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Terra Bite 3: The Walk and Talk Dialogue Approach

Overcoming the Barriers to Adoption

We hear them all the time. The reasons something can not be done. It is one of the hardest things we must do; and that is to make it look easy. We humans are resistant to change, especially as we move into adulthood in a traditional setting.When it comes to the question, "why dont you have a garden in the dry season?" we can get any of the following very legitimate responses: No Water, Not Enough Land, Bad Soil, No Tools, No Seeds, No Fertilizer, No Pesticides, No Labor, No Money, No Education. Well, its our job as change agents to well, change those preconceived (but very legitimate) notions by using the Walk and Talk Dialogue approach where we ask guiding, open ended questions and bring out the expertise that already exists but which may not ever have been acknowledged. We are not here to lecture; we are here to guide people to make their best choice that is right for their environment, family and future.

General Problems and Barriers to Productive Behavior Adoption

Nutrition Problem Statement: There is high seasonal food and nutrition insecurity amongst many rural and urban dwellers due to lack of access, overall availability, and/or poor levels of nutrition education leading to poor utilization.


1. Perceived lack of land and water accessibility to grow food

2. Lack of media, agency or national attention given to the role that small-scale, low-risk, complementary gardens can play to alleviate food and nutrition insecurity

Land Problem Statement: Perception that people don’t have enough land to produce crops for family consumption or sale.


1. People don’t value or place importance on the few crops they grow around their compound.

2. People don’t see how much productive space around their household could be used to grow fruits, vegetables and other crops regardless of season.

3. Perception that vegetables are for sale, not consumption, is widespread.

Water Problem Statement: Perception (and of course, reality) that water, be it from rain, river or municipal supply, is not reliably available, thus limiting garden production and expansion.


1. Most people are practicing only limited water-conservation methods at their homes, with much of the rain that falls subsequently lost to run-off or in-field, surface evaporation.

2. Most people do not see the value of reusing bathing or cooking ‘waste’ water, despite water’s relatively high cost in terms of money, time and energy.

3. Most people burn crop residue, leaves and other plant ‘trash’ which could otherwise be used as mulch to prevent evaporation and erosion.

Inputs Problem Statement: Perception that people don’t have adequate access to inputs, including tools, “seeds, seedlings, fertilizer, and pesticides.


1. People are reluctant to spend money on inputs without confidence in getting a return

2. People have developed a reliance on items freely given to them by donors

3. Perception that people don’t have ‘enough’ land or water to grow crops.

4. Perception that fertilizer is all that is needed for soil health and fertility.

Okay - so there's the list to guide us. It’s so easy …. Even a kid can do it! But these barriers are completely understandable; especially for people who are looking at gardens from the perspective of income generation or large-scale agriculture. After all, they just have small areas outside their homes. Don’t you need a large plot with good soil? Drip irrigation? Tractors, shade netting, fertilizer, pesticides and a team of laborers? This is what we all hear in the media: modern agriculture. But this is where the Terra Firma Permagarden and the Walk and Talk methods can overcome each and every one of those “barriers”.

A Permagarden harvests and saves water, on small plots near home, using already accessible seeds, plants, tools and fertility amendments. They don’t require synthetic pesticides, a lot of hard labor or any new money. They are NOT ‘just gardens’; they are small spaces that now have renewed potential to generate nutritious food, income, environmental resilience and empowerment…every single day. With all this going for it, why the resistance to change? Simple: because real behavior change is hard. But not if we walk and talk, see and do; together; neighbor with neighbor. That is the Terra Firma Way.

As change agents, our job is to approach a task or challenge through the eyes and background of those who we think need to change. What sort of change will be seen as easy and positive? Who decides what changes are necessary as we look to improve child nutrition security? Notice the type of question I am asking. They are open-ended; not merely “yes” or “no”. As we ask these questions of ourselves and our ‘beneficiaries’, we do so from a position of vulnerability. We don’t really know what the answer will be, do we? This is why the primary task upon arrival in a new area is to perform the local ‘Haves Assessment’.

Our role is to guide families toward possible solutions once they have embraced the need for change using only what they already HAVE. They are now looking at their challenges from a position of wealth rather than poverty. WE refer to this as The Wealth of Haves vs. The Poverty of Needs. We walk through fields, around homes and neighborhoods, down hillsides and into forests asking questions about what we see as issues that impact food security, income generation, environmental and human health, sanitation and hygiene. It is from responses to our open-ended questions that we can guide people toward local solutions. In many cases, there are already local experts just looking for the chance to speak up. You will give them voice. We are facilitators of local talent, skills and knowledge; gently nudging people towards a paradigm shift away from “Bigger is Better” towards “Small is Bountiful”!

It is through this “Walk and Talk” Approach (rather than the Sit and Listen) that even the most marginalized individual living in the harshest landscape can begin to see possible solutions to her own problems, answers to challenges that were previously viewed as somebody else’s job to fix. Following a series of dialogue inspiring questions, walkers are guided to action steps that are small and immediately doable: assessing household assets; making a water stopping berm; creating a water saving ‘keyhole’; double digging a garden bed; planting a living fence; planting seeds and plants precisely. All through small and doable actions using only local assets...overcoming every single barrier.

Peter Jensen

Agroecology and Permagarden Training Specialist

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