Wednesday, July 18, 2012

South Carolina's First Organic Farmer, Azeez Mustafa teaches us how to be self-sufficient.

Many families are, for the first time, worrying about the most basic of needs - where is the next meal coming from? And to top it off the food supply is often nothing but processed foods and in many  cases families may not have access to good quality fresh foods.

Suppose you have the one of the best paying manufacturing jobs around, house, car, family. Life is good.

Then you lose it all - except for the family - and there is a baby on the way.

"More than 4 million homes have been lost to foreclosure over the past five years."

"they are laying off 10% of the workforce, that's 12,600 people"

".marks the company's sixth mass layoff in four years"

Sound familiar?  These are some of the headlines in the news every day.

Azeez Mustafa of Sumter has seen this all before. It was 1976, he was laid off and there simply weren't any other jobs to be had. Azeez built a handsawn house, where they lived for the next thirteen years. The family lived by lamplight, with wood fires, a kerosene stove and became strict vegetarians - often eating raw or dumpster-salvaged food.
Remember, this was not 1876 - this was 1976; Pink Floyd and Bob Marley were on the radio and Steve Jobs was forming Apple computer. In the meantime Azeez and wife Fathiyyah were tapping into age old knowledge of the elders to survive and put food on the table and, unknowingly, getting ready to become South Carolina's first certified organic farmers.

Today I sit with Azeez, Fathiyya and son Shaheed in the comfortable educational building (that they built by hand) at Asya's Organics Farm next to tables piled high with several types of squash, eggplant, beans and sweet melons everywhere around the room. I know the melons are sweet because I'm eating one as I write this (and I'm saving the seeds too).

"I can teach you how to have fresh food ready to eat in 15 days from the day you plant it" says Azeez. His story is one of inspiration and determination. He didn't know that he was going to be the first Certified Organic Farmer in South Carolina, he didn't know that he was going to travel the country teaching and certifying organic farmers, he only knew he had to provide food for his family. So when he looked around him and saw trees growing 50 feet up in the air, with no irrigation and no special equipment, he decided there must be a way to grow some sweet potatoes.

Now many years later Fathiyyah, Azeez's wife says they grow everything they need. They don't need to buy anything other than soy milk, and they use honey from a local seller instead of sugar.

Azeez recognizes that many of today's families are facing different challenges in the food growing process; most will not have access to large parcels of land to grow food - or maybe no land at all. For this reason Aysa's Organics is now specializing in teaching people how to produce food organically in raised beds and containers.

Now days the original Aysa's Organics Farm on West Brewington Road in Sumter functions mostly as an educational facility and demonstration farm.
  Aysa's organics has teamed up with eight other organic farms in South Carolina to become the biggest organic co-op in the state. All members of the co-op must agree to dry farm. Azeez's son Shaheed Harris explains to me "When you water your vegetables you are training them to look for water. We don't water them and when we plant the seeds from those plants that have survived we have a more drought resistant plant - and one that is uniquely adapted to our climate here in South Carolina.

Shaheed and his daughter Aysa can be found selling organic food at local markets in Columbia but you can also buy from the farm directly in Sumter. Fathiyyah says "just give us a call so we can tell you what we have available today.

I bought a mammoth Kershaw squash, a butternut squash and some tomatoes. I buy their watermelons every time I see them at the market ---- and I save ALL of the seeds!

You can reach Aysa's Organics by calling 803-469-0116. They do still actually work their fields by hand so if they are out just leave a message and they will call you back.

For a really great read about Azeez, his family, and the work that they have done in the community check out the newsletter at the following location: http://www.sare.org/publications/youth/youth.pdf  . The 'Youth Renewing the Countryside' project contains several stories about people around the country who are making positive and inspirational changes in their communities. http://www.southernterroir.com/blog/

So let's grow some food!! 

                                                 Azeez's son Shaheed Harris

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