Day 4 & 5 of Living Below the Line for DIG: There’s No Me Without You

Finally, it’s Friday and I have only two meals left before my Live Below the Line challenge for Development in Gardening (DIG) is complete. This time tomorrow I’ll be sipping a cup of coffee and hopefully making some waffles with raspberries on top! It’s seem so close yet still so far away. 

It’s been a hard week, but it’s not as though I’ve suffered. I’ve actually eaten pretty well. Last night I couldn’t even finish my dinner as it was much bigger than I expected. Over the five days, I managed to have surprisingly balanced meals with vegetables, carbs, and proteins represented every time. By cutting out sugar and many fats, I probably did my body a service, and my pocketbook is glad I’ve eliminated so many of those non essential drinks…although you can bet I’ll be enjoying a glass of vino tomorrow evening;)  

I think what made this challenge so hard was the effort it took to authentically confine myself to the reality so many face every day, all while knowing that I could bail at any time and no one would blame me. I’m not exactly benefiting personally from the effort. I’m not trying to drop a few pounds or cleanse my body; I’m not getting any real reward for my sacrifice. Instead I get to sit with the realization that 1.2 billion people around the world are trapped in the cycle of poverty and all I’m doing is pretending (without any real perspective on what that’s like to walk in those shoes) for five days. What I get from doing this are conflicting feelings of selfishness, entitlement, pride, helplessness and egotism to name a few, none of which are real fun to personally reflect on. 

I guess that in some ways I am getting something out of my efforts. I’m getting to share the work of an organization I care deeply for, and that’s been rewarded with many generous financial donations, your kinds words of support, and the shares of this blog with others along the way. 

When Steve Bolinger (DIG’s other co-founder) and I started the organization almost ten years ago our focus was on the gardens and how they could have an impact on the nutrition, food security, and income for the people they served. What we never expected was the sense of community that would grow out of those gardens.  

This power of community first hit me while working at one of DIG’s earliest projects in Senegal. Behind a small urban hospital, a group of 20+ HIV positive women came every morning to work in the garden. At the time, few of the ladies had revealed their HIV status to their friends or family. Stigma still surrounded the virus and judgment from peers was incredibly isolating and harsh. But these women faithfully showed up every day, mostly in secret, to learn ways to maintain their health through good nutrition sourced from their gardens. I was lucky enough to speak French (the national language) and Mandinka (a common local language) so could build some precious relationships with those women. In working and talking with them, I learned that what made them show up every day wasn’t just the opportunity to learn a new skill but the opportunity to be in community with the other women. For many, it was the first time they could be open about their struggles, their stories, and they could forget, for a time, the secrets they kept outside the walls of that space. Here they were just beautiful capable women, some funny, some serious, but all full of personal gifts and potential.     

DIG Kenya Staff, Board Members, & Volunteers in Kenya
One of my favorite families in Kenya and my friend
and talented DIG photographer, Cary Norton

DIG has provided a humbling sense of community for me in my life. I have felt life giving community not only with the incredible people I have met and worked with throughout Africa but also alongside DIG’s inspiring staff who struggle with me everyday to remain true to the organization’s core values and grassroots approach all while trying to grow our impact and reach. I find community in the people I meet and visit with while fundraising around the country and in those who write letters of support or notes of encouragement on our social media pages. I am touched by the number of gifts we receive every year, the sincerity and professionalism of our Board of Directors and the heartfelt volunteers who give their time and energy for no economic gain of their own. You all make this possible and allow me to live-out a calling I don’t always feel worthy of.

I have seen how the power of community can traverse oceans, know it can speak many languages and see it embodied in the rich and the poor alike. It is as thick as blood and flows as free as water, and I suppose it’s funny to say these past five days have revealed that anew for me, but they have. Every gift that has been given in support of my effort is like an embrace, an affirmation, that while I may only be “playing at poverty” for this week we are all part of the drama that causes it and part of the community that can solve it.

You can support my campaign by donation to DIG here or learn more about Development in Gardening by visiting our website at: and thank you!
Sarah Koch
Executive Director of Development in Gardening (DIG)

US volunteers prepping for an event
The sweet kids from the Masese orphanage 
The San Diego and other US Based communities
have supported DIG from early on
My friend and absurdly good home gardener, Washington
A woman I admire deeply, Cat Magil, DIG’s
in-country staff for many years
The Denver Community always shows up for a DIG party! 
My sweet friends at the Buwala orphanage in Uganda
My colleague and friend Noah who wears
a different hat for DIG every day and wears them well
My amazing husband and all my family who have supported this dream from day 1