“Going to the shamba.”  That has a nice ring to it, and I had been looking forward to my chance to work in the “shamba” or field all week.  Virtually every woman and several men I’ve met in Kager are either full or part time farmers.  First thing in morning, before doing anything else, they spend some a few hours in their “shamba” planting, weeding, or harvesting depending on the time of year.

Tools of the trade. Lot’s of farmers can’t afford more than a few hand hoes.

When my host Carolyne showed me where one of her corn plots was located, and told me she was going to do some weeding, I asked if I could tag along.  After taking pictures and doing computer work for JVP, I was ready to get dirty and do some “real work.”

Getting a little dirty was probably the highlight of my farming experience.


Plus, I knew I had a lot to learn. I have to admit that even if I’m not a “high maintenance” person, I’m still a city girl at heart.  I have never lived on a farm or even really worked in a garden.  The closest I’ve done is cutting the grass with a self-propelled mower.  But in Kager, anything with a motor is hard to come by.

Sampson was an expert, and I was glad to have his help.

So for all you aspiring farmers out there, here are some tips I gathered from my day in the field, just in case you find yourself headed to the “shamba” someday.

  • First, you have to get the right tools.  For most families here, that means only one thing: a hand-held hoe.  It’s a smooth, strong stick with a piece of metal wedged in one end, fashioned by a local black smith.  Don’t worry about ploughs or even shovels.  In Kager, they stick to the basics.
  • Ditch the shoes.  Before I left for the shamba, I was worried I wasn’t wearing the right apparel.  I even asked Carolyne if I should change to my tennis shoes, but she said my sandals were fine.  Once we were there, I saw the reason why.  Everyone just kicked off their shoes and got to work barefoot.  What a great idea! It feels more authentic when you can actually feel the soil under your feet.
  • Bend over and dig!  In Kager, they call weeding “digging.”  They just bend over at the waist (you can feel it in the hamstrings), lift the hoe above their head and attack the weeds.  Just make sure you don’t accidentally take the corn stalk out with the other green stuff crowding around it.  Farmers often plant beans or peanuts in the same field with the corn, so be sure you know which plants they want to keep in the ground.
  • Try to work in a straight line.  I found this hard to do as I bent over and focused on the weeds.  Maybe the blood was rushing to my head, but my fellow workers were gracious and just worked around me!
  • Work always goes faster with teamwork!

  • Watch out for rocks.  Even if it’s fertile, the soil on these mountains is full of stones.  Rather than remove all of them, the farmers just plant around them.  So be careful in your bare feet, and when your hoe hits one, it might send a piece flying.
  • Keep going.  Since farmers here can’t afford fertilizer or pesticide, there is always an abundance of weeds.  But as we worked steadily, the weeds gradually disappeared, leaving a patch of nice brown earth with baby corn stalks in our wake.
  • Indulge in some ibuprofen.  This is not a very Kenyan thing to do, but I recommend one pill for every hour of work.  Since we only covered a tiny plot of land, my one hour of weeding wasn’t too strenuous.  Still, my hands were tender from gripping the hoe.

So even though modern farming technology is years away from Kager, I discovered how generations of farmers have still managed to cultivate acres upon acres of fields – through lots of hard work.  The process is simple, but definitely not easy.  After one morning of work, I have a new respect for these amazingly strong and persevering men and women!

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About the Author: Jessica Shewan is a journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from The University of Evansville with a bachelor's degree in History. She loves making new international friends and is passionate about seeing the global church pursue justice and peace!

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Comments

  1. Bill Shewan said... 

    Reply

    May 21st, 2010 at 7:13 pm  

    Having grown up on a farm with a Dad who got carried away planting a way-to-big garden every year (lots of “clod” fights with my brothers when the hoeing got boring) . . . I have to say – I am down-right proud to see MY DAUGHTER get her hands and feet dirty. Way to go Jess!! It does the soul good to grow something – or I should say, watch God grow something! How fun!!

  2. Virginia Baldwin said... 

    Reply

    May 22nd, 2010 at 10:42 am  

    I am proud of you, even if I don’t know you personally. You worked right along side of your friends. They will remember you for that.
    “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me/you.” That chorus came tome this morning whie I was taking my walk. Keep up the good work.

  3. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    May 23rd, 2010 at 1:55 am  

    “Shamba”…Swahili for any field used for growing crops. Another cornerstone for sustainable living, the ability to be grow food. Jess you wrote about JVP’s work in the area of education in Kegar, are they also involved in teaching agriculture and other necessary skills for sustainable living?

    I read this a few times this week and each time I had a flash memory from years ago.

    Working in a garden….Bare feet in the dirt…images that made me remember working on a small farm as a young man and having an odd but deep sense of awareness of God who created the ground where my hands were working. I suspect that connection is felt by anyone with their bare feet in the dirt, tending to the plants that will later become sustaining food. Even those who have not heard the good news must be aware of a power greater than themselves when they work in a garden. It is probably a universal experience of the human soul. We are no doubt created to experience it. This experience provides us with one of God’s invisible qualities described in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “so that people are without excuse”.

    Great story Jess, thanks!

  4. Ned Campbell said... 

    Reply

    May 25th, 2010 at 7:32 am  

    Last night I went out to my little 4 by 8 backyard garden and couldnt help but think of you as I was pulling weeds and cursing the bunnies that had chewed off our lettuce. I love the part of your story of working barefoot in the field and feeling the tactile connection to the Lord’s Creation. As I read your story, I could also smell the clean air of Kager…some of my greatest memories of vilalge life is getting up at sunrise and getting to go out and talk to the farmers in their fields as they work in the cool of the morn…I need to go out barefoot more often and experience it like a Kager-ite.

    Your writings have blessed me and I thank God for the gifts He has given you and the time He has given you to serve with the Jubilee Village Project

  5. Jessica Shewan said... 

    Reply

    May 25th, 2010 at 5:53 pm  

    I agree that there is a very special perspective one gains from being so connected to the land. The miracle of watching plants grow and bear fruit in their seasons is something only farmers really understand. Maybe I’ll start a garden when I’m home!

    Jim, most secondary schools in Kenya, including God Kado in Kager, offer some kind of vocational course or activities in agriculture. But there is a need for more training in sustainable farming methods, and JVP is experimenting with some of those new ideas. Some of that includes testing new crops and fertilizers, which you can read about in the next article, “A New Leaf.”

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