In this Thanksgiving episode Sew Powerful co-founder, Jason Miles, recounts the origins of the 3 Esthers Farm: how the fallow land was converted into a farm that now grows vegetables and fruit, how the name came about, and how God sent caretakers to get the farm started. Jason also shares what daily life is like for children and families in the Ngombe compound when they have absolutely no food. The introduction of the Tikondane backyard gardens is one step towards bringing food to families but Jason also shares that he is working to unlock strategies to bring lunches into more schools in Ngombe compound.
The 3 Esthers Farm Origin Story with Jason Miles
IN THIS EPISODE
Thanksgiving, 3 Esthers Farm, Tikondane, backyard micro gardens, feeding hungry children, nshima and greens, crops, cabbage, fruit orchard, David Derr, Ngombe compound, malnutrition
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
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The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Jason Miles
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Happy Thanksgiving, Jason.
Jason Miles, Guest 00:22
All right, yes. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.
So how are you in the family going to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year?
Well, we've got our baby daughter home from Azusa Pacific for Thanksgiving this year. And we also have my mom who's flown up from California to spend Thanksgiving with us. So that's really fun. We'll have a wonderful time. Of course, the puppy is keeping us all crazy at this point, but I'm sure we'll try to figure out how to include her in Thanksgiving as well. So
We all have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. In today's episode, we are going to be talking about the 3 Esther's Farm. And you know, about a year ago in Episode 23, we spoke with David Derr, who is the co-founder of the 3 Esther's Farm and got his perspective, I should say, from how it was all founded how that all came about, and the adoption of his children, which led to knowledge about the property and and how he ran into you. I spoiler alert, I don't want to give anything away.
But today, we're going to hear it from your point of view. So, I'm really interested to hear this. And the other thing is so much has happened in the last year since we recorded the episode with David, and we have big plans for the future. And I want to hear about that, too. So, let's start at the beginning. How did the farm come about? Tell us that story.
Sure. Yeah, I think the pre-story on my side from really the first encounter with the moms, and the small group there in Ngombe, in March 2009 was really about helping them make a difference in the lives of their children. And in the context of the school, they were trying to build a school building, or raise money for one they hoped. But the school itself was a real challenge. At that time, they had 475 kids. They didn't have the funding for any kind of food program, daily meals. These are street kids, and then they're kids just that, that come with the clothes on their back, and they show up every morning hungry and unfed from home. And the moms there had to cope with that reality. And that was immediately visible to us. And we were aware of that from day one of the first interaction. And, you know, going forward from then, until we met David, we really had this, I guess you could say shared burden. And just an intensity of just a desire to see something happen. These these kids come from households that do not have any food in the house. And I'm not saying they don't have much food. I'm saying they literally if you go into their house, there is no cupboard full of food; there is nothing there. They'll live mostly on families will live on one meal a day in their household if the mom or dad or caretaker or granny or whoever has figured that that out for that day. It is literally a day by day. And so, this is the intensity of the situation. And so, you can imagine being a mom and teacher responsible for 475 kids that are all coming there with literally starving bellies. Now in traditionally in Africa, you'll know that the kids are malnourished when their hair is like a rust reddish color. And you'll see kids who are clinically malnourished. And you'll know that that's a sign of it. And so, this is the context in which trying to figure out how to have food for these kids was so, so important. And so that was sort of the backstory. And then then when we met David, things began to change.
Now, did you know David before you ran into him? You did.
I did. We were colleagues at World Vision. I was there for 16 years; he still works there today. I left in 2010. And him and I were coworkers. As in any large organization, you kind of know people from projects or meetings or whatever. And we were never really in the same team or department or anything, but we knew of each other, and we'd work together on a few different things. His primary role back in those days was related to the shipping containers and the gift in kind donations of of, you know, physical products, and that whole system and I was on the human resources and then for a long time on the fundraising major gift fundraising side. But yeah, we did know each other from that context.
Okay, so there was a meeting in 2000 I believe it was 2015. Is that correct?
And so, you know, he told us there was a meeting but how did the meeting come about? Did you contact World Vision? Did they call you? What was going on there?
