The mornings start early, sometimes before the sun itself. Young children work alongside teenagers and parents in the fields, splitting duties among the family. That’s what it takes to run a farm — total participation. That’s because farming is both a family affair and a race.
Not a race against one another, but one against the sun. Kenya is a generally warm country, with yearly averages falling between 70 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit. That means the portion of farmable day is slimmer than most, concentrated in the morning hours.
Despite the heat across the country, agriculture dominates Kenya’s economy. You’ll find the full gamut of farm life in Kenya, from large commercial farms to small backyard plots. Even residents in remote villages grow a couple crops, no matter how small. The plants can have a large range as well — indigenous vegetables like sweet potatoes, maize, pumpkins, beans, and more. Where the sun’s heat is a detriment to working conditions, it makes up in growing conditions. Kenya’s weather allows for crops to grow all year long.
That’s great news for families at Maono Light and Baba Nyumbani. Each family in these micro communities has a plot of land to farm, and it provides a learning opportunity (and often, fun, too!) every day. “The children love working on the farm with their parents,” program coordinator Dorice said.
That love for farming has inspired some older children to embark on agricultural careers of their own! Melvin, 21, is studying animal production and health at Bukura Agricultural College. Samson, 22, studies general agriculture at Kitale National Polytechnic.
Each family’s farm plot gives duty and purpose to that family, and a way for children to undertake responsibility to care for something (and then see the benefits on the dinner table!). In addition to the learning and character-building opportunities, a family’s farm plot can also generate income for that family. They’re free to decide what crops to plant in a given season: kale, spinach, maize, beans, beetroot, butternut squash and cow peas are just a few popular options.
A typical day of farm care starts early, between 6 and 8 a.m. depending on duties for that day. Breakfast always comes first — usually tea with bread — and then the family splits up their duties. Some will head into the crop rows in the fields to weed, water and plant, depending on the season. Others will head into the livestock compounds to take care of the chicken, rabbit, sheep and ducks. They’ll give the animals new water and food, and make sure their living environment is clean.
That sounds like a lot of hard work — but it’s not all work. There’s often a nice breeze blowing through the trees and rows of crops, and birds chirping in the distance. There’s laughter from parents cracking jokes with the children as they work together. Farming is one way a family bonds with each other while doing what they love most.
Walter and Alice Juma’s children get excited and inspired by working with them on their farm in Baba Nyumbani. A few children are especially invested in the family project, like Brian. Brian, 19, saved his pocket money to buy two rabbits for the farm. In the same spirit, Walter bought them two more rabbits, for a total of four. Children have also enjoyed working with Walter to build structures for the animals to live.
As much as children enjoy working these farms as a family, farming isn’t their first priority. Children are fortunate to have an education, and during the school year, their studies always come before farm work. That may mean parents have a bigger role in maintaining their family plots and livestock during school times, but even that additional responsibility doesn’t deter families in working toward their ultimate goals: to empower their children and to become self-sustainable families.
Over at Maono Light, one child in Jacquline Bondo’s family, Isaya, has found a good balance between his school studies and work on his family’s farm. Isaya has a particular affinity for the papaya trees. He looks after them, and likes to help out over the weekends and during school holidays.
Other children find peace and pure enjoyment from their farms. Kingsley, a 7-year-old in Mama Leah’s family who recently graduated from kindergarten, loves the sheep the most. He’s often found outside after dinner, looking after the sheep in their pasture as the sun is setting and a breeze blows through. His friend Chris, a 5-year-old boy also at Maono Light, likes to sit with young-shepherd Kingsley and watch the sheep in the evenings.
These are the things of village life — a hallmark of Kenyan culture — children lose when they lose their former family structure. But slowly and surely, as families form and kids and adults settle firmly into their roles as mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother and so on, the image of a village comes into focus. Families built like houses, brick by intentional brick. Relationships like roads to a flourishing future.