Amazing Community Garden Update
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I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited to write a blog post and share it with all of you. ♡
So, so, so much good news to share today about the community garden project in Mali that you all helped to fund nearly a year ago.
For those of you just tuning into this story, last December, the Gimme Some Oven community generously gave more than $28,000 (nearly four times the amount we had hoped to raise) to help launch a large-scale community garden named Benkadi in the village of Morodjambougou, Mali in partnership with The Wash Project. This small village in rural Mali has long faced challenges with poverty and food insecurity, especially during their annual 8-month dry season when there is no water to grow crops for the community, and where opportunities for women in particular to earn a steady income are scarce.
However, the women of Benkadi garden had a big dream of creating an enormous new garden that could provide an abundance of fresh, healthy, produce for the community and create brand-new jobs and steady income for over 200 women. So they worked with local experts to draw up plans for the project (it was 100% community-initiated and designed), they persuaded the local government to officially allocate a large swath of brush land for the garden (which was abundant but needed significant work to be cleared), they surveyed all of the surrounding villages to learn exactly what types of produce were most needed, they developed an economic plan so that the garden could be financially self-sustaining in the decades to come, and they identified hundreds of the most highly motivated women in the community who could work hard to make this garden a success. The catch was that the startup cost to launch such a garden — initially around $18,000 — was prohibitively steep and would take many, many years to save in a region where most women only had the opportunity to earn around $3 per month.
This is where you all stepped in to stand alongside them. ♡
Thanks to your above-and-beyond donations, the Gimme Some Oven community was not only able to entirely fund 100% of the initial start-up costs for the Benkadi Garden — costs such as drilling and installing a solar-powered fresh water well for the garden, building permanent shelters for the ladies to have a place to assemble and rest, constructing multiple toilets for the area, installing a fence and gate around the garden (critical for keeping animals out who eat the crops), providing tools and high-quality seeds for the gardeners, and equipping the women with agricultural education as well as small-business financial training — but your donations made it possible for a water tower to be purchased that was double the size that was initially budgeted, which allowed for many, many more clean water taps to be installed around the garden and local community. Plus, the extra donations were able to cover the start-up costs for even more gardeners than we had anticipated, so the team is proud to report that there are now over 350 women (!!!) working full-time in Benkadi Garden. Amazing.
Today, nearly a year into the life of Benkadi Garden, I’m thrilled to pass along the report that the garden is absolutely thriving, and the impact it has already made in this community has been remarkable.
Here are some of the updates (including a special 5-minute video) that the women of Benkadi have asked us to share with all of you…
First off, it is really important to me that you hear the story of Benkadi Garden directly from the women who have made it happen. So please take a few minutes to watch the 5-minute video above (or you can click on this link) to hear them explain firsthand a bit more about what their daily life was like before the garden was constructed, and now, what it looks like and the impact it has had on the community nearly a year later. Seeing the video footage of the garden before and after is simply incredible. ♡
Here are a few additional details to share about their new garden too…
- Over 350 women are now working in Benkadi Garden full-time. As I mentioned above, the community had a dream to provide garden space to 200 local women when the garden project was launched. But in the end, they were able to clear space for over 350 women of all ages to now work full-time in Benkadi Garden growing fresh produce for their families and their community.
- The new solar-powered fresh water well is AMAZING. In case you missed our update last winter, local engineers were thrilled to discover that there was actually far more fresh water available below the garden than they had anticipated. So thanks to the abundant natural resources and your extra donations, the engineers were able to construct a water tower that was double the size that they had initially planned for and install many more water taps around the garden, including some taps for the community as well. This means that the hundreds of Benkadi gardeners are now able to easily access fresh water taps 24/7, which they say has changed their lives and improved relationships because they no longer have to compete over scarce water resources. Also importantly, the gardeners are now able to easily access fresh water year round, especially during the critical 8-month dry season, which means that they no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night to see if water has returned to their wells. They are also happy to report that the new fresh water well and taps all continue to be in good condition, and the women invest a small percentage of their profits each month in a fund to help with long-term maintenance for whenever repairs will be needed.
- The fencing, shelters, toilets have been game-changers. As the Benkadi team shares in the video, most of the local women who previously worked in gardens always had to take shifts sleeping on the ground in the gardens overnight to try and shoo away goats and other animals that tried to eat their crops. But now that the garden is completely enclosed with a secure fence, the women are able to spend nights at home with their families and get much more sleep, which they say has completely changed their lives. The new shelters in the garden also give them places to find shade and rest when needed during the day, especially since temperatures hover in the three-digits for much of the year in this region of Mali. New toilets on site also save valuable time during the day, as women working in gardens previously had to walk often long distances back home to use the restroom.
Nearly one year in, the story of Benkadi Garden is only just beginning. But impact of this first chapter has already been incredible.
Here are some of the highlights from this first year of Benkadi Garden…
- Women are now able to grow a much wider variety of healthy crops. Before the well was installed, local gardeners were only able to grow a small variety of crops (such as greens and a few root vegetables) that could be easily harvested within the 3 to 4 month rainy season. But now that they have 24/7/365 access to abundant water, they are now able to grow a diverse selection of healthy produce for the community, including everything from baobab to beans, beets, cabbage, celery, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, lemons, lettuce, mango, okra, onion, oranges, papaya, peanuts, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and more.
