There is something that I must confess. I am a foodie. I love the taste, smell, feel of fresh whole foods, especially if the food in my plant-based diet didn’t travel more than hundreds of miles to get to my plate. This is especially hard to find in Middle America in the winter so when I see locally grown signs at my local grocer I get super excited and plan my weekly meals around them (this week: kale, collard greens, and turnips). Not to worry, my coastal friends and family wake me up from my green haze and revel of their year round farmers’ markets as I daydream of my visits to Portland and the three block long vegan food heaven, then a step before I become envious and ungrateful, I think of a time when I had no fresh foods at all.
When traveling internationally, I try very hard not to be the “naïve American”. Haiti was the second developing country that I had visited but this time I didn’t want to have a pre-conceived opinion of the country. I wanted to go in with an open mind. So I studied what you would on any trip: the language, weather, history, etc. Being an island, I assumed I would be able to find a lone banana or a mango on a tree (naïve American talking) traveling through the villages in Northwest Haiti delivering Tom’s shoes to orphanages. After a couple of days eating only beans, rice, canned peaches, and Coke (there was rarely fresh water); I realized my treasured fruit was nonexistent. Looking back, it is kind of comical, when a group mate bartered for a mango for me every few days.
Halfway through our trip, I stumbled upon a project of building a sustainable farming system called aquaponics. Aquaponics uses sea animals (in this case fish) with hydroponics (growing vegetables in water) working together for a cooperative food environment. This system is a great alternative to regular farming because of the constant reuse of water when established. Because I knew the need of fresh food was real, I had to be a part of it. This simple structure in the United States would take less than two weeks if all the parts were on site, but in Haiti would take months or even a year. For simple issues like cement, In the US we would just run to Home Depot, Lowes or rent a cement truck but in Haiti every bag of cement had to be mixed by hand, sometimes using all the water needed for the orphanage. This is just one of the many hurdles that had to be crossed but the benefits were great, when completed this system will feed thousands of people in Northwest Haiti.
What a wakeup call. Even though I might not have locally grown vegetables year round at least I have other options. Aquaponics is just one example of sustainable farming being used all around the world, even in the United States to give people options for better food.