I’ve never been great with New Years Resolutions. They’re fun for a quick second and then usually end up forgotten by February. This year, however, is a little different. When we came to The Gambia (almost 3 months ago!), Health and Agriculture volunteers came together. Our work is inevitably intertwined, an idea that is often forgotten in the field of Public Health, and you can’t even think about nutrition education without first thinking of agricultural availability. The “Farm-to-Table” link is infinitely easier to track here than it is in America, because what’s on your table, or in your bowl, came barreling down the road on the back of a donkey cart the day before. So this year, my New Years resolutions are mostly agriculture based – the first being: learn how to grow stuff. The Peace Corps Agriculture Framework focuses on vegetable gardens, community spaces for gardening, improving gardening techniques, and planting trees. I started work on that last goal the other day when I planted a banana tree in my backyard!
From my doorstep, I can spot over 5 mango trees. This is not the norm throughout The Gambia, as deforestation spreads throughout West Africa, but my village sometimes feels like the Rainforest Cafe with mango, cashew, and baobab trees. As Peace Corps volunteers, we focus on tree education through tree nurseries and innovative techniques like grafting. Tree grafting, from what I’ve gathered, is intertwining two different tree types to make a stronger and more diverse tree. When I came here, I had no idea what grafting was or even the basics of tree planting. But thankfully, I have a “Master Farmer” 1K away from me, whose job is to grow cool things and teach people about it. He’s grafting trees like lemon and mango, growing different crops out of season, and raising livestock for profit and to teach others.
In addition to trees, we focus a lot on vegetable gardens. Back to the idea of Farm-to-Table, if there are more nutritious foods available in village, it will be easier for people to eat more nutritiously. You can’t teach a group of mothers about the benefits of fruits and vegetables without first thinking about the actually growing of the fruits and vegetables. These people, my neighbors and new friends, are awesome at gardening. They’ve already taught me so much, on the afternoons when they let me help water the garden, and continue to pester me to start growing my own onions.
onion = soble
Around here, I’ve seen a lot of onions, tomatoes, cassava, cucumber, and eggplant. But the real money maker around here is the peanut.
Peanuts are one of the biggest exports from The Gambia, and we’re just now in the harvest season. Farmers will be gone all day at their farms and will come back with huge bags full of “ground nuts” as they’re called here.
ground nut = gerte
People will spend all afternoon cracking the ground nuts to be used in that evening’s dinner. Usually the nuts are pounded and used for some sort of sauce.
A Wolof peanut sauce dish is called domoda
We have some very talented gardeners and farmers in this area, thanks in part to the Agricultural Training Center up the road. They’ve taught courses in horticulture, gardening, and more – and specialize in school drop outs. They also support our village with a community garden. It has been nicknamed, “Fence” because of the nice fence built around it. Fencing is an important aspect to agriculture, because of the roaming livestock and insects. I have seen some people use their mosquito nets as fencing or protection for their garden beds.
Livestock are a huge part of agriculture. Primarily, there are roaming cattle, goats and chickens. One of the graduates of the Ag Center here has turkeys and quail as well. There is a chicken coop by the river which is positioned so it provides food for the fish in the river. A Gambian meal is usually going to include some sort of fish. Whether it’s pounded into the sauce or just put on top of rice, it’s readily available and relatively cheap because of the proximity to the river. Almost everyone has goats, and most people on the outskirts of town own cattle. Beef and chicken are used in meals during special occasions, and eggs are very expensive here. The Master Farmer explained that free roaming chickens are healthier and grow faster, but also have the risk of eating seeds from the garden beds.
I’ll talk more about food in another blog, but a typical meal includes rice or cous with some sauce, some fish, and a veggie or two. My meals are more balanced than most, since my host sister works at the Clinic and understands the importance of nutrition. Today’s lunch was rice with sauce, fish, onions, cabbage, and a potato or two. It will come as a surprise to none that I love the food here. I’ve never had a very refined palate, but I enjoy the rice dishes with fish and am excited to have chicken or beef every once in a while!
Happy New Year!