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Making Organic Agriculture Accessible to Low-Income Farmers

Feb 25, 2021   |   Borgen

"In response to [organic agriculture] obstacles, the Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineers (DHE) undertook the Compost Tea Project. DHE is a student group at Dartmouth College dedicated to humanitarian aid projects," reports Borgen. "Compost tea extracts microorganisms and soluble nutrients from small amounts of compost steeped in water. It introduces the benefits of compost to farming systems but requires far less in quantity. This, in turn, saves farmers time and labor.

"Compost tea systems existed before the DHE adopted the Compost Tea Project as a key component of organic hydroponic agriculture. Jack Sadoff ['21], a Dartmouth College student in the class of 2021 and a member of the Compost Tea Project team, spoke with The Borgen Project. He explained that the DHE’s goal was to 'boil down' existing compost tea systems into an affordable practice that is 'easy for anybody to use whether it’s for their own backyard garden or supplying larger farms.'

"The compost tea process takes fewer than three days and two cups of fertilizer. To create its compost tea system, the DHE attaches an aquarium pump to the bottom of a bucket and fits a PVC pipe perpendicular to the base. Team members fill the bucket with water, throw in a couple of handfuls of compost and turn on the aquarium pump to aerate the system. Nutrients seep out of the organic material and create organic liquid fertilizer that can be used to water crops. Sadoff says the materials used to create the system only costs around $50-75 at a typical home improvement or pet store.

"In the course of the Compost Tea project, the DHE collaborated with an NGO in Quito, Ecuador called ConQuito. ConQuito supports sustainable economic growth in its namesake city and surrounding areas. The organization promotes food growth in urban areas as a means to make fresh and healthy food accessible, generate income and employment and promote environmental management. Students on the Compost Tea Project team traveled to Ecuador with their system and introduced it to farms associated with ConQuito.

"The Compost Tea Project struggles to tweak its system to use materials locally available to low-income and rural farmers. Distribution logistics also pose a challenge to the team. 'I think actually a pretty big trend across… humanitarian engineering projects is you deliver these products into an environment where they’re needed, but the need’s not super obvious or the people aren’t adequately educated on how to use it or how to maintain it,' says Sadoff."

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