For the past five years, Amara Watkin-Anson worked for Billings Forge Community Works, a community development non-profit in Hartford, CT where she served as the Urban Agriculture Coordinator since 2012, and helped to grow the organization in various capacities since its inception in 2008. Following graduation from the MACS program, Amara made the decision to transition her passion for food and her desire for a food secure planet to the international domain. In April, she left her job at BFCW to travel to Maai Mahiu, Kenya to work with Comfort the Children International (CTC), as a Global Advocate- a fellowship program of Mama Hope. Her experience in the MACS program provided the perfect template and the personal interest in the Listen-Connect-Engage model of Mama Hope’s work; human-centered international development work.
At the heart of it all, is dirt. The ground we walk on, from whence we came, and where we shall return. I cannot think of a better representation of our ties and connectivity as humans on this great planet than the very thing that gives us sustenance. And as we are confronted with climate change, the modified face of the food we eat, and the rapid erosion of natural resources, it makes sense to start to stem the tide with dirt.
In Maai Mahiu, an area that has been heavily deforested, the lack of agricultural productivity is starkly visible. Corn and beans are mainstays, with very little else. The need for pesticides and fertilizer is high, and farmers will break even on a single yearly harvest if they are lucky. Yet, amidst these seemingly dire circumstances, things are ripe with opportunity, and the energy for change is palpable.
Three weeks ago, we set about to harness that energy here at CTC International. How could we utilize existing resources to address a problem that we faced as an organization and as a community? We knew we wanted to improve our own farm’s soil fertility in order to better produce food, and to help demonstrate to others how effective composting, water management and crop rotation could increase economic development opportunities. At the same time, we wanted to build community awareness and greater connectivity between the food that we grow and the food that we eat.
After taking a closer look at the work of the CTC Waste Management Team, we noticed that the problem was the solution. Most of the waste from the town was biodegradable! So with the support of Bernard Owino, the Waste Management Team, and the Community Health Workers (CHW), we set about developing a pilot city-composting program, pioneered by our very own Café Ubuntu. On May 16th, we invited six local restaurant Waste Management clients for coffee and freshly baked Café Ubuntu banana bread to discuss this pilot idea. By the end of the session, it was decided that in exchange for two labeled sorting bins, some training, and ongoing follow up with the CHW, these restaurants would begin sorting their trash and biodegradable materials for weekly pickup.
Two weeks into the project and things are off to a decent start, though plenty of work still needs to be done! We are in the process of addressing some of the sorting and training challenges, but overall our compost production has tripled, and about a third of the restaurants are doing a standout job of properly sorting green waste materials (veggie scraps, coffee grinds, tea bags) and brown waste materials (paper, dried leaves, wood shavings). The Waste Management Team comes twice a week to empty the sorting bins and transfer the contents to the CTC land, where the farm team adds it to our compost piles. And the icing on the cake is the relationship we’ve built with our neighboring pig farmer to collect their manure to utilize in our piles! One program feeding another other, powered by community.
It is our hope that this pilot project can be scaled up to effectively reduce the amount of waste going to the local dumping site, while at the same time help to increase our own soil fertility. The benefit, though, extends beyond the CTC walls as we hope to broaden these educational opportunities for all of the WM clients and farmers alike; thus building healthy soil, healthy relationships and a healthy community.
Amara is an urban farmer, a choreographer, and a dancer, with stage management and community organizing experience. She has a BA in Cultural Studies from McGill University, and an MA in Cultural Sustainability from Goucher College, with a certification in Permaculture Design and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).
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