For the month of January 2018, we, the Orner Family, embraced one of the most amazing groups of people on earth, in a place called Ghana, Africa. Rusty, Claire and Ashton as sustainable educators representing Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living and the assistance of US AID (US Agency on International Development) Farmer to Farmer Program. Alaria, our dear friend, kept the farm going while Walker continued his film studies at Chatham University. With many reasons to volunteer in Ghana, such as escape the snow, travel to a new continent, or meet new friends from Africa; the driving force behind the farming assignment dates back to over 400 years ago when the people of Ghana (better known as the Gold Coast) were stolen from their families and farming villages, stripped of their dignity, and identified as slaves to develop the stolen land of our Native Americans, now known as the United States of America. This tragic history did not go unnoticed nor ignored, through much research prior to our trip, during and after, we were extremely intentional in our work to heal instead of harm, build instead of tear down, and seek forgiveness instead of satisfy greed.
Claire and Rusty’s farming assignment was titled, Improving the Cultivation and the Marketing of Shiitake Mushrooms at a youth center in Brong Ahafo region of Ghana; whereas for Ashton his assignment was to provide help anywhere needed while documenting the experience with photos, film and blogging. Locally, we were placed at the Bemcom Youth Association, BYA, having the mission to “free youth from poverty” through raising food from oyster mushrooms, grass cutters (a local herbivore similar to our groundhog), quail, snails, rabbits, and honey bees. BYA, similar to Quiet Creek, started in 1996 with its aim to provide training and technology transfer to youth engaged in the production of indigenous, nutritional food products to improve the living conditions of youth and reduce poverty.
Our scope of work involved BYA youth along with local famers, university students, and chefs teaching the shiitake mushroom lifecycle; shiitake cultivation on logs and sawdust bags; and using shiitakes for medicine and nutrition. The student workers were Ashton’s age or older; Ashton jumped right into the work assignment helping the BYA youth with their daily chores of feeding the domesticated animals: grass cutters being his favorite and quail being his least favorite. He also embraced filling bags with composted sawdust, a physically demanding task of scooping and pounding the substrate into plastic bags for growing oyster and shiitake mushrooms. BYA youth are expected to fill 300 sawdust bags each day for production; Ashton reached 60.
Rusty worked at BYA fine-tuning the shiitake production and the skill building of youth and local farmers while Claire focused on improving harvest and use of mushrooms. She traveled into the local community of Techiman with Gordon, the BYA community development officer, surveying local chefs on their mushroom uses and needs. The culminating events reached over 150 folks (over 1/3 being female) with learning stations just like Quiet Creek, the inoculation station for shiitake log and totem production; cooking classes making fried oyster mushrooms with quail eggs and cassava, steamed quail, and shiitake stir-fry with local cabbage, carrots, onions, and scallions.
The Ghanaian people were over flowing with hospitality and forgiveness; they are family oriented, God-centered, hard-working, and fun-loving. We were constantly greeted by “you are welcome.” We exchanged that global compassion so needed in understanding people, as well, encouraging them in their traditional ways of life, admiring their family structure (three generations under one roof), wanting to understand their history, eating Fufu with our fingers (doughy cassava and plantain topped with okra stew), and inviting them to Quiet Creek to share more sustainable farming techniques like solar energy, earthen building, and herb growing. We await our return to help them enterprise herbal soap making. We welcome their visit to share the beauty of our homeland – with the true intent to build bridges with people from all parts of the world while asking forgiveness along the way, when needed.
We commend the Brookville School District Board of Directors, Administrators and Teachers for their progressive insight in approving Ashton’s life-changing, educational immersion in African culture. He is a true ambassador of the people of Africa. In addition, we were supported by ACDI/VOCA who is an economic development organization that fosters broad-based economic growth, raises living standards, and creates vibrant communities. Based in Washington, D.C., ACDI/VOCA works in 146 countries since 1963. Its expertise is in catalyzing investment, climate smart agriculture, empowerment & resilience, institutional strengthening, and market systems. Their work is sponsored by US AID.
Rusty and Claire Orner, with their two sons, Walker and Ashton, are stewards of the non-profit educational organization, Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living in Brookville, Pennsylvania. They can be contacted at www.quietcreekherbfarm.org Quiet Creek © 2018