Mark Meyering, Goodwill Ambassador for 3M, is visiting the MH4H Campus to offer his expertise for our Hydroponics systems. A chemical and water expert, Mark is working together with LEVO International to troubleshoot potential problems with the installation of these systems. The following entries are his  “Ambassador Log’s”.

 

Ambassador’s Log: Thursday, Feb 22, 2018. 

My wake time was 4:40 AM, for a dawn flight out of Ft. Pierce.

A stalwart Douglas DC-3 was fueled up and ready to go on the runway as the first light broke. My first ride on this storied plane… I was thrilled. What would my seat be? 1st class? 2nd? Coach? Nope. New class: Cargo seat 😆. No AC, no heat.. you’re warm if you’re near the engines, and cold if you’re behind the wings. They did provide a blanket. A beautiful day, and a beautiful low-altitude ride.

I had a cherry window and view just in front of the left wing.. and one heck of a bumpy ride as the wind picked up over the mountains and buffeted our brave little plane. But as we got past the sharp hills to the high plains in the shadow of Mt. Pignon, things calmed down. We were greeted on the ground by the staff of MH4H and Levo.

 

 

MH4H has built a campus just outside of the main part of town. The campus is 5 buildings, including residence halls, dining, and kitchen, plus gardens, common areas, and fields of plantain. I got a quick walk-around today, and my first view of the hydroponic systems that are located near the traditional vegetable gardens (for our purposes, a convenient control group!).

There is a great deal happening on this campus, with an education and resource center for local families, with a special focus on children in the first 1000 days of life; nutrition, hygiene, basic health care. There is a school for children 3 to 5 years old. Multiple ongoing projects extend out into the community of Pignon.

Tomorrow I get my guerrilla indoctrination with a full day of hydroponic gardening in Haiti. Hydroponics 101. Or did I just skip over to 221?

 

Ambassador’s Log: Friday, Feb 23, 2018. 

Stupid rooster hasn’t figured out that his job is to crow AT sunrise. Not midnight, not at 4 AM, or whenever-whatever. Same with the guinea hens, they talk all night like a bunch of teenagers on their first field trip. Stupid me for not putting in my earplugs last night. Won’t make that mistake again… That said, the air blowing through the open windows of my dorm room was delightfully cool. Craig (MH4H site managing director, concierge and cook when needed) had set me up with sheets and blankets, both welcome and needed.

Morning in the outskirts of Pignon is alive with animals clucking, bleating, barking, and the smell of brush and garbage burning (all controlled; no danger). In the kitchen, Craig is making pancakes. The cooking staff gets a break when there are no large groups… and Nate and I are the only on-site, non-MH4H guests this week. I go up to the rooftop of the dorm just before breakfast to take some pictures of the surroundings.

Breakfast is at 7:30, followed by a prayer circle.. nice way to start the day. Reflection and scripture all in Creole (which I don’t understand). But then I am introduced to the whole of the MH4H staff, many of whom live in the neighborhood and are employed on the campus, who wish me “Bonjou”.. and I get a hug from everyone (easy to understand). How often did we begin our 3M workday with a hug? Somebody on the “engagement” team should take note.

My plan for today is to shadow the Levo project staff and workers, learn their daily routine and take a deeper dive into the equipment and practice. There are 6 separate systems on site, and two off-site. There have been a few issues with the current crop, a random stem fungus on a few of the plants and some with aphids. These are being managed without the benefit of an Agway down the street… I’ll take notes. At the end of the day, we will meet to review findings.

 

Kely and kids

Children and teachers are starting to arrive at the school, with earnest laughing spasms of high-speed Creole. I wish I had a translator app that could keep up.

After breakfast, we head out to the hydroponic systems. Nate will be training both Micah and myself today. Micah has volunteered to provide general project oversight after March 3rd when Nate and I return to the states. Nate is detail oriented and believes in data collection. There is effectively a line clearance checklist and data log that Nate had kept, detailing water temperature, pH, adjustments, outside Relative humidity (RH) and air temperature immediately next to the plants (some are in the open, some in shade). There are several aquaculture variables being explored.

Nate and the school kids

For the systems conservation of water is key, and each system has a closed and covered barrel, to manage evaporation of the nutrient feed water. Two of the on-site systems have solar powered pumps on timers, to cycle nutrient through the 4” PVC header pipes containing the root cups. Four have hand pumps; a low-cost Marine style bilge pump with a length of flex tubing to bring water to the uppermost header. All systems cascade flow downward through four of the header pipes. Plants per pipe vary based on pipe length. The bottom header empties back into the barrel.

Micah with the Hydroponics System

Two of the systems are off-campus at the homes of Haitian families, and these best represent the real world situation in Haiti. Here is where the need for stringent water conservation is sharply illustrated. All water is carried home on the head. Meaning, balancing a 5-gallon bucket or Jerry jug on your head while walking down roads and footpaths that are often no better than a dry rocky creek bed. Everybody carries water. “Everybody works” (in Creole, “tout moun travay”). The women especially, of all ages, are at the village well with buckets. Water is pumped out of the ground with these old school rusty agricultural hand pumps, and carried home for drinking, cooking, cleaning. Now extra gallons will be needed to do initial fill and maintain the level in the barrel.

A well tuned hydroponic system on the smaller single-family scale (16 plants as envisioned by Levo), might require no more than 1 gallon per day of make-up water. The purpose of make-up water is to maintain a steady concentration of soluble salts of nutrient fertilizer, which are substantially non-volatile (they don’t evaporate). As water evaporates, the non-volatile salts are concentrated. In the early phases of plant growth, the respiration rate and water loss through the plants are insignificant compared to the evaporation rate. At a later point (large plant and harvest), the plant is sucking more soluble nutrient out of the feed solution, requiring make-up fertilizer. But the job today is mostly about the evaporation and replenishment of water.

Today, we find the water level in the non-shade units has dropped by more than 2 gallons as compared to yesterday’s level. It is hot, and this is the dry season.

Craig has decided to treat the on-campus staff (along with Nate and me) to an offsite lunch. He loads us into the 3-wheeler and takes us into the city. More on the city of Pignon in another installment.

Eating lunch with the team
The rest of the day and evening are spent tending to the hydroponic gardens, reviewing data, the project, and the plans for this week. It is a critical week, as this is the last trip to Haiti in the dry season for Nate, and we have an upcoming review. The hydroponic system is no different than what (in my former life)we called an “NPI”, or New Product Introduction. The customer needs the most reliable and robust system possible, given all the challenges that Haiti presents. My prior training in the phases of the product development cycle will be brought to bear. I need to help Nate in his preparation for a phase gate review to the Levo Board of Directors.

By the end of the day, I have a new friend; it is Lilo, the fierce guard dog on the campus who is bravely chasing away the guinea hens when he is not napping 😎.

Mark and Lilo

 

Look for Mark’s next set of Ambassador Log’s soon! 

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