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BLOG: Taking Square Foot Gardening Overseas—Part II

The Square Foot Gardening Foundation has adopted the Chinese proverb - Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Last week we saw how Mel Bartholomew, creator of Square Foot Gardening, strategized how to take SFG (actually Square Meter Gardening) overseas by getting the women of the community involved first.  We learned that the women and children learned how to make compost using food scraps, discarded paper and manure from animals.  As in Part I, below is my interpretation of a recent article he wrote (with his permission) with notes added from a class I took from him in 2010:

Eventually the neighborhood begins to improve just by being cleaned up to produce the compost.  Children are involved in the process so there’s less time for them to get into trouble – they are learning how to be productive members of their society.

After the compost is completed a few weeks later, now it’s time to build the raised beds.  Mel always says that his favorite thing to use for the boxes is FREE material, and this is especially true in third-world countries.  While they were looking for ingredients for their compost, they were also on the lookout for things to use to build their boxes.  Someone in the neighborhood probably has tools for them to construct wooden boxes, but they may just as easily use stone, brick, bamboo, cinder blocks, etc.

Mel tells the next section best:  “Next would be adding the grid which they realize is a very important part of this new square meter system.  Now they need seeds. Not packet after packet, but just a few seeds of each plant varieties that they want to have.  Here in this country we tell people to add your pinch of seeds and then place the remaining packet in the refrigerator to keep them cool and dry.  And interesting thing happened in one of the countries when we suggested this, the children asked, what’s a refrigerator?  And the mother said, ‘We don’t have electricity’.  But there’s even a way there.

“We found that the packets could be put in a discarded glass or plastic jar with a screw lid and buried or sunk into a small hole dug down at least a foot to two feet deep. Rather than backfill a wood or metal cover can be used to prevent someone from stepping in the hole. And the end result is the air in that jar will be drier than the outside air especially if it is very humid and of course when it rains. And the temperature two feet in the ground will remain fairly constant and will not overheat.”

Because so little water is needed in this method and there are very few weeds in a Square Meter Garden, taking care of the growing plants is an easy task.  However, the children are kept busy gathering up more materials for compost as this is an on-going process.  Because it is such a highly intensive method, nutrients are pulled out of the growing medium and the nutrients need to be replenished.

In addition, any excess compost is considered a “cash crop” and can be sold to someone else who would like to start their own Square Meter Garden.  This family can use their compost profits to purchase materials to make more raised beds and then sell these.  They can also sell their excess produce to neighbors or at the market.  You can see how there is potential for growth. 

As Mel says, “It would be nice to imagine the ending to this story but hopefully it will spread and continue to grow and even spread to other villages and other countries until the world is covered with small back yards filled with boxes of pretty flowers, healthy vegetables, and tasty herbs.  All consumed by that family who are now healthier, brighter, and kids have now picked up interest in school, pay more attention, and all have found a common cause, become more independent and self-sufficient.”

In addition to this concept working overseas, why not learn more about Square Foot Gardening, then help your family, your friends and family and eventually your community by spreading the word about SFG?  Next week we’ll learn about a project I’m working on to help the homeless feed themselves in our area.

My next SFG Classes will be in Glen Burnie on Saturday, May 19, 2012.  SFG 101 10 AM – 12 PM and SFG 201 1 – 3 PM.  Register online at www.sfg4u.com or email me at sfgkimroman@yahoo.com.  Class size is limited to 10 people so register early.  The last regular class of the season will be June 16th. 

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