. There are children and women who have been raped, beaten, maimed, and deprived of their families, schooling, and even food. There are parents who have lost their children, and children who have lost their parents.

Passionate about the poor, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate of the Province of Cameroon have opened in August, 2019, a Counseling Centre in Maroua. The name of this centre is “Maroua Counseling Centre” (MCC). The centre is an initiative of Fr. Edouard DAGAVOUNANSOU, provincial superior. Fr. Thomas BANG has been appointed as its first director. The centre works in collaboration with psychologists, a medical doctor, a lawyer, and the police officers of the city.

Father Thomas listens to each victim and refers him or her to the collaborators according to the person’s need. The centre welcomes victims of abuse and violence in all its forms. So far, the majority of victims are children and women.

The main difficulty we face is that the demand is much more than what was expected. Listening to a victim can sometimes take more than 2 hours. Apart from Father Thomas, the centre has no permanent staff due to the lack of financial means. The director of the centre also has other responsibilities parallel to the centre, which makes his availability limited at times. Some people come to the centre for material assistance, like school fees for children, medical bills, food and even housing.

One of the many positive aspects of the centre is that the victims of abuse tell us how they already feel relieved just by being listened to. They are happy that there is finally a place where they can go to share and express their feelings freely, thanks to the goodwill of our volunteers and collaborators!

We also have some future projects to accomplish. Having a refectory, and utilizing it to offer at least one meal a day to those most desperate victims, is one of those projects. Further, the centre needs to be equipped with more toilets and showers for the victims for the time they spend at the centre. We also wish to have two or three resource persons as our permanent staff, so that we could serve more people a day. These are our dreams, but in faith we believe that it will soon be a reality.

Giving life to displaced people

Pikba is a large village of persons, displaced by war, and immigrants, located 34 km from Poli, a part of our parish territory. Due to the lack of roads, in the rainy season, access is only possible by motorcycle.

In early 2014, people displaced by the war in the far north of Cameroon, who were victims of terrorist activity by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, settled in Pikba. Today, Pikba has about 1,500 inhabitants, with the displaced people accounting for more than half of its population. So, it is this refugee community that I visit and follow regularly. During our meetings, several difficulties were identified, mainly the absence of a school and the lack of water.

The school: thanks to our efforts and those of our benefactors, a school has been created. Today, it is officially recognized and has more than 500 students and the number is growing. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Provincial, Fr. Edouard DAGAVOUNANSOU, for his support in providing school supplies and sports equipment. Thank you to Brother Jean-Marie DIAKANOU who came to this village to offer school supplies to all the children in the school as well as linens and toiletries to some families. Thanks also to my friends, Jacques TEMPIER and Daniel BRESSY, from France for their many donations. 

Lack of drinking water: There was no drinking water supply in this large village. The population obtained supplies from polluted ponds and for that, they had to contend with domestic animals and other animals. Consequently, there were many diseases caused by water. We were very moved by this situation and decided to do something for them. Thus, thanks to the generosity of the ASMG Association, through Fr. François CARPENTIER and several other friends, three wells have been dug to provide drinking water for the entire village. 

These wells were inaugurated during a solemn Mass presided over by Fr. Gérard VONDOU, parochial vicar of Poli, followed by the blessing of each well. In a letter, the villagers asked me to express their deep gratitude to all the donors.  Here is the full text from the population: 

"Dearest Brother Ernest, 

It is with great joy that the entire population of Pikba welcomes you to the official inauguration of the wells. This day will remain etched in our memory, because it has been a long time since we have had drinking water. Your arrival in Pikba is like the arrival of the Lord Jesus. We were in the darkness and today we are in the light. You thought of us when you dug wells for us. May this work be engraved in the archives so that the youth of tomorrow can credit this to your name. May the Lord guide your steps in all your actions. Today Pikba is proud because we have benefited a lot from the donations of your friends… We are still thirsty. We ask you to knock on your friends' doors about the situation of our school without classrooms. The village is a long way from a health center and our chapel is without a roof. We are very affected by your departure. The only thing we ask you is not to leave us. Yet we say goodbye and wish you the best in your new mission." 

Personally, I am happy and humbly proud of myself to have given “life” to these displaced people, because water is life. 

Bro. Ernest Grégoire Mbemba, OMI