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© 2016 Opportunity Internationala 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Urban Gardening: Lessons from Learning to Grow

By Allison Kooser

This summer, we are exploring the path from Farm to Table - exploring the many issues smallholder farmers face around the world. 

Last summer, my big project was to plant a garden. As someone with a historically black thumb, my little garden was a big challenge. I tried to choose “easy” plants – plants that would grow despite my best efforts. I planted mint and basil and rosemary. Lavender and thyme. I even attempted a strawberry plant.

I watched and I waited all summer long as my little seeds turned into fledgling plants, which turned into blooming crops.

I tore off mint leaves to make fresh mojitos. I blended up my own pesto. I ate one (yes, one) strawberry.

There was something so fulfilling about my little garden – about growing food that I could eat. About deepening my understanding about what I consume.

I also learned that I had no idea what I was doing. Weekly, I would google how much water lavender needs, how much sun to give a baby basil plant. I relied upon others’ knowledge to compensate for my inexperience. I needed to learn in order to be successful.

This education reminded me just how critical training is for Opportunity International clients. For so many farmers around the world, agricultural best practices are just out of reach. Farmers plant and grow and harvest the way their families have for centuries – and while some of these tactics might be successful, some might not.

Because of this, Opportunity prioritizes training. When we provide farmers with loans in the form of seeds and fertilizer, we also educate them on how to better diversify their crops. We discuss how to increase yields and care for the soil between harvests. We give them access to the information they need to be the best farmers they can be.

In lieu of asking Siri, Opportunity farmers can ask their loan officer how to improve their crops. And this knowledge is perhaps the most valuable element of Opportunity’s work.

As Bill and Melinda Gates pointed out in their Annual Letter, currently American farms yield five times as much maize as African farms. This is a question of knowledge, not of skill. There are best practices available, and we simply need to better communicate the information.

My garden taught me that planting is difficult. It requires time, attention and skill. It requires knowledge that, many times, I didn’t have.

But it also taught me that planting is incredible. Eating food that I grew myself? That was truly a Farm to Table experience. 

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