SFJ

Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Field Weeds and Street Boys

Field Weeds and Street Boys

from Marian Hungerford, of North Cameroun, Africa

I was working alone, at the office, Memorial Day, when I received a call from our old friend, and hero, Marian Hungerford of North Cameroun. She came back to Oregon for successful health care and is returning to Africa in late July. We chatted away and she told me of her campaign to plant ‘field weeds’ to regain food self-sufficiency. She talked about Amaranth (what we call Pigweed) as the ancient gold standard of grains. The story was on phone time, which means we kept tripping over our own thoughts and observations, but I did get a chance to ask her to send me the larger story in an email. What follows is that message. Marian is proof that giants are made from tight focus and unselfish work in close. When it comes to beneficial human beings, she is the gold standard. LRM

Dear Lynn,

My interest in farming, public health, and history is to help modern Camerounians not fall into the same traps as the United States. In medical history, for example: the United States used to have huge problems with yellow fever, malaria, leprosy, cholera, typhoid … and these diseases were mostly helped, the mortality went waaaay down, with improved hygiene and nutrition. And THEN when the mortality was descending dramatically, antibiotics and the modern pharmaceutical industry was invented. In Cameroun, improving hygiene and nutrition is an individual family free choice that usually is less expensive than illness, transport, clinical consultation, pharmacy purchases, down time from work …

The ancient Sao kingdom — an empire of giants so it is said — occupied the east side of Lake Chad. Their genetics have influenced the height of various ethnic groups down the river tributary systems of Lake Chad. I am most familiar with the modern folks south of Lake Chad along the Chari and Logone rivers. In many of these ethnic groups, unlike the skinny, tall basketball players of eastern Africa, these are hefty, solid, over six feet tall people, men as well as women. In a not amusing incident, using my double cab pickup truck as an ambulance, one of these tall men needed to get to the hospital (80 miles north). He couldn’t lay down on the back seat, couldn’t lay down in the pickup bed, couldn’t lay down in the pick up bed diagonally, couldn’t lay down with the tail gate open. We finally had to put a piece of plywood under him to support his heels. At the hospital it took several benches to extend the hospital bed length so he could lie comfortably during treatment. One of the ethnic groups places a cultural value toward seeking and marrying women over 6 feet tall.

When I teach nutrition, one of the rhetorical questions I ask and that we answer is: What did the mama Sao feed her baby so that he/she grew to be 6 foot and more tall? What is good food then and now to feed strong big children? Turns out the foods of north Cameroun are some of the nutritionally best in the world, and those same foods are the cheapest on the market, and easiest to store from one crop season to another.

But we have a BIG problem. Some of these traditional foods are being made extinct by modern cotton poisons especially herbicide. GMO cotton and soybean plantations liberally spray fields (and all areas next to their own fields). Enterprising farmers then use the same herbicide and pesticide and fertilizer to farm any crop.

Field Weeds and Street Boys

Small-spotted Genet indigenous to Africa.

What happens? The traditional field weeds have disappeared. Example: Amaranth is the most widely used sauce leaf in the world, appearing in traditional historical recipes on all continents. Amaranth in the United States is called Pig Weed or Red Root. Harvesting and drying the young leaves yields a high nutrition, readily available additive or main ingredient for food preparation. The Aztecs of Mexico discovered that the seeds of Amaranth rivaled any cereal for taste and nutrition. When Amaranth seeds are ground (not into flour but into paste) they yield a super food that supported the growth and health of the Sao. And has done so, historically, on at least two continents in antiquity. Bob’s Red Mill sells Amaranth seed, which in a test last week yielded about 80% sprouting between damp paper towels in my kitchen. So lots of life in the seeds for planting. Mixing 1/3 amaranth butter and 2/3 peanut butter yields a wonderful trail food or school snack still valued in north Cameroun by those in the know. Eat it with a clean forefinger digging into the paste.

Amaranth is only one of the now rare field weeds, but I only know the other weeds using the local language equivalent, so it would be difficult to see if it is available. For instance, Tasba is not known under that name in America.

So, our farming system to feed hungry street boys is to have them farm “weeds”. As we have all experienced, weeds are perfectly adapted to their climate, are robust and need no fertilizer nor any of the insecticides to enhance a good crop. Because we are aiming for long term diversified permaculture (this is a Shea native tree area), we needed some very quick marketable crops while we wait for the trees to mature. These field weeds intentionally farmed have a ready market in the big city 5 km north.

So voila, an immediate money maker that is also immediately edible by farming weeds. Who would have thought it !? All the American gardening effort to combat Pig Weed, and we will be sowing the seed and weeding the weeds, and taking the bundles of stalks to the city market where homemakers are hunting for these traditional plants to cook.

We are planting lots of Moringa trees for the above reasons. Moringa is a native tree that grows wild from Senegal east to Pakistan along the drier Sahel area. I could deliver a long rant on United Nations policy that feeds soy to malnourished Camerounian children when Moringa is widely available and has 4 times the protein. The rhetorical question is, why would the UN feed soy when Moringa is cheaper, better, and widely available? Answering that question gets us deep into awful politics, the politics of changing free independent farmers into peasant serf agriculturalists.

On pilgrimage,
Marian Hungerford
(40 years farming in north Cameroun and southern Chad)

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

by:
from issue:

The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

by:
from issue:

Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by:
from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 2

by:
from issue:

Budding is the operation of applying a single bud, bearing little or no wood, to the surface of the living wood of the stock. The bud is applied directly to the cambium layer of the stock. It is commonly inserted under the bark of the stock, but in flute-budding a piece of bark is entirely removed, and the bud is used to cover the wound. There is every gradation between budding and grafting proper.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

by:
from issue:

Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Ginseng Culture

Ginseng Culture

U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1184 Issued 1921, Revised 1941 — The evident preference of the Chinese for the wild root and the unsatisfactory state of the general market for cultivated ginseng have caused grave doubts as to the future prospects of the industry. These doubts will probably be realized unless growers should strive for quality of product and not for quantity of production, as has been the all too common practice in the past.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT