farm

Rain

P1240627

Here in Kasambara Kenya, we have two basic types of weather;  it is either raining or not raining. Fortunately, we do not have much extreme weather, just raining or not raining. The Shire, our almost twelve acres here in Kenya, depends on rain for water. We do not have access to any piped water nor do we have a well. We capture all the rain that falls on our roofs during the rainy season and store it in large tanks. We then pump the water from those storage tanks to a tank up the hill from the house and that tank feeds the house via gravity. Currently, we have a little over 100,000 liters of water storage (not full as our rainy season has just started.)
 
Water management is one of the top priorities here on the farm. We can not afford to waste any water. There are no flush toilets. You would be surprised at how much water toilets use. Instead, we use a composting toilet system. All the water from the sinks and shower (gray water) goes into a banana circle. Showers are limited and not every day. With careful oversight, our water lasted throughout the previous dry season. We never ran completely out. Nice.
 
Now the clouds have come and it is raining again. Tanks are filling, the grass has gone green again, and the temperature has cooled off a few degrees. The rainy season is our favorite. 

Pork

Part of the reasoning behind buying The Shire, our almost twelve acres here in Kenya, was to be able to grow and raise much of our own food. Plus to be able to produce food for the hungry people we work with in the Nakuru community. We spend the vast majority of funds that come in on feeding the children, ourselves, and a host of other people. When we started to look for a piece of land to buy that was one of the foremost agendas for that new land, production of food.

Now since we know little about farming and gardening we are studying and applying that timeless learning tool, trial and error. I have failed to grow quite a few vegetables and succeeded on a few others. I am confident that in the future this farm will produce an abundance of vegetables.

One aspect of the farm that has been a big success are the pigs. We bought the two pigs from a farmer nearby, and honestly I did not think they would survive. The things were skin and bones and covered with mange. Lots of food and a little medicine fixed them right up. Maggie, our sow, is on her third litter. We have been able to sell some of the piglets, give a few away, and most importantly eat some ourselves. Last week I slaughtered a piglet for dinner and tomorrow will do the same for lunch. One hundred percent organic and well cared for suckling pig is some of the best meat I have ever had.

P1240632


Refrigeration!

Some time back, many months back, Juliet Barnes gave us an old kerosene refrigerator. Now if like me you have, or rather had, no idea what a kerosene fridge (or as they say in Kenya paraffin fridge) is don't feel bad. It is a pretty old piece of technology.  I deduced from the name that it was a refrigerator that ran on kerosene, but I had never seen anything like it in my life before.

We drove across the Soysambu Consverancy to get to her house (also a mud house) and pick up the fridge. She had not used it in some time and it is pretty ancient. Juliet advised us to drive as roughly as possible on the way home to shake up the chemicals that cause the cooling. We did so, but alas could not get the thing to work. We tried a couple of times and more or less gave up on it.

Enter Andrew, our nineteen year old son, he spoke with a fridge fundi (repairman) in town and got some advice. The fundi told him to turn it upside down and listen. If he heard the chemicals moving than great. The fundi said to leave it for a day or two then turn it over and try it out. We lit the flame in the evening and had ice in the morning. It works!

Now this refrigerator is small and will not be able to meet all our needs, but it is helping to keep the milk fresh. Thank you Juliet.

P1240637The Fridge

P1240638The flame that heats the chemicals that causes the cooling action.


Fire!

We had a fire today.

P1210909

Not to worry the only thing lost was a compost bin. Unfortunately not everyone thinks about how dry things are before throwing coals onto a compost pile. We managed to contain the fire before it spread too much. The biggest loss, all the precious water we had to use to contain that fire.


It's Friday!

Hello Friday.
 
School is back in full force. 
 
Weekend is just over the horizon. I wonder if I can manage to pull off doing nothing this weekend? My guess is that with fifteen children, farm animals, and trees to water the answer will be a resounding no. Sigh. Someday a weekend will come that will bring the blessed nothingness.
 
Last night during dinner preparations our gas cylinder needed replacing. (No piped cooking gas in the house we use cylinders. You know like the ones you take camping, only these are bigger.) Fortunately we have two. Unfortunately the replacement has a problem with the nozzle or whatever you call that thing. So dinner was cooked over coals. Not as convenient, but more African. In fact we had a Kenyan dish. I suppose it was appropriate we cooked it on a jiko over charcoal.
 
Busy day today. I, Johnny, will be Kate's driver as she places orders for lumber to build three more animal stalls and collects various bits and pieces for that project in Nakuru. There is still an ongoing fund raiser to help with these costs. The stalls will house animals related to the horse therapy and another cow. (At least the cow is planned right now. We might change our minds and do goats.) Thankfully Kate generally rewards my driving her around with nice food, perhaps Chinese today?
 
What are your weekend plans? Chinese on the menu?
 

Horsepower

One of the fringe benefits of moving onto The Shire (our almost twelve acres here in rural Kenya) was Kate was able to rekindle her love for horses. Almost immediately after we moved she began a search for a horse. She learned quickly that finding a horse that we could afford here in Kenya was not easy. In fact it was almost impossible. She met many people with horses and made new friends along the way. Still no horse. When she was almost frantic with the quest, her search led her to an organization in Nairobi that used horses as therapy animals for disabled children. This organization gave her a horse that was not suitable for their use. This began our journey with horses and more importantly gave us a way to help more children.
 
