by , 8 January 2015
Marilyn McHugh and Chris Kennedy had a honeymoon unlike most. They set out to travel around the world for a year with plans to stop in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. What was supposed to be a week in Kenya turned into six weeks when they saw how devastated the communities were by industrialized, chemical agriculture and felt compelled to help. Next, they worked at an orphanage and then with the UN as part of a Green Warrior training program in Uganda. Then, they headed to India for what was supposed to be a short stint but turned into several months.
Their whole trip was thrown off, but for the better. They saw a great need in communities in the developing world that have been wrecked by chemical agriculture much like rural communities in the U.S., but in the countries they visited, there is no government support or safety net for farmers like there is in the U.S. McHugh and Kennedy shared what they knew with these farmers about soil life and offered guidance using permaculture principles.
When McHugh and Kennedy returned from their honeymoon, they were forever changed. In 2010, they started a nonprofit, The Hummingbird Project, to “create sustainable systems using permaculture principles that enhance and benefit communities by educating and empowering individuals to improve quality of life and foster stewardship of the Earth.”
The inspiration for the name, The Hummingbird Project, comes from Wangari Maathai, who tells the story of a massive forest fire breaking out. While all of the other animals sat by feeling helpless and overwhelmed and watching the forest burn, the hummingbird began carrying little drops of water from the nearby river in his mouth to put out the fire. When the other animals criticized the hummingbird for fruitlessly trying to put out the fire, the hummingbird replied, “I’m doing the best I can.” McHugh and Kennedy believe we are all called to be hummingbirds and do the best we can to address the problems in our world.
After learning from some of the preeminent leaders in regenerative agriculture like Darren Doherty and Elaine Ingham, McHugh and Kennedy began giving presentations and classes on soil and seed science and permaculture, which is designing growing systems that mimic natural systems. The nonprofit has three core programs: the Living Soil Saves Lives program, Sustainable Schools initiative and Cleveland Seed Bank. For the last four years, the couple has traveled to the so-called “suicide belt” in rural India to work with farmers. This part of India—the states of Maharashtra, Punjab, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Kerala—is known as the “suicide belt” because more than 200,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997. Chemical farming has wreaked such havoc on India’s agricultural sector that these farmers have resorted to ending their lives by drinking the very pesticides that have destroyed their livelihoods.
That’s where McHugh and Kennedy come in. Through a partnership with Dr. Vandana Shiva and her organization, Navdanya, they have been going to India for the last four years for four months at a time to educate farmers about the damaging effects of chemical farming. The Hummingbird Project’s partnership with Navdanya, which means nine seeds and was named so to symbolize protection of biological and cultural diversity, has allowed Kennedy and McHugh to connect with rural Indian farmers and teach classes at Earth University, Navdanya’s learning center. The two nonprofits have collaborated to “reduce dependency on GMO seeds, [train] farmers in organic methods, and [re-establish] sustainable agriculture throughout India.” Kennedy says “The work with farmers in India is so critical because while here in the U.S., chemical versus organic farming is viewed as a choice or preference, the epidemic of farmer suicides in India shows it is often a question of life or death.”
Event Report: Mumbai Rooftop Garden
Event Report: The green couple on a mission