Early this spring, our host country got hit with a true COVID wave. We know several people – all elderly – who died from COVID complications. A large amount of our own refugees we help came down with COVID. Our entire team also contracted COVID, including myself, and had a rough month of it.
Thankfully, we’re through the COVID wave, cases in our country are down to almost nothing, and life is moving on! We’re plowing ahead (no pun intended….) with the Grace Farms projects by developing, planting and even starting to harvest at multiple market garden locations. We’ve distributed almost 1,000 pounds of fresh organic produce to hundreds of refugees these past two months! We’re hoping to do even more than that if God continues to bless the harvests.
Surviving The COVID Wave
As mentioned above, the long anticipated COVID wave finally broke on our host country. We treated dozens of COVID cases with available medications recommended by some doctors we consult with that reduce symptoms and increase survivability. However, in a few cases we got to them too late, and COVID was already too far progressed to treat out of hospital. One older man had his O2 reading hovering around 90% even after repeated nebulizer treatments. We admitted him to hospital and he was put straight into the ICU.
That next day, his wife presented with blue lips, dyspnea and an oxygen reading around 70% at best. We rushed her to the ER right as she was about to collapse. They put her in the ICU as well for a week. It seems likely she was having a pulmonary embolism due to clotting from COVID. After she was discharged a week later, she had another pulmonary embolism and had to be rushed back for treatment again! That same week, we also had to admit her son to the hospital for COVID as well. This one family had three critical cases all at once! It was made clear to us that had we not put them in the hospital, they would have likely died. They were very thankful knowing this fact. Those thanks are extended to you all who were praying for them and helped make it possible to pay for their ICU stays!
At the same time, we were seeing complications in small children as well. The hospital system out here was collapsing due to economic woes, the inability to import a lot of medicines/supplies, and the strain from a surge of COVID patients. In many cases, we had to try to do our best to help treat more stable patients with what we could find still available at the pharmacies. As people on our team recovered from COVID and were cleared from quarantine, we would often be going around giving breathing treatments to sick people to see them through the low points of their infection.
We acquired several nebulizer machines during this period, and now also have a Phillips oxygen machine able to provide up to 5LPM of purified oxygen. This machine was in use for many weeks as people stepped down form the ICU to their homes, yet still needed to be on supplemental oxygen. We thank the Lord that there was provision at the time to get this equipment, and that it was still able to be found on the markets here!
It seems that the worst of COVID is behind us now. Daily cases are extremely low. It is estimated by the government here that the country has probably already reached herd immunity through the massive exposure everyone has had to the virus already. Some vaccines were distributed, but only a small amount relative to the population. Most people seem to have acquired a natural immunity the “hard” way just by surviving the virus, though we know some people with relatives who didn’t survive this wave. We are praying some new strain doesn’t come along after all this!
Plowing, Sowing & Now Harvesting!
We are thankful to share that the Lord has so far given much help in the hard work of plowing up the fields and sowing our numerous plant varieties. We are already seeing an initial harvest, and we hope for an even more abundant one in the next couple months as all the remaining plants come to maturity! We are continuing to follow intensive organic market gardening methods, and are finding them very suitable so far. Even the refugees with some farm experience in traditional local methods are amazed by the increased yields and food quality in such a small land space. We are currently growing squash, cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, okra, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, lettuce, kale, strawberries, various pole beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, and even some kohlrabi.
Immediately after we recovered from COVID, we had to hit the fields and begin the work of plowing up these thick clay beds to prep them for spring planting. It was made difficult by the fact that we lost a month from COVID quarantine, thus we were racing against time to get everything planted on schedule. We spent countless hours behind the rototiller churning up clay and rock. We hauled in several tons of fresh manure bags and raked them in by hand to every square foot of planting space. We had many days that stretched well into the night as we planted hundreds of lettuce and pepper seedlings by flashlight! But by God’s grace we got everything in the ground just in time.
We were hit with a few setbacks. After the brief spring rains, a major heat wave hit. This killed many seedlings shocked by the rapid change in temperature and their lack of time to have established roots, even with increased watering. We had to replant several varieties due to this event. But at that time, we discovered the usefulness of using low-tunnel or pole-mounted shade cover to protect plants in this desert-like environment. The partial blocking of UV and reduction in temp under the shade covers made a huge difference. The results have so far been very encouraging! We are seeing much increased yields from plants that struggled in the heat last year. We could never keep field cucumbers alive or very productive last year, but now they are almost growing too fast for us to keep up! We are also experimenting with it to extend out our season for cooler-weather loving Brassica plants like cabbage, many of which bolted in the summer heat last year. We’re thankful God providentially had us stumble upon this discovery, as it has made the prospect of producing abundant food in these Middle East market gardens much more viable, given that this region stays hot all summer long and doesn’t rain from about April to October!
Although the fields are planted from spring, our work is only starting. During the summer period we are hoping to add beehives to every farm, and also introduce small farm animals like chickens and milk goats at another location. Bees are so helpful in pollinating and increasing plant yields. Eggs are becoming difficult to find due to economic problems in our host country. We are hoping to be able to begin producing and distributing eggs this year to provide additional nutrition to the roughly 120 families of refugees and needy locals on our aid distribution list. The work is endless on a farm it seems, but so too are the opportunities to produce more in order to help others even more!
Thank You For Your Prayers And Support!
I apologize for the long gap in updates on our Thirsty Ground website. The combination of being knocked down by COVID and then having the spring planting rush at the farms made for some tiring days without a lot of spare time in between! But do know that we thank the Lord for your continued interest in helping the refugees and impoverished locals out here. Continue praying that many would respond to the Gospel as they see the compassion being shown to them. These are indeed difficult days in our host country. Some who were helped during the COVID wave are now coming to ministry meetings regularly. Thank you again for your continued prayers and support!