Kale might be a “hipster” vegetable in the United States, but it’s as common as potatoes and rice in East Africa. I’m glad I planted some in my garden: when I look out my kitchen window, I remember the leafy greens growing out of sack gardens in Kenya and Uganda.
I recently returned from a trip to East Africa, where I had the opportunity to connect with Kenyans in the small rural town of Kijabe and Ugandans in the sprawling slums of Kampala who are working to instill creation care practices in their respective communities. Training women and men to grow staple foods with limited space and water while embodying the biblical wisdom of Psalm 24:1 (The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”) is a cornerstone of both Care of Creation Kenya and A Rocha Uganda. Both organizations teach “Farming God’s Way” and micro-gardening; both techniques allow people to grow more crops on less land and with fewer inputs such as water and inorganic fertilizers, all while contributing to the health of soils and souls.
Micro-gardening usually involves taking advantage of vertical space that is available on even the smallest of plots. With a few common, locally available items and a couple hours of work, anyone can begin cultivating dozens of vegetable plants right next to their front door. Food aid bags are reused as the container for the garden, and with some rocks, soil, compost or manure and seedlings, voila! You have a sack garden. The column of rocks in the center of the sack acts as an irrigation channel, encouraging the vegetables to put down deep roots as they follow the water.
For those of us living in a city, it’s hard to imagine having enough space to garden. More and more of the global population resides in cities, and the percentage is expected to go up in coming years. In Kampala, I noticed that many people make a living by selling excess produce. However, fresh food is still hard to come by in some places, like schools. A Rocha Uganda regularly partners with primary schools in Kampala to help them implement small, manageable gardening projects by teaching the kids how to build and take care of a sack garden.
In the United States, most of us would be too busy to handle anything but a “small, manageable gardening project” like a sack garden or a single raised bed. We have the luxury of not growing a thing and still eating every day. However, I appreciate the reminder of kale, lettuce, squash and spinach that grows in my backyard: my friends in East Africa are bringing the Good News and helping people meet their most basic needs through gardens. I will savor and be thankful for everything I harvest, knowing that I am adding my voice to many across the world who thank God for their daily bread (or sukuma wiki, as the case may be).
In the coolness of the evening, I can picture God walking among the sack gardens in Kijabe, Kampala, my backyard raised bed, and the other little gardens of the world.