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Harriet Nakabaale's Camp Green

By Coco McCabe
Harriet Nakabaale grows a large variety of vegetables and herbs in her garden in Kampala, Uganda.

Fifty feet by 32 feet: as far as farms go, that's probably one of the smallest in the world. 

But that hasn't stopped Harriet Nakabaale from turning her hard-packed chunk of Kampala into something of a miracle. In a city where overcrowding chokes many neighborhoods and nothing, it seems, can grow in them, Nakabaale's Camp Green is like a beacon. It bursts with living things, all of them edible--an important survival tactic in an urban area where the high cost of buying food can saddle a family with relentless poverty.

Here are pomegranates and strawberries, eggplants and cauliflowers. There are the herbs--rosemary, lavender, thyme. Leafy greens mix with root vegetables. And here? Broilers, turkeys, guinea fowl, and geese.

What makes all of this possible?

Passion, water, and a work ethic that keeps Nakabaale, a single mother of two children, busy every minute of the day.

"There is time for everything," she says simply. "Whenever you waste time you are losing money."

But drive is just one part of Nakabaale's makeup. Her urge to coax green from the earth goes back to her childhood in the village of Kasaka, about 80 kilometers from here. The youngest of 12 children, Nakabaale says growing things has always been a way of life for her--a habit that too many people have forgotten or never acquired.

"In Africa, we get hungry because we don't know what to do with the soil we have, the land we have," says Nakabaale. "It's very important to people in urban areas to use the small space they have. If they use it profitably, it would help you cut the cost of living in town, which is very high. If you don't cut costs, you'll always buy and be poor forever."

It was the prohibitive price of medicine to treat the sickle cell anemia of her late daughter that prompted Nakabaale, years ago, to try her hand at growing herbs in the city as an alternative treatment. Today, at Camp Green, as she has dubbed her vibrant enterprise, Nakabaale's mission is to share the vast knowledge she has accumulated on urban agriculture. Though her own formal education ended early, Nakabaale hosts visitors from divisions across the city, not the least of whom are professors and students from Makerere University, Uganda's largest institution of higher education. Her dream is to one day buy a 10-acre plot and establish a large demonstration farm.

In 2012, New Vision, Uganda's government-owned daily newspaper, gave Nakabaale the woman achiever award for the year, citing her exemplary service to the community through ensuring food security. Her philosophy is to reuse everything: the rainwater that flows from her rooftops into big tanks, plastic bottles that become planters, organic wastes--like banana peels--that she turns into briquettes that burn with a steady heat. She uses them to keep newly hatched chicks warm and to brew the wine that is one of her many enterprises.

In a city that has recently adopted a series of ordinances regulating urban agriculture, Nakabaale is the perfect model for how to do it right--from composting wastes that enrich the soil to planting discreetly within her own yard. But in an ironic twist, this urban farmer knows little about the new laws, other than that they exist. Kampala has done little to get the word out.

"If they come and tell us what the laws are, I will put them into practice," she says.

When she learned that one of the ordinances regulates the roaming of livestock, Nakabaale pronounced that a good one: goats belonging to her neighbors had regularly come to dine on her greens, a problem that she was able to solve only after putting up a fence with the money she received from the New Vision award.

Goats aside, everyone else is welcome here, and Camp Green is often overflowing with people. Some come to fetch water for a small fee from the tap Nakabaale installed that connects with the national water system. Others come to buy vegetables or seedlings. And still others--the children--flock to her yard because, perhaps, they just can't resist. It's green. It's luscious. And it's right next door--a world so different from their own.

In a city that has recently adopted a series of ordinances regulating urban agriculture, Nakabaale is the perfect model for how to do it right--from composting wastes that enrich the soil to planting discreetly within her own yard. But in an ironic twist, this urban farmer knows little about the new laws, other than that they exist. Kampala has done little to get the word out.

"If they come and tell us what the laws are, I will put them into practice," she says.

When she learned that one of the ordinances regulates the roaming of livestock, Nakabaale pronounced that a good one: goats belonging to her neighbors had regularly come to dine on her greens, a problem that she was able to solve only after putting up a fence with the money she received from the New Vision award.

Goats aside, everyone else is welcome here, and Camp Green is often overflowing with people. Some come to fetch water for a small fee from the tap Nakabaale installed that connects with the national water system. Others come to buy vegetables or seedlings. And still others--the children--flock to her yard because, perhaps, they just can't resist. It's green. It's luscious. And it's right next door--a world so different from their own.

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