Kristin Vought is a Philanthropic Associate at LWR, who recently traveled to the Philippines to see our work in action. Her reflection is part of our Humans of LWR series, which seeks to provide a glimpse into the lives of the various people who take part in our mission of ending poverty, injustice and human suffering. This past summer my husband Ben and I started a small vegetable garden behind our house in rural Pennsylvania. While starting a garden was not new to Ben since he grew up on his family farm, it was pretty new to me, despite the fact that some of my relatives were farmers. I'd planted some oregano or basil in small planters before, and tried to keep some indoor plants alive, but I’ll be pretty honest and say that I wouldn’t consider myself the owner of a green thumb!
My lack of knowledge starting a garden became even more apparent to me when Ben and I started laying seeds in the ground. I thought we could just throw the seeds wherever, cover it with some dirt and let it go. Not so! When we went to plant, Ben was there with the tape measurer making sure we had the exact distance between the seeds, reading the instructions. For the heirloom garden beans, “In rows 18-30” apart, sow seeds about 3” apart and cover with 1” of fine soil.” For the sweet corn, “Sow 9” apart in rows 2-3’ apart, in blocks of at least 4 rows side by side rather than in one long row.” The cucumber seeds and tomato plants followed. I remember thinking to myself, “This is requires more detail than I thought and here we have just two small garden beds!”
In many ways, my summer was an education in growing produce – both in my backyard but also thousands of miles away in the Philippines. In July, I accompanied LWR donors to the island of Mindanao to see firsthand the complexity of rural farming in an area that is prone to emergencies like typhoons and earthquakes.
I saw husbands and wives work together on their farm so they could have an income for their family. I tasted pickled papaya made by women farmers who have small gardens to grow fruit and vegetables so they can provide nutritious food for their young children rather than feeding them rice and sardines. I heard a group of passionate women share intimate details of their life and how combining resources while farming gave them a sense of ownership, pride, and achievement. I touched cacao pods grown by members of a cooperative who diversify their farms so they can have a better income to eventually send their children to school. I witnessed the struggles and joys of farming in one of the most rural places on earth, where the local Tractor Supply Co. is nonexistent and there are no trucks offering speedy delivery of your Amazon Prime order - and even if there were, they wouldn’t be able to get down your road.
A Connection to the Land
There was one long day in the Philippines that still stands out to me. We traveled to three different barangays (villages) and met with dozens of farmers. I remember feeling so overwhelmed by the generosity of the people and the excitement on their faces to show us their growing farms. I also remember thinking, “how can I possibly relate to these people? They are sharing so much with us but what do I have to share with them?”
I returned to my hotel room that evening and called Ben to briefly check in. I told him about everything we saw and how great of an experience it had been. He said, “Well… wait until you come home to see the tassels on our corn, and we have our first cucumbers coming in!” I was so excited to hear that our garden was thriving and in that moment, tears started to dwell in my eyes as I thought about the excitement so many farmers had shared with me earlier in the day. The excitement of seeing the fruits of their labor grow and be successful!
While I don’t rely on my two garden plots in rural Pennsylvania to bring me a source of income or provide food for my family, I share in that powerful experience of being connected to the land - and the pride and excitement felt as I watch things grow.
In the four years I’ve been at LWR, I’ve witnessed a lot of growth as we continue to help farming families and communities. You are a part of this growth as your gifts provide seeds and tools, but also hope for millions around the world. Thank you for being a part of this important work!