We bought the land in 2010. It was bush, scattered Baobab and Acacia trees ~ in large part just stubs.
Our dreams started small. Enclose the 3 hectares and protect the trees. Establish a water source and a small livable structure where we could escape for the weekend, away from the pollution of Dakar.
The first year we slept in a tent under the stars with our dreams growing larger and larger. The peacefulness and the wildness lulled us to sleep each night. Under the light of the stars, intense in their luminosity, our plans began to form. A few trees were cut, the rest left to regenerate. Water was the greatest challenge. We dug three wells, but they only generated a sparse amount of water. After digging the third well -labored by hand, piece by piece- to 23 meters and still not reaching the water table, we decided we would have to invest big. Without a consistent supply of water, nothing we planted could survive. We consequently drilled a bore hole. At 97 meters deep, this new well extended below the water table and sweet water came out. The newly planted fruit trees flourished upward to the sun and our small vegetable garden produced luscious greens. Our philosophy: for every tree we cut down, we plant 3 fruit trees; mostly traditional fruits that Mamadou knew as a child growing up on the Petite Cote in Senegal that have been lost to that area.
As we became more and more aware of the amount of chemicals being utilized on the vegetable crops in Senegal, we were determined to make our vegetable garden succeed. A visiting friend from Arizona State University shared with us how farmers were using and applying pesticides. Farmers argued that insects had become resistant, which increasingly led them to mix 3 to 4 different types of insecticides together to repel the pests. Our friend also explained that farmers often harvest the crops just days after spraying. Word about these practices was also getting out to the public through the media and by mouth. People wanted organic vegetables and before long the monthly Dakar Organic Farmer's Market was created by a young Senegalese-American medical student. The first Saturday of each month, we started selling our organic vegetables- mostly leafy greens that could not be found in Senegal, only at the luxury super markets at twice to three times the price, imported from France. And these imported vegetables are produced by conventional farming practices, which means that no one knows how much pesticide residue remains.
We sold organic kale, Rainbow swiss chard, fennel, bok choy, broccoli, collard greens and traditional fruits (many which had disappeared from the region) and started to make a name for Taaru Askan farm.
The demand became great - more than we could meet - and we strategized how we could one day leave our jobs to live full-time at the farm. We hired and trained a team of agricultural students and technicians. In the beginning, it was difficult as only conventional farming methods are taught at the technical schools. Have a problem ~ use a chemical to solve it. Much of our staff left, unable to buy into our vision and labor intensive practice. But a handful stayed and we built a team, really a family, that believe deeply in the vision and practices of Taaru Askan Farm. We are so thankful to our staff and all the volunteers from so many parts of the world that have come together to make Taaru Askan Farm a reality.
Our gratitude is considerable and we continue to dream small, big and in between. We know we have something special happening and we want to capitalize on it. We invite you to join us in our dream and be a part of something bigger than all of us.