DIG’s community of donors around the world continually challenge us to respond to needs where we find them. They equip us with the resources to show-up in the hard places, the places where we feel called and the places others don’t go.
No supporter encouraged this level of adaptation more than DIG’s former Board Chair and friend, Greg Bogdan. Greg practiced radical generosity throughout his life and was a founding supporter of Development in Gardening since 2006. While Greg was a dreamer and visionary, he was also practical and scientific. When challenges arose, he thoughtfully considered a path through them using data and experience to guide us.
Over the years, Greg challenged DIG to grow beyond our earliest dreams, and he not only supported financially, but he also walked alongside us to achieve those dreams. On this, the anniversary of his death, we feel privileged to share the story of a garden in Uganda that was planted in his memory. We thank the many people who knew and loved Greg and who financially supported this effort.
The Greg Bogdan Mkungu Memorial Garden
Set deep in the mountains of Southwest Uganda, Mkungu is home to 36 families. It is a long way from any town, and it’s steep and difficult terrain make it hard to get to and even harder to farm. While very rural, the land is overcrowded and plots for growing are small. For these reasons and more, DIG was aware that planting a program here would not be easy.
But, the beauty of DIG’s model is that it is designed to adapt, and if we don’t go to the hard places who will?
The Batwa have experienced a great deal of harm from outsiders. Afterall, it was outsiders who evicted them from their forest home in the name of conservation and left them with no land, no compensation, and very few livelihood opportunities.
As a development organization, building trust within any community can be challenging, but with the Batwa trust is absolutely critical. In addition to the trauma they experienced from their eviction, they have continued to be harmed through short-sided development projects that plague the region. Well-meaning organizations promise better health, food, and the start of thriving small businesses. Yet, so often, somewhere along the line, the projects fall apart and monuments to naive development are left behind. Working with the Batwa is complicated and the barriers to success are abundant. It’s important programs are well thought out and include community voices.
DIG’s program is rooted in trust, trust that builds relationships over time. Before Mkungu, DIG had already established 25 successful garden groups in the region, working with over 600 families. This experience gave us important insight when we connected with the Mkungu community in late 2019.
“When we arrived, we were met by a large number of people interested in our visit,” recalled Amos Mugara, DIG’s local facilitator for Mkungu. “I think that they thought since we had travelled so far, we were coming with donations, but, they soon realized DIG wasn’t an organization bringing handouts, such as food, medicine, household items or clothes ” said Amos. “The disappointment was uncomfortable at first, but they politely hosted us for the rest of the morning. It gave our team time to sit with elders, speak with mothers, and walk the land.” The DIG team learned about Mkungu’s experiences with other organizations; proposed projects that fell through, and efforts that faded soon after they were turned over. With repeated visits, the Mkungu community began to show trust in our partnership, understanding that we kept showing up to meet then where they were.
After a period of time, the group took the leap of faith and offered what little land they had for a DIG demonstration garden. Still unsure if the time, labor, and land would prove to be enough for them to feed their families, they continued out of curiosity but more because of the good relationship the local DIG team built with them. Amos, diligently worked with the group to restore the land high on the side of their hill. They built terraces, erosion traps, and removed large boulders together. It took time, but they rejuvenated the soil into rich arable land that will be used year after year.
As they grew together, the group tried new vegetables like spinach and beets, and after learning how to cook these new vegetables, they began incorporating them regularly into their daily meals.
Phase 2 – The Bogdan Course
In most respects this was already a success, but after working together for several months, the group was invited to participate in the second phase of DIG’s farm school, a phase DIG has renamed, The Bogdan Course.
The second phase builds on the first, requiring a foundation of trust. Building on the technical know-how of phase 1, this phase is geared towards business planning and financial literacy. Amos’ favorite training module within this course is Group Goal Setting. He shared, “I love facilitating this module because it’s a time when farmers begin to plan for their own futures and start to evaluate the resources they have and what type of business will be a good fit.”
“The Bogdan Course is the time when groups start to reflect on their own interests,” says Sarah Koch, DIG’s co-founder and Executive Director. “We all get excited, and you see glimpses of self-sufficiency and passion begin emerge.” The day the Mkungu group started the Bogdan Course, they sat together and sifted through all the possibilities of where they could go with the program. Finally, they voted to continue growing their vegetables to sell to their community, but also chose to purchase piglets from their earnings. Today, piglets have been shared with each household in the group.
With the pig growing business in place, the group is now supplementing their vegetable rich diets with meat which has been largely absent from their meals since they were evicted from the forest. Not only do the pigs help the community replace their protein source, the pigs integrate well into the harsh agroecological system. “Pigs can easily maneuver the hillsides and their pens don’t need much room, also, the manure from the pigs can help rebuild the tired mountain soils,” Amos notes.
This week, the DIG team was able to visit Mkungu after a long absence due to the pandemic. What we found was inspiring. During our time away, the group had purchased more piglets, expanded their group vegetable garden, and showed us the money they’ve saved to purchase farm tools for each household.
“It’s exciting to reflect back on the first day, when the community was expecting a one-time donation of seeds that might serve them for a season, but what they got was an ally. Amos helped them see themselves as a unique, capable community, who could develop the skills, resources, and capacity to cultivate their own path of growth.
Thank you to Greg Bogdan for encouraging DIG to grow and showing us that challenging efforts aren’t to be shied away from, rather these are efforts we can work out together. Equally, thank you to the incredible community who loved and cherished Greg and who personally donated to DIG in his memory. May this garden and the gift of his presence in our lives continue to root and grow in us.