24 Jul
Litzmannstadt (Lodz)-Ghetto, May 30, 1942

Posted by admin in the Ghetto Gardens archive
Clearing Rubble for a Garden, Lodz Ghetto. Archive of Modern Conflict

“Something about Horticulture in the Ghetto”
Oskar Singer

We are not writing about something like the elder’s extensive plantations, which would like to expand in Marysin. We just want to say a few lines about how the little man in the Ghetto acts, if he has had the special luck of gaining a little parcel of field or a share in a group. . .

If one has thus overcome dangerous obstacles then the horticulturalist’s path of suffering in the ghetto really begins. The provision for seeds was actually well organized. Pretty much everything to do with useful plants was on hand and the quality of seeds was relatively good.

One part of the seeds comes from the ghetto’s own production. The larger part, however, was brought in. Upon request, the economic department distributed rather promptly an amount suitable for the soil. Yet it was already very late and so many a cultivation program was messed up/thrown out. For the main part, however, it worked. There were sufficient quantities of seed potatoes, peas, beans, onions, spinach, radishes, red turnips, carrots, parsley, horseradish and various herbs.

Since it was already somewhat late, only a few experts could raise plants in their hotbeds. Early-ripening plants had to be obtained from these gardeners. Indeed, the small gardeners try to raise their plants in a free bed; one sees quite many such attempts. But the insufficient knowledge of the ghetto amateurs leads to small results. One often sees really grotesque seeds. Having a consultant’s office in the agricultural department is probably just an expression of very good will.

Two elements dominate in the negative side of this cultivating work: the miserable physical condition of the people, who do not tolerate extended heavy labor well, and the unimaginable technical difficulties. Both of these components of the way of working in the ghetto leave the low level of expertise completely in the shadows.

We are not speaking about the commercial gardeners, who work larger areas themselves and with paid labor, but about the small tenant farmers, who want to cultivate up to 500 square meters per family. These people work almost without exception in an office or in a department; these people have only their free hours available. What can fruitfully be done in this time? The people of the ghetto, who have been reduced to skin and bones, can extract only a minimum from themselves physically, even if spades and rakes were not entirely foreign to them earlier. The consequence is that only in the rarest cases is the ground thoroughly prepared. Everything is focused on the quickest completion of excess work. One sees very few tenant farmers at work in the early morning hours. What results from this? If people do not water plants in the early morning hours, the seedlings burn up. Evenings, however, these people are even more worn out, if that’s possible. One can observe very well that people do what is really necessary only with the utmost expenditure of their strength.

The second negative side is the technical one. There are almost no tools available. Just a few spades, and only sometimes can even a rake be bought. The ghetto has in this regard only a very small amount of primitive tools available. And the prices are correspondingly high. They ask 15 to 20 Marks for an old spade, the same for a rake. You have to have luck to find something, for the agricultural department does not make any tools available. Very much depends on good neighbors. For instance, a watering can is almost a luxury item.

However, this is not yet the high point of the difficulties. One needs only to imagine that in many places irrigation is an insoluble problem in general. Either there is no pump or no well in the vicinity at all or, if so, the pump is not usable, like most of those in the ghetto. The first hot days of May showed the consequences of this shortcoming. Many young and thus still very sensitive plants burned up. That is both a loss of money and time. There are cases of bitter quarrels between neighbors when a well is used too much and gives only a little water. The original owner of the parcel of land, as well as the owner of the house, naturally has to fear that the neighbor’s thirsty earth is taking the last drop of usable water away from him. The metal department cannot meet the numerous demands for repairs despite its best will. Und – horticulture…without water!

However, if it ever occurs to a gardener to lay out his hotbed himself, what kinds of problems arise? There are plenty of bricks, but where should he obtain lime or even cement in order to make the frame of the hotbed? And if that is already solved, from where should he take the frame for the glass cover, and if that is successful, how does one conjure up glass? The person outside the ghetto will never understand that the kinds of things a gardener takes for granted, which otherwise have hardly anything to do with money, were almost insoluble in the ghetto-

Just imagine that beans, peas, tomatoes are really thriving. Where does the gardener get the stakes for the climbing plants and vines? How are the beans supposed to climb up, if there are no beanpoles? The peas, how are the poor things supposed to support themselves, when there is not a dry branch far and wide that could give some twigs? And how should the good tomato become strong and fruitful, if there is no stake to support the plant?