Sure. It that's actually a great question. And it's just neat to see how it weaves together with the purse programming work. We, we had done the original Sew Powerful purse project in 2014, and had the purses and, and World Vision was gracious to say to us, they would ship them to Zambia for us. And so, at that year was 503 purses. So, is I don't know, what, four boxes or something like that? I think now we have 150 in each box. So, you know, just a few boxes that needed to go. So, they they offered to ship them. And then we were in our second cycle of doing the purses, I believe in that shipment going where it was the second year, I think was 1600 that we were kind of this process where we knew we had like tripled or something like that. I think that was sort of the timeframe where World Vision had been gracious to us. And they also were trying to understand what we were doing. And so, one of our board members, Dana Buck was real people connector, and he's just he's a good, you know, networker. And so, he had talked to people that he worked with there at World Vision and said, This purse program, employing these moms, to make reasonable hygiene pads, and address this issue of menstrual hygiene management and this issue of girls staying home is really important work. And you folks, you know, he kind of you know, pointed his finger to you folks at World Vision who care about such things, water and sanitation, and hygiene, and you know, that kind of thing should come in here what we're doing here in Zambia. And so, he set up a meeting and asked me to come and speak about our program and how we were employing moms. They're making use of hygiene pads and that we had donors involved by making purses. And they just wanted me to come and tell stories. So, I got in the room. And there was probably 10 or 12, director level people. I mean, I was like, What in the world? So, I, you know, kind of was a little bit like, Okay, I know most of these people, but not all of them. But that was the meeting that David wandered into. And from his telling of the story, he really had no reason to be there directly. But he really felt strongly prompted by the Holy Spirit to go to this meeting, just get to that meeting. And from his point of view is almost this like this, you know, this Jesus thing in his daily life at work, which is really interesting to me. And I'm just like, wow.
And well you know, yeah, from his point of view is he was like looking at his calendar saying, I'm too busy for this. I can't do this. Yeah, But I'm gonna do it. Yeah. So that that's very cool. Okay, so you, you have your talk. And after the meeting, David comes up to you, and what does he tell you?
Yeah, it was just me focused 100% on the purse program, the reusable hygiene pads, you know, the issues of the girls skipping school. And that was a whole context, the entire meeting. But in the meeting, I did say at some point, these moms are passionate about these kids in this community school, having a building, getting fed, getting through their education. And so that was what you know, that was the only commentary made about, you know, you know, lunches or anything like that. And so then he came up after and he said, You know, it's might be funny, but I actually have a 10 acre farm plot right outside of Lusaka in Chingola. And if you'd ever see your way to needing it for use to help the school there, you know, let me know, I'd be open to that. it's not being used for anything right now. And I, you know, I thanked him, and we chatted, and then I just left and the whole way home, I just kept thinking, how could we use that farm property and I talked to Esther about it and the rest is history. I mean, she was like, Yes, please, let's do this. Let's go, you know. So that was it.
Oh, that's amazing. And so, the farm is called the 3 Esther's Farm. What's the origin of that name? Why did you pick that name?
Well, it was it was a fun process of making the name. And it was sort of a little bit of naming by committee. We we wanted a name for the farm. And we wanted to have symbolic meaning and importance. And so, we brainstormed a lot of ideas. And then one of the, one of the biblical narratives or stories that somebody mentioned in the conversation was, it's just such a God thing, that this farm is here for such a time as this. And that's a reference to a story of Esther, in the Bible where she was prepared for 'such a time as this', is where that phrase comes from. And so that's an Esther. And then as it happens, somebody made the comment. Well, that's Esther from the Bible. And we have our program director in Zambia is Esther M'Kandawire. And we had two Esthers and then David said, my daughter's name is Esther, the daughter he adopted from Zambia. And so, we said, well, we've got three Esthers here. So, what if it is the 3 Esthers Farm, and we've got a daughter of Zambian in Esther Derr and we've got Esther M'Kandawire, our program director, and really, you know, a mom and leader there. And then we've got Esther from the Bible. And so there you go. So that's the story. It's turned into a fun little name.
Well, and you know, now it just rolls off our tongue. I mean, it's just such a great name. And, you know, I'm not sure everybody knows who the three Esthers are but that's great. That's fantastic. So, you know, in the last couple of weeks, we've been talking about some various topics, one of which was the impact of local hiring, and how does the 3 Esther's Farm fit into that philosophy?
