Julia Dieckman is in the business of growing. As a Muscatine Community College Agriculture Instructor, she’s well versed in the science behind nurturing both crops and student potential.
This skill recently served her especially well as she shared her knowledge and expertise with dozens of farmers. The main difference in this environment compared to a typical day at work?
On her way to meet the farmers, instead of slowing down to allow deer to safely cross the road she braked for baboons.
“In a tiny town in Kenya, so far away, it’s amazing how many things you can have in common,” said Dieckman referring mostly to her work with farmers there.
In February, Dieckman was invited by the Global Ag Learning Center to spend a week in Kenya to meet with local farmers and learn more about their farming practices, with the hope to help increase food security by providing solutions to common farming problems. No stranger to international ag travel, she’s been to Ghana, Morocco and South Africa, this was her very first time exploring Kenya. Crops in the country are grown on small farms, often less than five acres, and include corn, squash, peas, pumpkins, pineapples, bananas, wheat and potatoes. Most crops are used exclusively for sustainable food.
“It was a very good experience,” said Dieckman. “We talked with more than 30 different farmers, many of them women, just to learn their current practices and discover what they see a need for, what do they need help with implementing and learning? They really want to learn, but don’t have all the resources to do it.”
In addition to meeting with individual farmers, Dieckman, along with partners from the Global Ag Learning Center, spent some time at schools and orphanages brainstorming ways to create a demo farm.
“A demo farm compares and contrasts the difference between current practices and new, improved techniques. The farm will provide a place for farmers and non-farmers to learn about better farming practices, and in turn become more food secure.”
One major tip Dieckman shared is the advantage of testing soil. Most of the farmers don’t have access to testing kits, so examining the pH levels and nutrients in the ground is extremely useful.
“We soil sampled most of the farms we visited,” said Dieckman. “We also discussed rates of seeding. They tend to plant lots of plants together and really need to spread them out. We talked about tactics like proper tillage and soil conservation practices as well.”
Even though they were more than 8,000 miles away, MCC students even got to weigh in. Using a teleconferencing platform, Dieckman engaged in a live video chat with her students, bringing real-world problem solving directly into the classroom.
“Right now we are talking about corn and soybean production, so I set-up an assignment and discussion examining why we do what we do here in the U.S. Students were also asked to provide their recommendations to the Kenyan farmers and discuss what they would do if creating a demo farm.”
She hopes this little taste of global agriculture is something students can look forward to in the future. The new partnerships and connections made during the trip may lead to other unique learning opportunities for students.
“It’s exciting,” she said of the whole experience and future possibilities. “From teaching people in Kenya, to teaching students the right things to do, there are no limits to who we’re willing to work with and educate. It’s been fun for me to learn from a different perspective.”