Hi All,

May was a packed month, highlighted by our first annual Life Garden Agriculture Conference where farmers from across the island gathered for an intensive 3-days of learning, networking, and sharing. Seminars on a variety of farming topics were presented by guest agronomists and farmers.

Because this was our first conference, we set our target at 60 participants who would be comprised primarily of invited representatives of various villages across the island. Once word of the event got around, however, farmers, one-by-one, would ask if we could squeeze them in. Long story short, over 100 people packed into the Life Garden Teaching Pavilion to learn about various farming topics: nutritional value of various crops, value of various crops at local market, soil improvement through compost and biochar, seed salvage, rainwater harvesting, container gardening, etc. Many presentations focused on specific crops (eg, coconut, okra, moringa, leeks, etc.) and their harvest potential. Our own Director of Agriculture, Jean Paul Donn opened the event with welcoming remarks and then I extended my greetings. Dr. Kris and her husband Agronomist Cory Thede, long-time missionaries to Haiti and co-authors of two books written in the Haitian Creole language, anchored the event with most of the presentations.  Coffee was introduced as a potential cash crop (local and export) for farmers living in La Gonave’s high elevations. (Boy did their eyes widen when they learned that we have already established a coffee pipeline to the US marketplace!).

Each day started at 8AM with Life Garden Coffee, a breakfast pastry, and devotions shared by various local pastors. A Master of Ceremonies facilitated the entire event, introducing presenters, moderating Q&A, and generally keeping everything moving and on time. Mid-morning breaks allowed for brain rest and fellowship. Lunch was provided, consisting (of course) of locally-grown produce and meat (including Haiti-grown rice, goat, chicken). The conference was live-streamed across Haiti. During breaks, conference attenders wandered through the tree nursery and gardens. I was impressed (and amazed) at the continued engagement of all of the participants throughout the day (taking notes, asking questions).

As the conference neared completion, the mayor (who was present the entire time) gave greetings and extended his congratulations on a successful event. It was then my turn. I took the mic and, with Pastor Yves interpreting for me, let each person present know that we honor them and regard them highly, that they were indispensably important to their island and to their country. And that, further, God regards them highly and wants them to know Him, to walk with Him as they work their land and provide for their families. Then, we surprised them with take-home gifts: a 5-gallon bucket, a watering can, Dr. Kris and Cory’s two books, a Creole-language Bible, lots of seeds for this year’s gardens, a bag of coffee, and two ready-to-plant avocado tree seedlings. (This was a huge hit!). Finally, one-by-one, each person was called forward by name to receive a Certificate of Participation and some hearty handshakes. We wanted more than anything for each person to know that we loved and appreciated them. I hope they got that message. I think they did.

There were many wins during the week and I could list them off. I think one of the biggest wins, for me at least, was how much our Haitian counterparts OWNED this event. We have long envisioned the event (which was long in coming, delayed years by things not in our control: civil unrest, Covid, etc.) and I worried about “buy-in.” Well, they bought in and ran with it. Buy-in… a good metric when you consider that self-sustainability is your end goal.

In early July, we’ll do it all over again when we invite in our island’s school teachers for a Teacher’s Conference. Pray for Starfysh Education Director, Penny Beatty, as she makes final preparations.

Many blessings,

Steve Edmondson

P.S. As it turns out, we are realizing that email is our best way to best communicate often enough to keep folks up to date with stories from the island. Facebook is OK but only a small fraction of our “followers” ever see our posts. Our twice yearly Starfysh News print mailings are really nice and all, but it is cost prohibitive to send them out more often. Email is good because it doesn’t cost us much and it is easy for folks to forward them to family and friends who they think might be interested in what we do.