It's a great question. You know, I've been thinking about this literally, since 2015. For the first 2, 3, 4 years of the farm, we were really just focused on building infrastructure. And we had an amazing, amazing founding story with our team members there. And this is a really fun part of the story to me as well. When Esther was told about this property, she had no idea where it was. I mean, she knew generally the region, but she drove out there one day. And it's, as you might imagine, a dirt road off the beaten path quite aways. And so, she drove up to where she thought it was, and a man walked up across the little dirt road from from the neighboring property, and he said, Are you lost? And she said, No, I said, I think this I think this land here is, is my land, you know, it's my property. And he kind of laughed and said, No, I don't think so. And so then he said, she said, Well, I'm Esther and this is the this is this property is owned by a man named David Derr, who has 10 acres here and, and the owner original owners farm is somewhere around. His name is Sandy. And then the man who was talking to her his name is Nicholas, he said, Oh, okay, yeah, Sandy's house is over there. And my property I work on is over here. I'm one of the farmhands. So, he basically from moment one, began to orient her to the location, the situation where it was in relation to other things, and just became an incredible help to her. He lived right across the road in a tiny little cinderblock house with a large family. I think it was eight or nine, depending on when his daughter and son in law live with him or didn't live with him in the house and their kids. And his wife, Lillian was there. And over the course of about six months, he just became a very, very helpful person. And when we started talking about the farm being ready to use, we had this our own caretaker house that we had built, and a well and, you know, gates and the property was cleaned off. And, and I said, Esther, who are you going to hire, you know, for the to be the caretaker, and she said, You know, I think I know, just the guy. And so, she talked to Nicholas and Lillian, and they became our first caretakers of the property and farmhands and really ran the farm for the first five years, six years. And their influence and help was critical. And that to us, that was a central part of the story, was like, Is God showing up in the midst of this with the people and the property and the mission? And the answer was, yes, He had prepared the way. And, and Lillian and Nicholas did a fantastic job for years and years and really made the farm established with their hard work. And so there's one piece the other piece, I would say is, the challenge of the farm is it's really not an intensive place for a lot of, you know, employment or labor. For the first, you know, 2, 3, 4 years, it was just the two of them. Now, in the current situation, we have three people working on the farm. But in this just last year, what we've started to do is integrate this Tikondane garden program as a ministry of the farm. And the core thesis there is we can employ local, young men, right in Ngombe compound to make backyard gardens. And as a ministry, the farm will also have these micro gardens. Currently five team members there, and they're helping 10 households each. So, 50 households have backyard gardens now, right in Ngombe compound and it's considered a ministry of the 3 Esthers farm. It's leading us into, I think, a dramatic era of growth in terms of employment, for impact. And that's one of the pieces I'm really excited about. Yeah.
What are some of the crops that are successful on the farm that I think you've maybe also incorporated into the Tikondane garden program, too, right?
Yeah, yeah, there's vegetable crops that do really, really well in Zambia. It's a great place for growing and temperate climate and there are multiple crops a year of veg product, as the British like to call it. And so cabbage is a big thing that we grow a lot of, onions, tomatoes, a vegetable they call rape. And it's canola, basically canola oil. If you're familiar with canola oil, the canola plant they call rape, they call it rapeseed oil, there, but it's, it's a green that you you can grow and eat. And then the seeds, you can, you know, do do pressed oil from. And so, vegetables have done really well they're for so we have a huge section of the garden, that's vegetables. We also have part of the garden that's been planted with maize repeatedly. And that was debatable as to whether maize would do okay there without a lot of fertilizer and special treatment. But it has done okay for us there. And then we have a large portion of the farm now that's dedicated to orchard product, the trees. Basically, bananas is a large, large section now, and then mango, papaya, avocado. And we're really excited about the orchard fruits, and the long-term value of having large, you know, outputs of fruit basically, that kids would eat and love, you know. And so there there's sort of the layout of it. Yeah.
Well, that's great. Well, and you know, I've read that there were some ups and downs in terms of getting the farm started. There was,
there were some plants that goats loved. And there was a storm that that wiped out the electrical power for a while and yeah, ups and downs. But it sounds like things are a lot more stable now.
Yeah, we've really, I think, gone through the phase of sort of initial starts and stops. You know, one whole crop was ruined one time by white flies. They ate everything. But we just didn't know that we needed to plant enough onions around the cabbage and tomatoes, because the white flies hate the onions. And so, so that, you know, just learning things. And but we had some great advisors really helped us speak into the strategy and process. And, you know, it took, it literally took over two years for the municipal power company in Zambia to turn power on at the farm property. So, the whole first two years, we were running off a generator. And so, you know, there's is challenges like that, but we feel like we've gotten through a good number of those. And we've got several wells on the property. Now we're our big project we're going to do soon as solar power, which will really help us be in essence, independent, you know, from the Zambian power grid, which we're really excited about as well.
Well, I do have one question. I've seen photos of the children. They were each given a cabbage. The cabbage is about the size of a basketball.
