Haitian nonprofit given seed of knowledge by local Master Gardeners

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MARBLE FALLS — For Raymond Figaro Excellent, the director of Haitian Operations for Haiti Share, learning about keyhole gardening isn’t just an exercise in his education, but something that could possibly change hundreds, even thousands, of lives in his home of Carrefour, Haiti.

“Everything I’ll learn, I’ll take back with me,” Excellent said with a heavy Haitian accent as he stood in the community garden adjacent to The Helping Center of Marble Falls. “We want to educate as many people as we can. If you have an education, then there’s nothing you can’t do.”

Excellent has been in the United States learning leadership strategies that he can then teach in Haiti. He stopped by the community garden Jan. 31 along with Haiti Share Executive Director Billy Jean Harmsen of Horseshoe Bay. Several members of the Highland Lakes Master Gardeners were on hand to give Excellent a quick, but informative, lesson on some of the strategies used at the community garden.

Master Gardener Karen Wilkens led the group to the keyhole garden sitting in the southeast corner of the plot.

“What’s great about this is it’s really about using what you have,” she told Excellent. “This one is built out of rock. But you can use whatever material you have, even cinder blocks.”

The keyhole garden concept allows for a person or group to grow an abundance of vegetables in a small space (it’s only about six feet across) with minimal water and resources. The design calls for creating a raised garden anywhere from three feet or higher. Inside, Wilkens said, you lay cardboard on the bottom and along the sides.

The center is a compost basket filled, well, with compost and compostable materials.

Then, the garden is filled with materials such as phonebooks, shredded paper and even all-cotton jeans (all of which were layered into the community garden’s project). A few feet from the top, garden soil is poured in.

Wilkens said the design calls for planting a large number and species of crops so they work together to shade the surface and drastically reduce moisture lost to evaporation.

Watering is done by placing a hose in the center basket.

“That way, every time you water, you’re making compost tea,” Wilkens said. Compost tea takes valuable nutrients to the plants’ roots.

“Even in our heat and drought, you only have to water it about once a week,” she said.

All this means a lot to Excellent. He said he planned to share the design with the youth and the community he works with in Haiti. By putting gardening knowledge and skills in the hands of the local residents, they can grow nutritional food themselves.

Harmsen said it all fits into the Haiti Share mission, which is “from dependency to leadership by the grace of God.”

Wilkens described this sharing of knowledge between the Master Gardeners and Excellent as a wonderful example of grassroots action. Instead of waiting for governments and bureacrats to try and figure something out, talk about it forever and finally implement it, Wilkens said this gives the information directly to the people who will benefit the most from it.

Go to www.haitishare.org for more information on Haiti Share. Go to www.burnetcountyhighlandlakesmastergardener.org for more information on the Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association and the community garden.

daniel@thepicayune.com