Bead & Reel Life: Zero Waste in Kenya
by Sica Schmitz | Posted on February 17 2017
Last month I had the opportunity to visit Kenya and it was truly one of the highlights of my life. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing stories about the many people I met, the places I visited, and the things I learned during this amazing adventure - and how they can be used to create a better life for ourselves and others.
This week I am excited to talk about my experience staying on a sustainable, off the grid farm in the Elephant Corridor.
The Mount Kenya Elephant Corridor is made up of land set aside by local farmers and land owners to reduce human-elephant conflict. This 14km pathway follows traditional elephant migration routes, allowing them safe passage while preventing them from eating precious crops along the way. Many Kenyans don't like elephants - they are viewed as dangerous pests who destroy farms - so it was really heartening to see the local community come together to find a solution that protects both elephants and people.
I stayed outside of the small town of Timau on a 107 acre farm along the Elephant Corridor. Getting there wasn't easy - along with being a 5 hour drive from Nairobi, it's located deep down the longest, rockiest dirt road I've ever seen (and I grew up on a dirt road!). The owner is a Kenyan woman who is passionate about educating farmers both locally and around Africa on sustainable farming and development. When she isn't traveling around the world helping implement strategies for higher crop yields, teaching about environmental protections, and empowering local communities to alleviate poverty, she is working on her own sustainable paradise, a longtime dream of her which is now a reality.
The farm is entirely off the grid and run by solar power, but it was really the water system that impressed me most.
Despite living in a state plagued by drought, water consumption isn't something I thought about on a daily basis. I eat a vegan diet and try to be thoughtful-ish about showers and car washes but I've always had the luxury (and ignorance) of using as much water as I wanted or needed. However on this farm, each drop of water is considered sacred - and with good reason. Kenya is also in a draught but without the infrastructure to import water from other areas, so in order to survive, water has to be carefully collected, stored, and used.
Rain water is collected from roofs and in a reservoir and never wasted. Even when I let the shower run while waiting for the water to get hot, I would collect it in a bucket to later empty in the flower garden. The same was true in the kitchen, where water used to wash produce or dishes was captured and released into the thousands of indigenous trees planted throughout the farm. I was surprised at how much water the shower and kitchen sink ended up collecting - and how much I have been wasting my entire life.
The same is true for food. The farm grows a large variety of organic vegetables and herbs, and nothing is wasted. If there's more than needed, it is given to neighbors or given out in the community, and all food scraps are composted. At the grocery store, food is bought as it is needed to make sure it doesn't go bad before being used. I had never thought about how much food I bought and tossed at home and was really unsettled at the realization of how much I throw away.
In case you are wondering what we ate, one day for lunch my host made me this beautiful salad with 9 different veggies picked fresh from her garden. I also made pastas filled with veggies, fruit salads, and avocado toasts.
So all of this was really cool, but the best part was sitting on the veranda each meal and scanning the hills for elephants. I saw 6 throughout my stay (you can see an adolescent bull grazing during one of my lunches!). It was amazing to see elephants in the wild, something I truly hope future generations are able to experience.
Single use plastic is forbidden on the farm, and at the end of my 4 day stay I took back with me the waste I had created: a granola bar wrapper, a grocery store plastic bag, and my preventative malaria pill packets. Everything else had been composted, burned, recycled, or reused.
In the evening I would join my host for a walk around the perimeter of her property, checking on her trees, looking for wildlife, and enjoying the setting sun (and hoping to see more elephants, of course!).
Afterwards we would sit by the fire, drinking wine and talking late into the night about sustainability. I learned so much from her and was inspired by her unconventional life. Kenya is an extremely patriarchal country and it's very rare (and very frowned upon) for a woman to be unmarried, childfree, and living alone on a self-sustained farm (not to mention frequently traveling!). One of her neighbors told me that if I am not careful I might end up the same way - as if that were something to fear - and I couldn't help but think that I would be honored to live such an inspiring and thoughtful life.
Ever since returning home I have been significantly more conscientious about what I consume and how much I waste, remembering how precious each resource is - and how each of our actions can contribute to a cleaner, healthier world by simply being a little more mindful.
Photos by Sica Schmitz