Organic Kitchen Garden Impact Stories: SONA

Sona will be the first to tell you that her Sonahome is a work-in-progress. The floor is currently made of tightly-packed mud, dried and swept clean; strips of palm tree trunk covered with red wavy clay tiles make up the roof, and thick bamboo poles wrapped with green mesh and sheets of plastic provide fundamental supports and create makeshift walls on the interior. It may be a humble structure, but it is still plenty to be proud of. After all, it is hers.

This time last year, Sona, her husband and their two children were living in joint housing with her husband’s parents and her brother-in-law and his new wife — eight people packed into a house built for fewer. Along with the crowding, there wasn’t much for Sona to occupy her time with while her husband was out selling and delivering vegetables and her children were at school.

“I would sometimes cook some food in the kitchen,” she said, “but that was it.”

But earlier this year, Sona’s family got the opportunity to move onto a small, removed piece of the family’s land. Now they have their own space, and in that space, Sona has discovered a newfound sense of autonomy.

Now I have more responsibility than before,” she said. “I am happy. I have a feeling of ownership, of independence. I can make my own decisions.”

In addition to all of that, the new space has also given her the opportunity to participate in Profugo’s Organic Kitchen Garden program and, for the first time in her life, grow her own produce. Sona already knew about the Organic Kitchen Garden program from her mother-in-law, who has been involved with Profugo for some time, so once she had her own space Sona reached out to us to participate. She received over 50 seedlings of a variety of plants, including cauliflower, cabbage, chilis, snake gourds and tomatoes, and got to work with growing her garden. She worked on caring for the plants whenever she found spare time during the day and stuck to organic methods of gardening, like adding cow dung borrowed from a neighbor to the soil.

Keeping a kitchen garden hasn’t always been a simple process, however. Challenges with infrastructure such as a lack of an easily accessible water source have required Sona to get creative in procuring a reliable supply of water. Most recently, she was able to run a hose from her in-laws’ house to her garden to sustain her plants, but now that water supply has all but dried up and only the tomato plants survived the season. Sona said she is interested in learning more about water conservation practices to plan for next year, perhaps from Profugo’s own “Water for Life” programs. But for Sona, overcoming these challenges this year has been worth the feeling of that first harvest.

“Seeing the tomatoes I grew coming in all different sizes and colors…that was a good moment,” she said.

In spite of never having gardened before, this season, Sona was able to produce more than 10 kilos of tomatoes — enough to significantly reduce her family’s household budget for food and still have leftovers to give to neighbors and friends. When we first asked Sona what she learned from this whole experience, her answer was shy and unsure.

“I’m not sure what I learned. I don’t know anything about gardening; I just did it,” she said initially.

But as we spoke with her more about what she did to maintain the garden, it emerged that she had actually learned quite a lot. She realized, for example, that tomatoes were better for her situation since they require less water and are less susceptible to pest attacks. Sona also identified new resources and innovated, figuring out that if she collected the rotting vegetables leftover from her husband’s job and harvested the seeds, she could create brand new seedlings at no cost.

Sona said she wants to participate in next year’s Organic Kitchen Garden program and hopes to plant more perennial crops in the future. She also has plans to partner with some other nearby women so that they may pool their resources to create a share of fortified compost and see more success with next year’s crops.

These days, Sona has more than the garden keeping her busy; a lot has changed since the days when she spent most of her time waiting around in her in-laws’ home. Most recently, she was nominated by one of her neighbors to become a group leader in the local women’s collective. At first, she turned the nomination down, not sure what she would have to contribute, but she soon relented and accepted the position.

At 32 years old, Sona is the youngest member of the group. Her youth can be an obstacle, as the older women sometimes question the value of her opinion in the face of their experience. In spite of this, Sona said, “I like doing it. I am happy to do it.” Now, she says, she fights to be heard.

Over the past year, Sona’s skills, confidence and independence have grown along with the plants in her garden. One can only imagine all that she’ll be able to grow in the years that will follow.

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