“Do you know what this is?” I was sitting down for an afternoon tea break at PEHI compound, daydreaming when Ewentu’s voice woke me up. As I looked up he was standing next to me with freshly picked vegetables, his hands were covered with mud that he got while digging to collect his veggies. I replied, “spring onion?” my answer sounding more like a question, I was not sure. He smiled while nodding as in to say no. I knew I must have sounded like a silly city girl who doesn’t know her veggies to him. Partly his assumption was true. I realized I was wrong when he showed me the knobs of garlics in his hand. The amount of garlic he had harvested in this small garden was striking. That was when I asked Ewentu if he would mind telling me his story. He was a bit shy at the beginning but with a little bit of convincing we sat down together to talk.
“I was born and grew up in Gondor. As a young boy I was already involved in farming to support my family. In rainy seasons we grew potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and other varieties of vegetables. And when we didn’t have the rain to rely on anymore I used to use irrigation farming as our land was next to a river.”
Ewentu describes his journey in progression to his job as a farmer and his personal life when he joined a modern farming vocational college, “You know after leaving Gondor to come to Addis I had the opportunity to continue to do what I love as a farmer at Selam technical and vocational college (another NGO) for almost four years. I worked there and learned a lot about modern farming. It was a much bigger farm and the organic vegetables we produced went mostly to local markets with an affordable price. There we had a machine to make organic compost. But I also know how to make it without a machine.” He points outside to an area next to where we sat in the garden, “I dug this hole myself, and I collect and store organic wastes to produce organic fertilizer. The entire process takes me 2 months. And in between you have to make sure it’s warm and steamy, also important to stir it around”, he added.
Ewentu explained, for him this space at PEHI is like a show room of what can be done in small area. He said he wants to motivate others to do the same with limited space they have either at home or their workplace. To create, as he says, a green scenery for the eye and a nutritious meal for the belly. In this small garden during the summer at the institute, he has grown lettuce, spinach and kale. I have observed him collecting garlic and green chilies, prior to our conversation, which he mentioned he has planted in the rainy season. “Now I have prepared the land for the next batch already and I am hoping it will be something different, but of course it depends on the seeds I get from my suppliers depending on what’s available, but I am hoping for tomatoes, spinach or something new. They like it in the kitchen when I harvest fresh organic vegetables. It’s always a great feeling sharing what you have created and see others enjoying your products.”
I have also had a delicious soup flavored with fresh cilantro, kale, chilli and garlics from his garden. PEHI doesn’t depend on his gardening as it is small and seasonal. Vegetables are usually bought from the local market by the purchaser. In addition, Ewentu is not initially employed as a gardener but mainly as a guard at the PEHI. His garden is his own project, and everyone enjoys his harvest season most.
Ewentu says about his work: “Working at PEHI I am learning how the institute is creating a positive impact on women’s life and also how to be a big brother for the students here.” Ewentu adds in the future he wants to have his own organic farm and participate in the local market.
As I thanked Ewentu and finished our conversation he told me to wait and brought me chillies to enjoy with my lunch. His kindness and passion for his small garden warmed my day.
Written by Selam Belina