The Grand Gardening Project
The year before Titus Fern arrived in Malawi was not a good year for Esther’s House’s crops. We had waited too long to rent fields and found there weren’t many to choose from, so we ended up planting maize on 11 different plots of land spread out far and wide—and we didn’t get the best places either. Some got no water and the maize shriveled up. Some got too much water and the maize drowned. Some fields were mowed down by termites and weevils. If we’re being real honest… it was a mess.
Then into that mess, we dragged Titus, fresh off the boat from Tennessee. We bought an additional acre of land to use for farming and Titus made sure we got in on the renting process before all the good fields were swooped up. This time around, we got some good ones. We found a 2-acre plot for rent close to our land and planted our maize—and a few months later, we brought in the biggest harvest Esther’s House has ever had. 92 bags of 2 kg each: enough to last us the rest of the year.
Titus was excited—but not satisfied. “It really just came down to luck—and God’s provision,” he said. “God really blessed us with good rainfall at the right times.” Farmers from neighboring regions suffered drought and low crop yields. Titus knew that his success had everything to do with God’s grace in sending rain—and little to do with his farming techniques. He began to realize that he could do everything right—rent good plots of land, use fertilizer, plant at just the right time—and still get nothing out of his fields. “It all comes down to rain,” he said. “It’s the biggest roll of the dice ever.”
The thing is, if we lose our crops in a given year, we can find ways to buy food. We have funds for that exact situation. Malawians don’t. They roll the dice every single year: they put their seeds in the ground and hope for the best. If the rain doesn’t fall, they don’t eat. This should not be so.
So we’ve begun exploring alternative approaches to farming that don’t depend so heavily on rainfall, namely: aquaponics. The (very basic) idea behind aquaponics is to grow plants by suspending them in water. As long as the water has the nutrients in it that plants need, they grow just as well, if not better, this way!
Titus has been doing a lot of research into this and he’s found that a great way to do aquaponics is to start out by building fish farms—and then “planting” crops in the fishes’ water. The plants eat up the fishes’ waste and get all the nutrients they need—and keep the fish pools clean in the process. The end result is a good source of protein (in the fish) and a sustainable way to grow crops, with or without good rain!
We don’t imagine ourselves growing maize this way starting out…. That would be a much bigger operation than what we’re ready to take on at the moment. But we can grow our vegetables this way and get a regular supply of fresh fish in the process! And as we learn, we hope to be able to share what we’re learning with our Malawian neighbors so that hopefully one day, no one will have to roll the dice anymore.