Every once in a while, it’s good to take one’s beliefs and assumptions out to the patio, take a broom stick, and thoroughly beat out the dust, mites and other muck that may have accumulated over the years. Then bring the beliefs and assumptions back into the house, well aired and fresh, just like you would a well-loved carpet. That’s what I’ve been up to. I felt I was getting stale when it came to what was meant to work or not work on this farm – and I am not talking about the well-manicured nails. Those stay!
Last time I was here, my Farm Manager and I were off to visit a farm. We did. And that was when my assumptions got a thorough beating. Here’s why; First off, the farm was made up of eleven well-functioning, dare I add profitable green houses, managed by three gentlemen who worked like a well-oiled machine. One of the three was the Farm Manager, Richard. On top of the eleven greenhouses, he oversees a further twenty-five greenhouses, located in various parts of Kenya.
Secondly, these gentlemen were focused on outcomes and not time-wasting activities that would generate no money. Watching them, you got the impression that every movement of their body was well timed, calculated and thought through. They were economical, not miserly, with their energy and the results were visible.
I had spent my time dead set on open air farming, yet what I had forgotten, or ignored, was the simple fact that in tropical Africa, you need to manage the climate as much as you need to manage the pests. Richard and his team had figured this out and knew they needed greenhouses. I remember him mentioning that he had initially started off with open air farming, and by the end of three months he knew he had to manage the heat and scarce water if he was to succeed. Why had I been so obstinate? Who had put it in my head that organic farming can only be done in the open fields? As I said, assumptions, beliefs and a broomstick!
As a result of putting their crops in a greenhouse, here’s what else Richard had managed to do. He was no longer using pesticides in one of his greenhouses. Yet this was the greenhouse that had the most pest attractive crops – tomatoes and capsicum. How you ask? Because he would diligently scout the greenhouses and ensure there was not a single pest that got in. He had a red-neck contraption that consisted of a light source slung above a basin filled with a mixture of oil and water. Any bug that ventured into the green house got attracted to the light and promptly fell into the water where it either died, or its reproductive organs were covered in oil, rendering it unable to reproduce and ultimately, harmless.
Due to his diligence, Richard was able to calculate the cost of production to a single plant, as well as the income from every single plant in the greenhouses. He had this down to a science. I repeat – assumptions, beliefs and a broomstick!
We spent the better part of four hours with Richard. We asked questions and he patiently answered every one of them. I was stunned by what these three gentlemen had accomplished.
When I went back to my farm, I was excited to implement what I had learnt, but I also realized I had to get my farm hands to understand that open air farming was never going to get us to where I wanted. This was the real battle! Changing a mindset is a herculean task on a normal day. Pepper that with the usual “this is how we have always done it”, and you are in deep, shark infested waters. At some point, I threatened to shut down the entire enterprise and send everyone home. Not my proudest moment, but it yanked a chain that made my farm workers sit up and think.
And that is what has gotten us to where we are today. Where we are now clear that we are farming chili so we can raise money for green house farming. The dream of organic farming is alive and well. What has changed is that it will be actualized in a greenhouse and not in an open field.
I have learnt to be less obstinate and observe things a little more closely. I have learnt that I must air my beliefs and assumptions more frequently. I have learnt that I must deliberately connect the dots of my experiences and turn them into a story. My father always said I was militant and rebellious. I think the word he was looking for was obstinate!
I leave you with my latest inspiration and challenge from Rumi;
“Everything you possess of skill, and wealth, and handicraft, wasn’t it first merely a thought and a quest?”