Updated: Sep 23
As we start to reflect on the work achieved in the last three years since the inception of Harvesting for Good East Africa, Founder and Lead Permaculture Practitioner, Sheena Shah looks back at that first flush of anticipation when the idea was incepted. Despite the initial excitement of starting a social enterprise/ business that would create a niche in urban settlements (mainly Nairobi), creating interest in simple home kitchen gardens, composting, equipping gardeners and individual with the necessary skills in urban gardening, integrated with permaculture philosophy, the choppy waters of 2020 to date have been a real learning period for us at HFG EA and personally.
The idea has always been to stand out, be bold, get creative and resourceful when things get complex! This is something Sheena has mastered in the last decade, managing programmes, executing bold projects, and coming up with solutions. Her former role at the Permaculture Research Institute of Kenya gave her a lot of experience in building resilience not only on the ground but internally.
Having only started HFG EA a year before the pandemic hit was a real reckoning. 'How are we going to continue the work achieved so far?' 'Will people want us in their homes during this period?' 'What does social distancing even mean?' 'What happens to projects that are in their early stages?' ' What is the new normal going to look like?' ''Will this business and work survive?' What..., How..., If..., But..., When...' - These are all the questions that we had when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Our work started off great, we designed and set up a number of kitchen gardens and compost units, including training for several homes and businesses in 2019. We were getting our footing in the ground the first year, trying to understand the needs and learning quickly. These were smaller jobs compared to the bigger communal work, activities and planning that we were used to prior to starting HFG EA, but this gave us an edge and flexibility to get as creative as we wanted even when the work seemed seasonal in the beginning stages. Permaculture has still not been fully recognized by a large percentage of people, especially in Nairobi and to mention amongst other fields working toward climate change in Kenya. From previous experience, not a lot of urbanites can make it to the longer two week Permaculture Design Courses which are often outside of Nairobi, or outside of the city in general. We had to get back to the basics and make our work at HFG EA simpler and achievable. That has been our primary goal to get homeowners interested in this subject. A lot of gardeners and staff in Nairobi don't have the skill in kitchen gardening, so this is where we needed to start. Fortunately most homes here have backyards and front yards and equally the same amount of space on balconies and terraces which can be transformed. Most are lawns and completely underutilized space so the idea is to change the narrative and integrate permaculture to these spaces and make it more functional.
When the pandemic hit, we were forced to take a step back, re-think, and pivot. A few months in to it, stay at home measures were already in effect and more people were working from home. Not only did this slower the pace of life but definitely enable permaculture designers all over the world to really pause and connect during the pandemic, but more and more people began to seek out to nature during this pandemic/ lockdown measures and the acknowledgement of green fingered activity was on the rise. This was our time to engage fully and consciously. HFG EA Lead, Sheena connected with people on social media and was invited on podcasts on a wide range of topics from regenerative solutions, permaculture, food, circular economies, the 'new' normal, nature and the outdoors and much much more. This provided us with more time to think about how we could use our work to get people started. Everything was changing around us, online shopping became the new norm, there were delays in getting fresh produce to your doorstep early on due to this demand, and our focus was on 'could you grow a percentage of your own food right where you are?' People were already starting to order more house plants, seeds, potting soil, pots, seedlings, trees and etc. Our favorite go to local nursery, Plants Galore were re-stocking product each week due to the demand and the desire to start veggie patches, whether it be in pots, containers and lawns were becoming a niche during this time. We shared more about how to get started on this process and once things opened up again, we received more and more inquiries and requests to continue helping people set up their own edible food gardens.
One of our favorite projects late 2019, just a few months before the pandemic was helping a mom and daughter completely turn their abandoned terrace in to absolute nature. Their vision was to create a space that they could enjoy more often. We reused containers, buckets, sacks, and tyres to grow a lot of their plants, fruit trees, and food crops in. What started off as a small and minimal project grew in to a gorgeous garden overtime. They had never experienced gardening until now, but gradually grew to love this idea of converting their barren terrace to eden and that they could continue doing it themselves. They felt empowered and motivated to add more varieties each month by themselves and learned how to manage their garden after a few check in's, follow ups and tips from our team, providing them with agency, as we do with all of our clients. Everytime we visited, there was something new and their once abandoned terrace now blooms with flowers, trees, plants and is a vibrant space for them to enjoy more. What perfect timing to have set it up just in time as things turned upside down with the pandemic, nonetheless things looked up for them because this has become their creative space. They now encourage their friends and family to do the same. It is a beautiful and transformational story! Everyone looking out their windows in to their terrace have to be a tad inspired and have hopefully started their own green space! It gives us hope, what one can do with just a handful of containers and materials lying around!
We have worked on several projects since and have had the ability to transform landscapes to absolute lush and functional spaces, from front yards turning to mini food orchards, kitchen gardens and herb gardens. Whilst the last two years have had its fair share of ups and downs, we continued to stay resilient and keep our chin up. A favorite definition of resilience science is this, Resilience scientists define resilience as the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize so as to retain essentially the same function, structure, and feedbacks; that is, it is to have the same “identity.” Put simply, resilience is the ability to cope with shocks and keep functioning in much the same kind of way as before.
This year has given us the opportunity to rebuild after some changes and shifts that manifested. Fortunately the last few months have been good to us! We have had the opportunity to work on a variety of impact projects this year, from an office biophilic design, series of trainings to partnering with International groups on grant projects which are going toward supporting children's rehabilitation centres. Our main goal is to empower and educate the centres to grow their own food, capture their own water and become food secure by increasing soil fertility, biodiversity and techniques that will best serve them to become regenerative and sustainable in the long whole and hope to form more meaningful partnerships like these. This is our mission, to provide individuals with the necessary tools that they need to build empowered, self-sufficient, climate change resilient, healthy and food-secure communities- that has the Permaculture Ethics of Care of the Earth, Care of People and Fair Distribution of Resources at its core. These detrimental effects of climate change are evident and there has never been a better time than now to act and be part of this meaningful work. Solutions to these problems have repeatedly been demonstrated in practice and HFG EA plans to have more practical model development to show people how to get started.