The first 4 gardens have been established in Kiang West in the Lower River Division. They have been named collectively "Bush Town" by the four owners. The young men have not been to school and speak very little English. They are aged between 20 and 35 and since the project started the oldest has already married a girl from the village and they now have a son.
It is a Mandinka village and is virtually inaccessible by road during the rainy season. The diet was mainly rice or cous accompanied sometimes by a spicy stew of gathered leaves or sometimes fish but often unaccompanied with anything except more rice, pounded to a powder and cooked with spices to make a sauce. Many children are monitored by MRC for malnutrition. Some times of the year there is barely enough food for one meal a day. The people are subsistence farmers and normally grow groundnuts in the summer as a cash crop.
There is one bore hole in the village for drinking water, there is no electricity and the nearest telephone is about 25 km away. The village has a primary school and in the dry season one daily bus usually runs from Kombo to the Kiang West area - but not always coming to the village itself.
The women of the village, helped by Action Aid, have a garden with a well and are able to produce limited supplies of fresh vegetables in the dry season. But they mainly chose to grow small white onions which they can sell at the weekly market across the river. These onions are easily grown and transported and earn the women the extra cash needed to add to their supplies of rice and cous. Owing to the lack of seed and knowledge of gardening techniques and the fact that every bucket of water has to be drawn by hand and carried sometimes up to 30 metres, most women do not experiment with much except the simplest and quickest crops.
Bush Town, as it is called, is on the outskirts of the village. We have fenced the gardens with 7 strands of barbed wire and the perimeter fence has been planted out with live fencing. Also avenues of Pigeon Pea have been planted out from our tree nursery to help to enhance the fertility of the soil and provide perenial food as well as wind and sun protection. A 15m deep well has been dug and cement lined. It has had to be deepened twice as the underlying terain is unfortunately running sand and this tends to come up inside the well in the rainy season. The first horse driven pump was installed there in 2003 but, because of the depth of the well, the weight of water was too heavy for the horse to pull easily. Modifications are underway and in the meantime we are using a solar system which pumps from the well and also charges batteries so that pumping can continue after dark if necessary. Tanks have been built and plumbed in and the system has been in use for the last two dry seasons when very successful harvests were reported.
The young men choose to live and work together although their 4 gardens are separate. They have built their own mud block houses on the farm plus kitchen and store, a stable for the horse and a sizeable sheep house. All the work, except digging the well, has been done by them and despite many setbacks and the obvious and inevitable teething troubles, they are still as enthusiastic as ever.
The first summer they grew a variety of summer crops in the garden whilst digging water harvesting swales, compost pits, permanent deep vegetable beds in the kitchen garden and establishing their fruit and nut trees. Last summer they continued the development of the permanent deep beds as time permited. They have a sizeable cassava plot with a rotation of carrots, butternut, beans, sweet corn, cabbage, tomatoes, findo, millet, watermelons, garden egg, peppers, etc. They do, of course, also continue to help on the family farm in summer, using the horse, to secure next year's supply of cous and peanuts (and peanut straw for the horse in the winter of course). When the summer rains have finished, vegetable and fruit production begins again in earnest and this will now continue all year round indefinately. In the permanent beds we will build up the quality of the soil organically - increasing yields as the fertility increases.
Our Regional Team Leader, who lives there, has been working with the young men in the garden - supporting them and sharing his experience and expertise. Also a group of young men from a neighbouring village have been coming for hands-on training - helping, observing and learning. We have now built a two roomed accommodation block - which has effectively transformed Bush Town into a mini training centre. If the project appeals to them, sponsorship permitting, the Home Farm Project will relocate to their village in November 2007 and develop the next Home Farm for them.