I do not understand the bond Kate has with horses. They are not animals that I appreciate and I have never had a bond with anything other than a dog. Yet it does exist with some people, and especially with children. A child and a horse share something between themselves. There are benefits to the relationship, even if it is a fleeting encounter. Reminds me of a scene from this documentary we watched about horses with a guy named Martin Clunes. He ends up in a pen with a horse and just after looking into the animal's eyes has an emotional moment. If I remember correctly there were tears and all. Seemed silly at first to me, but I try and respect other's experiences. I tried it out. Stared into a horse's eye. It did not have the same effect on me, but after observing the eyes and the sense of thoughtfulness behind them, I can understand the connection some people feel they have with these animals. 
 
Horses make good therapy animals. The children get to ride the horse and it actually helps with their muscle development. Really. Amazing to think about. It is no miracle cure, but for these children even little advances can seem like miracles. It has to do with the way the horse moves and then the children have to utilize muscles to stay balanced and sitting up. These muscles do not normally get this exercise. Over time it can help them to sit up better and perhaps even walk better. 
 
There is also the emotional boost to the child. Unfortunately disabled people do not have much reason to be happy here in Kenya. We have encountered almost unbelievable situations involving disabled children and young adults in Nakuru. Including one young man chained to a wall. What I am trying to say that bringing even an hour or so of happiness to these children is worthwhile. They get to ride a horse. Many if not all of them have never even seen a horse, and now they get to touch and sit on one. The smiles and giggles have an impact on their well being. 
 
 
Here is another video where Kate talks about this Horsepower:
 


Infrastructure

There is this cute little boy that lives down the road from us. I am guessing he is maybe two years old. Anytime he hears the car, which being a LandRover is audible from quite a distance, he runs to the road and waves with as much vigor as he can muster. I have never heard him say anything (in Kenya is is common for children to shout "How are you" at passing white people) he just waves and smiles. I try to give him a worthy wave in return, and generally if anyone is in the car with me they will lean out the window and say hi. 

I have never actually stopped to say hi. That actually might scare him and mess up a good thing. Little guys like him are one of the great things about living out of the city and in a smaller village. Kasambara does not have a busy road, which makes it easier to wave at a little boy on the side of the road. Plus the road is so terrible that one is forced to travel at a measly pace which makes it harder to miss cute kids on the side of the road.

Having now lived in Kasambara for more than two years I do not think I could go back to living in a city. I mean not if I have a say so in it. We have less noise, people, and bills cluttering up our lives. Which creates more space for us to be with the children and each other. A less busy space.

Honestly though when I stop and think about it our lives are not less busy, in fact we generally have much to do, but the excess noise is less and that helps generate a more relaxing atmosphere to live in making the work more enjoyable and less like work.

Creating the farm system takes up much of my time and energy. Not necessarily with the labor part, but just learning about farming. There is a lot of information out there and a lot of people willing to sell you their interpretation on that information. Processing data on farming methods has begun to take up bigger and bigger pieces of my days.

At the moment the farm is not producing very much food, though what we do grow and raise is delicious, however the infrastructure and development necessary for the future is going in. Some of what we have done:

  • Some fencing, including creating paddocks for cows and horses
  • Building a small hut for guests. This hut recently had a toilet added on to it.
  • Building a house out of mud. This is our home, which is powered by solar energy and now has a hot shower (also solar powered)
  • Building stalls for cows and horses
  • Building two pig sties
  • Building a rabbit enclosure
  • Building a small chicken coop
  • Planting lots and lots of trees

Now a list of what we would like to get done before the end of this year:

  • Slaughtering house (not really a house but space to be able to butcher animals cleanly and more easily.)
  • More fencing. In fact we would like to complete fencing of the whole property
  • Refrigeration. 
  • Planting lots and lots of trees.

It is only September, there is still plenty of year left. 


Why Off-grid?

I am not sure off-grid people have the best of reputations. There are some pretty weird people living off-grid and if we are honest they get all the attention because they are weirdos. (Like the people in this article on CNN's website: http://cnn.it/1qJAi4N ) Kate and I choose to be different, contrary to our culture at times, but we are normal everyday folks. We go to dinner parties. We have a big car. We have many many children. And, we like electricity.  

Unfortunately where The Shire is located there is no electricity. We have no choice but to generate our own or live without it. We did no electricity for a couple of weeks, and well, I like me better when I can watch t.v. 

There are really on two feasible choices for us, solar or generator. We chose solar as our primary source of power because in the long run it is cheaper. The generator takes constant fuel, oil, and servicing. Plus it is noisy. The solar system makes no noise until I turn on the power in the evening. Then it hums, kind of like an old fridge. 

There you go. We are off-grid not because we converted to some Mother Nature worshiping new-age cult or became hipsters. Nope. We are off the power grid because we have no choice.

That is not to say we do not appreciate the side effects of no grid hookup. Not having that monthly bill is nice, and no ugly power lines to mess up our view. Also it does feel good to use green tech, at least until you remember how much it cost.

I am sure the power lines will find their way to us, eventually. When that time comes we will hook up, maybe, possibly. 


Remembering Why We Dig

The past couple of days I have been loading soil into a wheelbarrow and hauling it over to my raised beds. Not particularly difficult work, but tedious labor. I keep finding my mind wandering and questioning the purpose of all my digging. I am not a farmer, at least not yet. I can understand that the digging and hauling is important for the here and now. The food we will eat this season will be worth the effort, and it is rewarding labor. Yet consumption of all organic home grown food is not the end goal here on The Shire.

Enough food to share and/or market to generate income that can be used to care for more orphaned/abandoned children; that is the goal. The main thing is rescuing children. Creating opportunities where none exist. Giving the hopeless a hopeful future. Loving and being loved is our purpose.

That is why I dig. That is why I will continue to learn to farm. That is why I will try and grow pumpkins. The future of these children and the ones we have yet to save depends on the digging.