They're a huge, yeah,
More huge I know than anything I've ever seen in the grocery store. So, when they take those home, what kind of a meal does that prepare? How long would that last a family?
Yeah, so it's an important kind of technical point. The whole purpose of the farm is to produce food that we can use in Ngombe compound to help feed the hungry kids. So, we're not trying to grow crops and sell them. That kind of things. That's not the model. The model is feed the kids. And so, with vegetable crops, that means it's really sporadic right now. And that's the big challenge we're trying to overcome is how do we get daily, five days a week meals, integrated into our work going forward, and we're focused on that. But anyway, so they'll get the cabbage, or they'll get a bag of tomatoes. And we frequently if they're not used during a meal at the school, like if there's a special you know, they've got some, some porridge for a daytime meal where they introduce the vegetables, then they're given to the kids to take home. Traditional meal in Zambia, that's very, very common daily meal would be nshima, and greens. And the best example I could say to Americans is if you're familiar with Cream of Wheat, with no butter and brown sugar, because when I was a kid, it was Cream of Wheat with like a cup of brown sugar, and butter or whatever. So nshima is like that, but it's real thick. It's almost like you can grab it with your hands and use it almost like sop up like something where it's like, as thick as a bread product almost. That's nshima. And then greens is any grains that they'll have that though cut up and cook. That's a very, very common daily meal. That would be what they would eat if you said what do you want to have today? There's no protein generally. They won't have a chicken or any pork or anything like that. That would be maybe at Christmas for you know if they were doing really well that year. So that's so that's how it's used. So then, you know, when tomatoes or cabbage or onions are sent home with kids, the mom will cook it right up and they'll have an afternoon meal. And it's gone. And unless it's you know, the giant cabbages which we are making these cabbages that are insanely huge, then you know, they might be an extra day out of it. But that's, you know, that's the challenge. I wish I could say the world is all fine now and everybody's well fed, and you know, and full but it's still very challenging to be in the situation we're in with these kids who are just you know, struggling every day with you know, food insecurity.
When we think about the farm and feeding the children, is there a scripture verse that comes to mind that talks to go forward and and comfort us and guide us?
Yeah, yeah. Well, there's a, there's a lot that come to my mind, we talked in our prior episode about God's heart for orphans, and about scriptures related to that. And the Old Testament, I think the one that probably comes to my mind most often when I think about these things, is just simply Matthew 25, where Jesus made it very clear that at the end of the age, he was going to divide everybody into two, two big groups. On the left, and on the right, you got two groups, and he could have said, anything there. He could have said, you know, you guys on the left there, you worship me and went to church every Sunday, and therefore go to heaven. You enter enter into, you know, into heaven, He could have said anything. He could have said, You guys loved God, more than in the other guys, or other people, he could have said anything right there. And his first statement was, 'For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me, and I needed clothes, and you clothed me'. So that is Christ, calling us to a lifestyle that cares for people who are desperately in need of food, and clothing, and are, you know, in very, very challenging situations. And so, to me, that's really the the call of our heart and our passion. And once you go there, you're just ruined. Because you've seen it. Once you see it, you have to deal with it. You have to say to yourself, I'm accountable for what's happening here. And that's it. Sorry.
I'm feeling it, too. So, what is your vision for the future of the farm? Where do you see it going from here?
I think we're really excited about this integration of taking the farm and the focus of it into Ngombe compound directly with this Tikondane program and the backyard micro garden. We're also still working with strategies to figure out how to have daily food provided at the schools. The Needs Care School has been incredibly blessed. And they've actually had, you know, this start and stop funding for daily meals throughout the last 10, 12 years, from other donors and people who have stepped up. But they still don't have a daily, you know, lunch program that sufficient. But then that's, I would say, probably one of the best schools in Ngombe compound in terms of being equipped or supported. There are other schools you go to, and they don't even have, it's not even a thought in their mind that they could feed the kids because they don't even have a school building that allow for, you know, that kind of thing. And so our quest is to continue to work through this idea of local employment for local impact, and that local impact is feeding these kids. And so, we're working on strategies for that. I really honestly believe that we're gonna see exponential growth in this area where we have just just huge opportunity. And, you know, there are things coming together, even right now, as we're recording this things coming together in terms of conversations and plans that might unlock huge opportunity for us to serve more kids. And that's really exciting. So
Well, on Thanksgiving Day, I'm very, very thankful for what has happened so far and thankful for what God has in plan the plans he has for the future. So.
Thank you very much. I will talk with you soon. Bye bye.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org That's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at email@example.com.