Lessons from Sweet Potatoes & Fish Poop

I was recently in Honduras working on some mission projects.  Part of my itinerary involved some time at Orphanage Emmanuel, by far my favorite orphanage project in the world.  As part of their quest to be as lean and self-sustaining as possible (with 600 kids you have to maximize ingenuity!), they have constructed such practical things as livestock, above-ground tilapia farm in a greenhouse, hydroponic facilities for vegetables and an expanding farm for produce.  The tilapia farm is the newest gem and what’s great about it is that in addition to thousands of pounds of quality protein for the kiddos every few months, the waste material is harvested as a renewable supply of fertilizer for the hydroponics and general farming operation.  I was impressed!

While there the brilliantly innovative director, Wade, shared a recent lesson learned which had profound implications, metaphorically, for so much of life.  In the rush of excitement to use this new-found fertilizer from the tilapia, they had begun to generously fertilize their high production plants, like sweet potatoes.  In fact, hoping to develop a high yield strategy for sweet potatoes to become a nutritional staple for the facility, they planted tons of sweet potatoes with lots of fish poop to enhance it.  Almost immediately they saw the results – incredible plants!  Foliage that was gorgeous, lush, blooming rich flowers and clearly becoming a powerhouse of a plant.  Or so they thought.  Harvest time came.  Those incredible plants on the surface produced NO potatoes in the ground!

Potatoes need regular soil, water and periodic lack of nutrition to trigger the process of creating deeper roots and deposits of nitrates which ultimately become the vegetable prize desired.  The excessive abundance and ease of the nutrients in the soil actually impeded the fruit production of the plant and instead it became a decorative showcase with no actual value for the kids.  This was not easily undone, because the soil was now highly fortified.  So it is will take a series of seasons of intentionally drawing out the nutrients from those fields before it can serve to grow high yield potatoes again.

Sometimes adversity is our friend.  Stress cultivates strength.  Lack breeds ingenuity and innovation.  Often ease, comfort and excess yields topical beauty but shallow or deficient roots.  We often blindly put too much energy into stress mitigation, comfort maximization, trial avoidance (not talking about wisdom here, obviously!) and miss the very mission of life (hint: which isn’t just to bypass as much pain as possible).

What do you take away from this story?

 

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