The person in the ghetto is certainly inventive, and he always finds some old iron material somewhere to replace what can still be replaced. Where that succeeds, it is still pathetic amateurism in comparison to a halfway-equipped gardener beyond the wires.

The last little board, the last piece of picked-over wood must be saved, indeed wrung from the oven at home, for wood is also currency in the ghetto.

If yields should be recorded under these circumstances, then one must testify that the small farmers in the ghetto are great poets.

24 Jul
Bradley J. Kohn 1stBDE/205th Corps Sept. 28, 2006

Posted by admin in the Afghanistan archive

Dear Professor Helphand,

Thank you for your recent email letter. I am sorry it took so long to reply to you. The operational tempo has been quite high in the Kandahar Province where my FOB, (forward operating base) is located. I command the 1st Brigade 205th Corps US team and mentor the Afghan equivelent. I have been in Afghanistan about five months and have seen many areas and ground locations, because I have eight FOBs or fire bases spread through out the Kandahar, Orzugun and Dey Kundi provinces.

My sister, Wendy Adams who you met in San Antonio told me about your book the Defiant Gardens. I am intrigued about it. Your letter describes some interesting aspects of your research, and will be interested in reading it. I have been an organic gardener most of my adult life. I have lived in the Coos Bay and North Bend area for many years, and have had gardens most of the time. My wife Kellea and I really enjoy tending our gardens and watching the plants mature and bear. I am interested in the growing process and much as the eating and giving away the fruits of our labors. We grow a multitude of flowers, plants and crops.

In Afghanistan there is not much greenery in most of the southern part of the country where I am. There is a lot of gray dirt, sand and desert. When we see a small farming area or a vineyard it is a sight for sore eyes. At my FOB there is nothing as far as plant life. It is devoid of green living things, something we all treasure. The last thirty years of war have left the land devoid of infrastructure and the once thriving green agrarian economy. It is really a shame. One of our 205th Corps Commanders Emergency Reconstruction Team (CERT) projects is to bring one square kilometer into full agricultural fruition. Creating jobs and food is the project goal.

My wife sent me some seeds to begin a garden several months ago. I began planting the melon and squash seeds along a fence line next to my Hqs. building. The plants took off very well and began to thrive. But the giant hedgehogs that are indigenous here, had a field day, and destroyed my first crop. We decided to build raised beds from ammo boxes and put the beds on top of our bunkers. This is where we are at the moment. I have a compost pile started with shredded documents, dirt, vegetable waste, along with goat and sheep droppings. Water was a problem too, since we had only bottled water when I arrived here. Now we have a well to provide more water for our needs.

The temperature in the summer is between 125 to 145 degrees in the peak of the day. Water is very important for things to thrive here. The melons grown here are absolutely wonderful. They grow a melon here called Stambul. It is used as a fragrant smell. People use it in their homes and cars. I have collected many seeds to take home to North Bend in hopes of growing some of the things I have found here in Afghanistan.

We have a multitude of offensive missions going on all the time with my seven Kandak(battalions). It is hard to give the attention to my morale, welfare and recreation projects, but my men volunteer to take on the building of the raised beds and watering projects. We all like the idea of real beautiful food that add color and taste to our lives here and to be doing something else beside war time missions. The goal is to see and taste home while we are all serving our country.

24 Jul
LT Janette Arencibia Kabul, Afghanistan Oct. 2006

Posted by admin in the Afghanistan archive

garden-of-afghan-soldier.jpg… I have been here for three weeks and have a year to go. Other
soldiers (including coalition forces) have been establishing gardens in
this country for the last several years.

… My job as a gardener is to share my passion
with the other wonderful individuals who have already made Afghanistan
more beautiful.

I am attaching a few pictures from a small garden in Kabul, specifically
at Camp Cobra, an Afghan National Army base. This garden was created by
an officer in the Afghan National Army with a passion for flowers. I
listened to him passionately tell the story of the origin of the seeds -


24 Jul
From Dump To Gardens

Posted by admin in the Guantanamo archive

GUANTÁNAMO (city) , Cuba, May 14 2007 (IPS) - When Irania Martínez said she would make that rubbish dump productive, people said she was crazy. Today the greenery, hundreds of trees and sense of order that reigns in the place confirm that she is in her right mind, and the project is a model that could spread all over the country.

