Friday, April 24, 2015

Planting the Seeds - Omer Day 21


by Emily Jaeger

Rosh Hashanah 2011 and I’m on a plane to Paraguay with 35 other new Peace Corps volunteers. As we nose down for the landing, all you can see are endless green fields separated by thin strips of red road. It seems like an Eden—our trainers tell us that most plants you just need to put a twig in the ground and it will sprout roots.

Everything can grow here and nothing can grow here. Local farmers have abandoned animal traction and hoeing for tractors and field burning. As PC volunteers, we both ask the big questions: how do we help reverse erosion and teach subsistence farmers to farm sustainability, while ignoring the big, “too political” problems: that Monsanto and foreign soy farmers are pushing out small farmers by any means necessary, polluting water sources and poisoning bees with spray-on pesticides.
 
In the same day, I pass a large field by the entrance to the community: newly burnt, the 100 year old mango tree in twisted pieces on the ground, cut for parts. Then I go to the church, a small yellow room in the village center. Meet with ten farmers: corn/bean/yucca growers, keepers of bees hidden in backyard forests. We talk about cover crops for five weeks. Map out field rotations and learn basic soil nutrients with a variety pack of cookies. At the end of five weeks, farmers get enough seeds to plant a seed plot. The first harvest will produce enough cover-crop seeds to plant in the field the next year.

How do you measure success? During the two years that I served in Paraguay, I saw tent villages on the streets of major Paraguayan cities, the new homes of those kicked off their land by Monsanto lawsuits. Walked by neighbors burning the earth for the next cash crop that would inevitably fail from drought or never bring in the promised high-returns. Ten farmers took the seeds from my course and only two planted them the first year. I moved onto gardening projects with women’s groups. A month before I left Paraguay, the Benitez family called me over to visit. The plants are coming up! The seeds earned eighteen months earlier, planted for seed, and harvested, were now sprouting in between rows of corn. Planted perfectly, ready to trap in moisture and shelter the soil from harsh weather. Ready to replenish the soil with the nitrogen beads in their roots and compost from their leaves. 

Today is Day 21, which is three weeks of the Omer.
Today is Day 21, which is three weeks of the journey from bondage to redemption.

Emily Jaeger is a returned Peace Corps volunteer and backyard organic farmer who dreams in four languages. Currently studying in the MFA program at UMASS Boston, she is co-editor and co-founder of the Window Cat Press, a zine for young, emerging artists. A Lambda Literary fellow, her poem "Mercenary" was nominated for the Pushcart Award and her work has been published Arc, Broad!, Broadsided, Cecile's Writers, The Jewish Journal, and Zeek. For more info, please visit her website


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