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Global garden, local garden: Spreading the green!

“You want to be a pebble in the pond that creates the ripples for change.” – Tim Cook

The ripple effect is a fascinating phenomenon. The beauty of that pebble in the pond is that the ripples go out in every direction touching all kinds of new things in the pond. So it is with a new idea.

Nine years ago, Dennis McClung gazed out his window at his rundown swimming pool and decided to recreate it, as a most unlikely garden and self-sustaining food system to feed his family. McClung and his wife converted that empty cement hole in their backyard in Mesa, Arizona, into a garden.

As Deborah Bach wrote in her article “Global garden: how one man’s vision to feed his family blossomed into an international effort,”this cement pool became a “closed-loop ecosystem teeming with life, from vegetables to chickens, even a pond with tilapia. The innovative urban farm was soon producing enough food to feed the couple and their three young children, cutting their monthly grocery bill by almost half.”

With no formal training, McClung is now helping others around the world build local, climate-resistant and highly efficient food systems. Through his nonprofit organization Garden Pool, launched in 2012, McClung’s backyard experiment is forming a model to help others organize sustainable food systems. Garden Pool is collaborating with foreign governments on food sustainability, by operating public seed libraries, offering classes and workshops and developing solar-powered water sterilization systems.

Garden Pool now has a local presence, a storefront in Mesa that sells farm-fresh food and garden materials. But the company’s international presence is now way beyond local expectations, employing 20 people and more than 1,600 volunteers worldwide working on projects in 40 countries.

The catalyst for going international happened in 2010 when McClung gave a tour of his backyard operation to a group of doctors – Naturopaths Without Borders, headquartered in Mesa. The doctors asked McClung to bring his model to help rebuild Haiti after the country’s devastating earthquake in 2010. McClung traveled to Haiti where he taught sustainable farming and set up rain collection system, a rooftop garden with a fish pond, goat pen, chicken coop and solar oven. After his first endeavor overseas, McClung “was hooked” on helping others.

In another project at the Golden Grove Prison in Trinidad, where inmates had been hauling water for their enclosed garden, McClung created a self-irrigating water collection system, added a fish pond and then a vertical garden, raising plants in layers instead of in the ground. The project so inspired prison administrators that they asked for their own training.

In the process, McClung met Chaney St. Martin, an international specialist in water and soil management for the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and based in Trinidad, partnered with McClung for the Trinidad operation. In 2017 with the devastation caused by hurricane Irma, St. Martin asked McClung to bring his expertise to the devastated islands. The fact that McClung’s Garden Pool was a small organization, unencumbered by governmental bureaucracy, made it possible to make a local difference quickly.

St. Martin: “It was a tremendous effort. If you understand the Carribean context, people tend to be suspicious when outside organizations come in. But Dennis was able to come in and blend in very easily with the culture. People really loved the work that he did.”

When Hurricane Irma destroyed 90% of the structures on the tiny island of Barbuda, one of the few structures left standing was the island’s only high school on whose agricultural operation the island depended. McClung partnered with IICA to create a more storm-proof operation: solar panels to replace electricity to power its pumps; cloning buckets to yield plants from cuttings instead of time-consuming, less reliable seedlings; and a removable gutter vertical farming system that could be dismantled when a storm is coming. Garden Pool also donated a 3D printer that allows the school to print a fitting or part that is needed instead of needing to import it.

In collaboration with Joel Cuello, professor of agricultural and Biosystems engineering at the University of Arizona, McClung has been collecting farm yield data in order to develop a HoloLens app that will allow users to select a food system model and scale it to particular needs of a specific location. Garden Pool opened its first international office in Trinidad in the fall 2018 and is working on a proposal for Egypt and is currently working on plans for an indoor farm and community center in Puerto Rico with intent to make the center’s design open source so it can be replicated anywhere. Among McClung’s open source inventions are: a water sanitation system and an aeroponics plant cloning bucket.

McClung: “No one on this planet should be hungry with the technology available to us right now. It’s just a matter of using it efficiently and spreading it to those who need it. The fact that we’re changing the world is more important to me than being rich or taking the fame and the glory for it. I’d rather share the knowledge so that others can do it for themselves.”

Closer to home, in Nashua, the ReGenerative Roots Association is making a difference locally. Founded in 2015 by Nashua natives seeking to build a community farm around sustainable agriculture, the non-profit is dedicated to promoting the education and use of sustainable farming at Nashua High North and in the local community. During the last three years, ReGen has been turning this vision into reality on three acres of land owned by Sullivan Farm graciously set aside for revitalization.

Currently, six families are tending 0.75 acres and 0.5-acre is tended by three young farming entrepreneurs, from Banyan Branch Farm and Gate City Farms, respectively. In the newest endeavor, ReGenerative Roots will partner with the School District to offer a two-credit, eight-week internship program for five to seven students.

ReGenerative Roots Executive Director Andrew Morin: “Each Monday, the students and I will be building and revitalizing school and they will get hands-on experience learning about food systems, local agriculture, soil fertility, bee-keeping, aquaponics and hydroponics.”

Last year, they produced 5,000 pounds of food for their own consumption, donating in excess of 400 pounds to local food pantries. ReGen is expanding its raised bed Titan Garden at Nashua High North from four to 12 beds in partnership with Keller Williams during their Red Day last Saturday.

Growing green and spreading that knowledge is bringing mind and body together in community. As David Hawkins put it: “To become more conscious is the greatest gift anyone can give to the world; moreover, in a ripple effect, the gift comes back to its source.”

Quincy Whitney is a career journalist, biographer and poet. Contact her at quincysquill@nashuatelegraph.com or quincy@quincywhitney.com.