“The benefits have been huge, thanks to Martínez and CEPRU (Ecological Processing Centre for Solid Urban Waste). Before, we didn’t even have proper streets. It was all mud. Now it’s clean and we have electric light,” Belkis Abdala, who has lived for 15 years in “barrio” (neighbourhood) Isleta on the outskirts of the eastern Cuban city of Guantánamo, told IPS.

Abdala and her family live right in front of what used to be the dump, and they recall when Martínez arrived some six years ago. “Irania went to work on the land, spending her own salary, with the help of three neighbours who worked for free, and our own humble support,” she said.

“All the woodlands you see now used to be a rubbish heap, full of black smoke, stench and flies,” said Abdala, who also noted that “many of the local residents found work at CEPRU.”

Barrio Isleta, with over 500 residents, went through a parallel process of change along with the transformation of the old rubbish dump, thanks to seedlings from Martínez’s trees growing in many a local patio, and the organic compost that nourishes their home- grown gardens.

Martínez was sent to barrio Isleta as head of the Agriculture Ministry’s urban agriculture movement. She has been the head of CEPRU since its foundation, and acknowledges she is “self-taught” and has a “strong character”.

“We started this on our own. Everybody said I was crazy, and some people were against the project. But I’m no weakling, and when I’m sure about something I go ahead and do it, mainly out of intuition and love of nature,” she said. Now she hopes to resume her studies in agronomy, which she abandoned in the 1990s.

About that time, the dump was formed and spread over an area of six or seven hectares. More than half of it has already been recovered, with a forest containing some 3,000 trees, nurseries for seedlings to continue reforesting, and places for processing wastes or preparing organic fertiliser.

There is a workforce of 35, nine of whom are women. “I’ve got six waste processing areas, but we can only operate three of them with the personnel we have. We need more workers,” Martínez said.

In CEPRU, nothing is wasted. Everything is put to some use. An average of 150 to 160 cubic metres of urban waste arrives every day from the barrios on the outskirts of Guantánamo. The first job is to separate organic waste from inorganic materials.

The inorganic waste is classified by lots, such as X-ray film, shoe soles, perfume or nail polish containers, toothpaste tubes, cardboard, paper, tinplate, car tires, radios, TV sets and a great deal of plastic waste.

“We sell off as much as we can as recycled raw materials. Other stuff we use ourselves, for fencing or signs. Tires, for instance, can be used to make thousands of different things, even roofing tiles. A sensible use must be found for every kind of waste,” Martínez said.

Further income is derived from the sale of organic compost, but the price is five or six times lower than the real cost of production.

“CEPRU will only be sustainable once an environmental economic study has been carried out. Our work is being recognised, but no one has sat down to do the sums,” she said.

The CEPRU project has had a striking impact: burning of rubbish is now minimal, proliferation of insect vectors harmful to human health has been curbed, forest species populations have begun to recover, and degraded ecosystems are being protected and rebuilt.

CEPRU receives an estimated one ton a month of high- and low-density plastic waste. Instead of being burned, as it used to be, it is re-utilised in various ways.

Experts say this practice has eliminated the release of toxic gases. The reduction represents a six percent drop in the province’s total emissions of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like dioxins and furans into the atmosphere.

CEPRU is one of the foremost projects supported by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF/SGP), managed in Cuba by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP).

According to SGP estimates and other investigations, the project successfully reforested three hectares of land and grew some 1,000 seedlings a year. Forty households in the community participated in the reforestation effort.

Waste decomposition time was halved, production of organic compost increased by 60 tons, and the uncontrolled burning of 150 tons of rubbish a month was eliminated.

At least five new jobs for women were created. Working conditions were improved for the entire staff, who were given training courses which also benefited 50 percent of the residents of barrio Isleta.

Martínez says that organising groups like CEPRU in every Cuban province would be a method for providing training for personnel at other rubbish dumps, in order to reproduce their successful experience. “If the funding for such a nationwide project is not forthcoming, at least we could set up groups for the eastern, western and central regions of the country,” she said.

The twenty or so large rubbish dumps in Guantánamo province are now trying to put CEPRU’s techniques into practice.

by Patricia Grogg

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