Taking organic farming to Ethiopia
June 16 2010
When I left Ethiopia it was a communist country controlled mostly by an uneducated junta that would use bullets, guns and power to push us around. As an educated person, it was not safe for me. I had gone to what was then Yugoslavia for higher studies in agriculture and I decided not to go back to live in Ethiopia any more. Instead I went to Italy and became a refugee. From there, I made an application to Canada and they accepted me. I came here in 1990 after two years in Europe.
I didn't like the taste of the food when I arrived. I couldn't get a decent job either. Looking at my CV, prospective employers said that I was overqualified. Finally, I lied and said that I had finished only high school and they hired me for odd jobs in factories and such. I didn't really like it. My mind couldn't accept it. I asked myself: "How can I establish myself?"
Eventually, I went back to school. I studied agriculture again, at McGill University in Montreal. In the meantime, I had started gardening. I found the best crops that I could grow and continued doing this on the side. Many farmers wanted me to start organic farms for them. One farmer took me to Ontario and I worked with him for about eight years. When I started my family I found that the hours were too long and the pay too little. So I was a bit down when I had my first child. I was unemployed for a while before I became a tenant farmer in Ontario. Independent farming is not easy, but at least I can pay my bills.
I have very diverse produce on my farm. I have my own beef, butter, eggs, milk, chickens, strawberries, raspberries and several types of vegetables in the 50 acres of land that I'm now renting. A couple of years ago the agriculture students at McGill approached me for organic produce and I started working with them. I now bring my produce to sell at the campus once a week. I also offer a few wraps, biscuits, breads and cakes based on Ethiopian cultural traditions.
My farm is basically a family effort, but two of my teenagers have already left for university. So that leaves me, my wife and three young children under nine at home. My wife and I have a knack for handling a heavy workload. We sometimes have students who come in to help us, and we're doing well. I sell my produce at various grocers and farmers' markets, which are very popular in the summer.