Square Foot Gardening in Haiti Schools

The Haiti Project

The Republic of Haiti is a Caribbean country with 9.7 million people. Its capital is Port-au-Prince and the President is Michel Martelly. According to the Human Development Index, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas.

Haiti’s Problems

Haiti’s deforestation issue is a major concern. Presently the country has only 2% forest and vegetation cover. This situation is dire and contributes greatly to the extreme poverty of the country. With no trees to absorb rain water, the topsoil washes away and minerals are lost, making the soil unproductive. President Michel Martelly has expressed plans to replant 50 million trees annually.¹ Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Sir Richard Branson have teamed up to address the problem of deforestation in Haiti through the Haiti Forest Initiative.² Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) and the United Nations Environment Programme have developed the “Haiti Regenerative Initiative” intended to reduce poverty and natural disaster vulnerability through ecosystem restoration and sustainable resource management. However, these far-reaching projects are in beginning stages and have not yet produced results.

Further complicating matters, in 2010, Haiti suffered a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that left 1.5 million homeless. By 2011, when Michel Martelly took office, there were still 634,000 people living in temporary “tent cities,” and that number was only reduced by half in 2013.

Additionally, millions of Haitians have fled the poverty of their country to live and work abroad, mostly in North America: the Dominican Republic, United States, Cuba, Mexico and Canada. They are known as the Haitian Diaspora.

Compounding the issues of deforestation, mineral loss, economic instability and displaced persons are: malnourishment, extreme poverty, high illiteracy rate, flooding due to deforestation, and lack of infrastructure (housing, buildings and schools that need to be mended or built.) UNICEF indicates that as many as 5,000 schools were destroyed by the earthquake in 2010.³ Approximately 3,000 people died in 2004 due to floods near Haiti’s border with Dominican Republic. While there is ample rainfall, there are not nearly enough water cisterns to collect and store the rainwater.

Thankfully, some progress has been made toward self-sustainability. In 2012, Caracol industrial park was inaugurated, consisting of 600 acres, complete with a power plant, a water-treatment plant, and worker housing. It has attracted major businesses, and is intended to create 65,000 jobs, thereby transforming the northern part of the country. Other parts of the master plan include expansion of its international airport, the construction of an international seaport, and the opening of Roi Henri Christophe Campus.

While the progress being made is outstanding and sorely needed for a stable future, the needs of poverty-stricken Haitians to feed themselves a balanced diet and to provide for their families is still lacking a comprehensive solution. While SFGF does not have millions of dollars at its disposal to implement what needs to be done on a country-wide scale, we have made progress toward helping thousands of Haitians to better their situation in life.

Our Solutions

Through its affiliation with Gardening World Wide, a nonprofit, Square Foot Gardening Foundation has been active on a small-scale in the country since the 80s.

SFG is an excellent solution for Haiti because of:
1) Fresh water conservation
2) Their topsoil is lacking nutrients because of runoff and deforestation, making it nearly impossible to grow a decent crop in the soil. SFG does not use topsoil!
3) Low cost (can make their own compost and use materials readily at hand for boxes)
4) Most homes in Haiti have flat roofs – many of our SFGs have been placed on rooftops protecting them from goats or other animals.

Square Foot Gardening techniques are an ideal short- and long-term solution for Haiti because of all the reasons it is ideal for any country.

Square Foot Gardening:

Produces 100% of The Harvest
With only 40% of the cost – That’s a 60% savings
In only 20% of the space – That’s an 80% savings
With only 10% of the water – That’s a 90% savings
Just using 5% of the seeds – That’s a 95% savings
And With 2% of the work – That’s a 98% savings

Our Current Goals in Haiti

1)To assist in the building of water cisterns to collect fresh, uncontaminated rainwater for drinking as well as for watering SFGs. Most schools and villages do not have modern plumbing. Water cisterns are mandatory to prevent the spread of disease through contaminated drinking water, for washing children’s hands, and to use for watering SFGs.

2)To build as many Square Foot Community Gardens as possible.

3)To place Square Foot Gardens in all of the schools so children can be taught our simple methods. This will ensure that future generations are well-versed in self-sustainable, organic gardening. It is a key survival skill.

4)To teach Haitians how to grow excess produce in their SFGs to sell at market, earning extra income for the family, while providing others fresh produce at affordable prices.

5)To end malnourishment and starvation by providing year-round variety of vegetables and fruits, thereby assuring adequate nutrition (as opposed to sending one shipment of corn only).

6)To provide lectures and classes in Square Foot Gardening, as well as to disseminate literature on SFG techniques as widely as possible. Gardening World Wide has developed pamphlets for this purpose.

7)To teach Haitians how to make homemade compost using rabbit manure as a free, valuable, natural fertilizer. As an added bonus, selling the surplus baby rabbits and composted manure becomes a secondary source of income.

The rabbits are sold for US$20 a pair at two months old. The rabbits make between 8-10 young ones every three months. ~Yvette Papillon

Pat and Connie Lahr, Gardening World Wide

The Lahrs went on a mission trip to Haiti in 1985 and ended up living there for four years. Pat and Connie taught everyone who would listen about the benefits of Square Foot Gardening. According to Connie, fresh vegetables were very hard to come by for poor city dwellers – even in the country, the rocky, depleted soil prevented success with most types of gardening. Pat and Connie saw immediately that Square Foot Gardens were the best solution for the Haitian food crisis they witnessed first hand. They developed the Haiti Gardens Project.

We put great rooftop gardens in Peguyville, which is now near where President Michel Martelly lives, just west of Petionville. Our model school project in Fond Jean Noel has been an inspiration to many. I and others were invited to talk about it on TV. The school at Fond Jean Noel teaches gardening and raising trees, coffee, cocoa, and all kinds of veggies. It’s very successful. ~Yvette Papillon

Although it was a labor of love during their four years living in the country, the Lahrs determined to continue the project even when they moved back to the U.S.A. Teaching Haitians the fundamentals of composting and Square Foot Gardening meant that each family would have life-saving vitamins, minerals and nutrients just steps away at all times! That inspiration continues today. Numerous demonstration gardens have been built.

Through the nonprofit they founded, Gardening World Wide (www.gardeningww.com), the Lahrs sponsor three Haitians who are teaching SFG every day in Haiti. One of these Haitian SFG instructors is Yvette Papillon. (Read her full story here.) SFG Instructors, Wilky, Celidon and Yvette each receive $300 a month to motivate and assist gardeners in Haiti. In turn, these instructors have taught dozens of others how to teach the SFG method, and they taught hundreds of others.

In this way, thousands of Haitians have come to learn about Square Foot Gardening and how to save their own lives with nutrient-rich food. Our solution doesn’t cost millions of dollars. It is simple and easy to implement. And most importantly, it works. It saves lives and builds communities.

¹ BGCI: Plants for the Planet http://www.bgci.org/resources/news/1024/
² Look To The Stars: Richard Branson and Bill Clinton Help Launch Haiti Forest Initiative http://www.looktothestars.org/news/9879-richard-branson-and-bill-clinton-help-launch-haiti-forest-initiative
³UNICEF: Haiti http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/haiti_53025.html
Haitian Diaspora Federation http://www.myhdf.org/about-the-haitian-diaspora-federation