It may come as a surprise to know that most of the land on which St. Julie's is located is farmland. The original dream for the farm was the production of enough food to feed all the students and workers on the property. Since the location is so isolated, all students are boarders and so are teachers.
At any one time, upwards of 500 people are on the property and need to be nourished. Any food purchased comes from a distance, usually from Kampala, which is a four-hour Land Rover ride away. So, growing food on site is an attractive goal. The rich soil and tropical climate, with its alternating rainy and dry seasons (two of each per year) is capable of yielding two or even three crops annually.
At any given time, thirty or so workers are employed in various capacities on the farm. This hiring of farm workers makes St. Julie's the largest employer in the area and for many of the workers the sole source of income. A large majority of the workers are women who work the fields, digging, hoeing, and planting.
Babies can be seen on the backs of their mothers or sitting quietly on a cloth nearby as the women do this backbreaking labor. Since, in the Bunyoro tribe, it is considered a woman's responsibility to grow food for the family, fieldwork on St. Julie farm is viewed as an extension of this task.
Students also help with farm chores, such as feeding the chickens and rabbits, as part of the work-study program of tuition assistance.
Animals abound on St. Julie farm. Although populations go up and down in good times and bad, chickens, rabbits, pigs, and goats are steady occupants.
The main purpose of all these animals is to provide animal protein in the form of eggs and of meat that is served only on special occasions. When they exist in surplus, however, they can be sold and the profit used to purchase food that cannot be produced on site.
About 350 chickens occupy the chicken house behind the convent compound and provide eggs for student breakfasts twice a week. Once past reproductive age, the chicken are slaughtered and form the basis of a real meat-based feast.
Rabbits likewise are present in numbers too many to count.
The ten or so adult pigs have proved very fertile, producing at present 94 piglets, many of which will be sold.
The goats provide mainly meat, but some milk can be used for cooking.
Another addition to the animal population is bees. After a shaky start, when numerous problems beset the hives, (the most notable being lizards taking up residence inside them), bees now thrive at several sites throughout the property. The yield of honey is much prized and serves as a sweet treat for young and old alike.
The most recent addition to the farm family is a cow. Milk really enhances the children's diet. Dr. Tirone, a good friend and benefactor of the mission, donated the cow so the cow is lovingly named Tirone.
The mainstay of the Buseesan diet is posho, a paste-like porridge made from boiled corn flour (maize). Since this is almost completely composed of starch, it is typically served covered with bean sauce or peanut sauce to add some protein. This fundamental combination (carbohydrate base supplemented by a simple protein source) comprises the poor person's diet throughout Uganda.
Since maize needs to be ground up before cooking, and no mill exists close to Buseesa, it must be purchased rather than grown.
Plantain bananas, however, which are called matooke, another starch-paste dish, are a major crop.
Likewise, cassava, yams and Irish potatoes are cultivated and serve a similar purpose in the kitchen.
Starchy foods are rather easy to come by, but protein is a challenge to obtain and protein deficiency is common. The beans and peanuts needed for sauce are grown on our farm. (To supplement the supply, one of the "requirements" on the school supply list for students to bring on the first day of classes is five cups of beans; a few students pay their entire tuition in beans).
A novel crop on the farm is moring a tree whose leaves are rich in protein and vitamins. These are used as greens that can be mixed with the nuts or beans and spooned over posho or matooke.
In addition to these staples, other crops like popcorn, papaya, pineapples, mangoes, and sugar cane are grown. Popcorn is a favorite among kids and adults alike.
The St. Julie farm is less than idyllic. Hard work is the basis of it all.
As in any developing country, consistency and reliability of the labor force is problematic. The organization and management of the numerous aspects of the farm's operation is a continual challenge.
Efforts to protect crops and livestock from disease and theft must be constantly made.
The weather is not always cooperative and drought can be devastating. But by large, the good God has blessed the farming efforts and will surely continue to do so.