- Women are experiencing new levels of economic independence. The Wash Project has been closely studying the economic impact of the new garden and, at this point, gardeners are currently reporting a median increase of 3 to 5 times the income that they were earning previously. We look forward to following how this impacts their decision-making authority within their families and their community in the years to come.
- Women are experiencing a significant decrease in hours spent working. As we will explain more below, prior to working in the garden, the main source of income available for local women previously was creating charcoal for stoves by foraging sticks or cutting down local trees to process. This line of work requires incredibly long work days (and nights) traveling to and from the forests, burning the charcoal, and traveling to nearby markets to try and sell it. So the opportunity for these women to be able to work less hours at the garden — all while earning more money — has profoundly shifted their daily rhythms. We also look forward to seeing the impact this has for them and their families in the years to come.
- Women are investing their savings for the future. Before working in the garden, most of the gardeners reported that they had no experience with saving or investing because it was all they could do to try and cover day-to-day expenses. But now, as part of the new garden, gardeners receive training on personal savings and also now collectively pool a small percentage of their profits each month to invest back into community projects of their choice. Recently, for example, they chose to invest in a celebration to draw new visitors to the launch of a their new market, which was an amazing success. More updates about the new market to come!
- The garden is already having a powerful positive impact on the local environment. As I mentioned above, prior to gardening, the majority of the 350 women working in Benkadi garden used to earn their income by foraging sticks or cutting down trees to create charcoal. And unfortunately, the resulting deforestation has had some extreme consequences in the area, and the local air quality has suffered due to all of the smoke. The Wash Project is currently working on a variety of initiatives with local teams to try and help reforest the region, create eco-friendly charcoal, and build more efficient stoves. But…having nearly 350 women now spend their time growing oxygen-rich plants and no longer cutting down and burning trees each week has already made a significant impact on local air quality.
- Surrounding communities are very interested in this garden. Finally, one major surprise surrounding the launch of Benkadi Garden was how quickly word spread about the project in the surrounding communities and how eager they have been to learn how to create similar gardens in their own regions. More below on our hopes for Benkadi to become a regional training center and plans for future garden partnerships to come.
Plans For The Future
Sustainability is one of The Wash Project’s core values, and I really appreciate how thoughtful the team has been about researching, testing, pivoting (when needed), and laying the groundwork for a vibrant future ahead.
Here are some of the plans currently in the works for the future of Benkadi Garden…
- Build, launch, and grow a new local market to sell produce. When Benkadi garden was launched, the closest local market available for the women to sell their produce was located a full 4 km away. As you can imagine, this created multiple challenges for the gardeners who transport their crops on foot, and disproportionately affected the elder women. In addition, the market where they spent hours walking to and from didn’t have enough stalls for them to sell their crops, leaving them to wander around on foot trying to find customers. This obviously was not going to work. So The Wash Project has partnered together with the women of Benkadi to construct and recently launch (woo hoo!) a brand new large market adjacent to their garden, which we can’t wait to tell you about soon. More on that to come.
- Test new agricultural practices to improve the health of the land. One of The Wash Project’s priorities as an organization is partnering with the community on longer-term initiatives to improve the health of the land, especially related to issues of deforestation, soil health, erosion, water shortages, flooding (yes, those two issues actually go hand-in-hand), and reducing the dependence on chemicals for gardening. Benkadi Garden has already been an incredibly helpful area to test new agricultural practices, and we look forward to learning much more about how to grow the most vibrant gardens possible in the years to come.
- Host educational retreats at Benkadi for local leaders. Because there has been such tremendous regional interest in the garden, The Wash Project partnered with the women of Benkadi Garden to host their first-ever educational retreat two weeks ago. Leaders from surrounding communities were invited to come and receive hands-on education about best agricultural practices, especially related to soil health, rainwater harvesting, and agroforestry. Many of the guests at the retreat shared that most of what they were seeing was new to them, and they expressed a lot of interest in developing similar initiatives in their own communities.
- Use Benkadi Garden as a model to create new gardens in surrounding communities. Finally, because of the conversations we’ve had with villages across the region, we’ve learned that many of the challenges that the women of Benkadi faced are similar to those of their neighbors. With that in mind, The Wash Project is working with the women of Benkadi Garden to study what components of this garden have worked best so that it can be used as a model for future community gardens to come. We have already had many of you ask if there will be ways to invest in more community gardens and the good news is — YES! More details to come. :)
Thank You Again
Long post, but that is the full report of the latest from Benkadi Garden. ♡
Thank you so much for taking the time to read. And again, I just want to say thank you so much to those of you who donated to help the dream of this garden become a reality. It means so much to me that you — the Gimme Some Oven community — are the type of people who understand what a honor it is to come alongside the women of Benkadi to learn from them and partner together on projects such as these. So thank you, thank you for supporting this initiative and for your encouragement to continue creating space for conversations such as these here on Gimme Some Oven.
I will be back soon with updates about the brand new market that the women of Benkadi are launching. And — because there were still funds leftover from your incredibly generous donations last year — I’m excited to announce that they will be allocated to a brand new project that will be launching next month. More on that soon, including details on new ways to get involved. This project is one that you truly will not want to miss.
To learn more about projects happening with The Wash Project in Mali, please check out the organization’s website and follow along on Instagram. And just as a reminder, Gimme Some Oven covers all of the monthly operating costs of The Wash Project (staff salaries, overhead and more). So know that 100% of any donations you choose to make will go directly towards projects such as this garden.