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Archive for the ‘Environmental’ Category

I started to collect samples in the field of plants used for women’s reproductive health with the help an indigenous woman from the area – one of the remaining keepers of the traditional ecological knowledge.

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I’m still a romantic and I’m still searching for a harmonious life. I find myself in Querétaro – a city changing rapidly. The city is unscrupulously erasing history and giving in to the urban sprawl and shopping malls. Amongst all this change, I’m hanging on to the past, to the traditions, and to a time when people interacted with the natural world.

I am dedicated to ethnobotany, the study of people’s interaction with plants. Returning to the communities that revealed Mexico’s soul to me, I continue the endless quest for traditional knowledge and once again, a harmonious life.

I look forward to being in touch again, and beginning this new adventure together.

Love always,

the twigster

LlantenMedicinal plant bouquet

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The twigster has accompanied me through many life chapters, and I am happy to reopen the twigster after a recess to chronicle my newest adventure. The twigster has branched out. Today marks a week of the opening of Raíces (Roots), a home and garden store in Querétaro, Mexico. The store is in line with the same mission I started out with upon graduating college – bridging the gap between the human and natural worlds.

Raíces aspires to offer clients options to include some greenery and natural living into their homes, gardens, and lifestyles. We offer the obvious – plants, pots, terrariums – to achieve that goal, while also offering the less obvious – jewelry made from natural stones, solar dehydrators, all natural personal care items, and fair trade artesanal products. We pride ourselves on one of a kind pieces as  the majority of our products are made in Mexico, by local artisans and friends. Expect lots of traveling as I seek to find interesting artists and products for Raíces. More to come soon.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: With the city of Querétaro growing at this rate, Queretanos must maintain their bond to the natural world.

madera,florerodevidrio

Handblown glass vase, wood kitchenware

atrapasuenos

Dreamcatcher

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Concrete flower pot

 

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I somehow convinced a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to move with me to Memphis, Tennessee. I very recently decided to choose 901, a week ago to be exact, and having the “let life flow” attitude that many Peace Corps volunteers have, Danny signed up too. Without a job firmed up, and having never visited the city he might be even more extreme than I am. My bubbling chatter about my visit to Memphis must have spilled over to corral him into the movement. So how did I end up in Memphis? Well, in November after a few weeks back in the States from Mexico, I called an acquaintance from my college days knowing about his involvement in the food movement here in the US and wanting to pick his brain about how I could jump right in stateside. A simple inquiry resulted in a phone call, and a very good sales pitch about Memphis and the meaningful work to be found in this mid-southern city. I bought the pitch, and planned a trip down for early December.

When that acquaintance picked me up from the airport, that car conversation was the longest conversation we had ever had. We knew each other’s faces in college, but nothing else. I was going on pure gut feeling. I spent the next few days in Memphis with an agenda completely focused on food. I spent the day biking around to different community gardens with pit stops to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken and Soul Fish Cafe. I met beautiful people growing their own vegetables in places like the McMerton Gardens. I felt and fed off of their excitement about inspiring others in their communities to do the same. People very openly spoke to me about Memphis’s struggles, but  they also shared their visions for potential and positive change.

One fateful trivia event in Memphis’s hip Cooper Young neighborhood, I met a fellow New Yorker. I knew we would get along when she came into the bar, ordered a hot tea, whiskey, and some honey, and started to prepare herself her own treat after her flight back in town from the holidays. In a bar foaming over with full beer glasses, this girl knew exactly what she wanted. I liked that. We got to talking and she asked what I was interested in pursuing post Peace Corps. I gave my five minute pitch – urban farming, food justice, community engagement – and the baby of passion in my stomach began kicking again. She wanted her voice heard. This young woman listened, and told me to send over my resume. I obliged.

I came back down last Sunday to officially accept a job offer with Knowledge Quest as the non-profit’s Farm Manager and Education Programmer for Green Leaf Learning Farm. The next adventure begins…

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Did you know that Memphis is in the top ten for farmers markets in the nation?

Green Leaf Learning Farm

We Dig South Memphis

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During the last two months of my Peace Corps service, I began to collaborate with CIASPE on a rooftop garden in a day-care center (t.e.p.e). The students in the Center are at risk of childhood labor and/or at risk of living and working on the street. The school garden was to serve as a way to connect the children with nature, learn a useful set of skills, and offer a break from the regular classroom routine. Sandra, my co-worker, and I were to facilitate sessions with 3 different age groups ranging from kindergarten to high school. The planning of each session was complex, as each age group was very distinct, but the planned activity for each day was to be the same.

We began with the base – soil and composting. The high school boys weren’t too happy about using a shovel or getting dirty. The middle school kids really liked soil, so much so that they found it fun to throw it at classmates. The kindergarten students were content simply running their hands through the soil. After Day 1, a day full of trying to maintain control, attention, and in-tact fingers, Sandra and I went back to CIASPE exhausted. We began to pick apart the session to see what went right, what went wrong, and how we could move past incidents like “soil in the face of a friend” and the resultant hysterics. We knew we had to change our approach and come to an agreement with the students about appropriate guidelines. That’s when Guideline 1 was created: No throwing soil at oneself or another student.

With each session, the list of guidelines grew. We utilized guidelines rather than rules to avoid becoming potentates. We wanted to create an environment in which the students had control over one another, the sessions, and the activities. After all, it was their garden. Sandra and I were not going to water it daily. They were. We were not going to decide what was planted. They were. We knew how important it is that the participants’ have a sense of ownership of the garden, because experience has shown that school gardens are everyone’s when there are pretty butterfly visitors, but when it comes time to weed it is no one’s. We needed the students to be excited and more importantly, invested.

The chaos boiled down. That was until they found a frog. That session was a ruckus. But instead of fighting it, Sandra and I abandoned seeding to learn more about frogs’ habitat and what they need to survive. So, things were going along pretty swimmingly and the rooftop garden was growing. We had some beets ready to harvest, some chard, and the herbs were doing great with Queretaro’s full sun. Many students were still learning the names of many of the veggies, so we wanted to keep the excitement growing and actually have them taste the fruits of their labor. To experience earthy beets, distinguish chard from lettuce, and bite into a crisp carrot is to fall in love with a garden. To give the students that experience, we designed a cooking class.

We were scared, yes. Little kids with knives. Little kids with blenders. Older kids with knives. Older kids with blenders. But we threw caution to the wind, and the result was pure beauty. The kids, of all levels, were the most behaved they have ever been. We chopped up some beets, and prepared them with tajín and lime – they wanted to lick the plate! We prepared water with swiss chard, lime, basil, and chia – they held out their cups for more. We made a big salad with lettuce, carrots, beets, onion, amaranth, and pear tomatoes – they began planning to seed more carrots. As a foodie, I was elated to watch their excitement as they bit into the beet and commented to one another, “this tastes different than the one my mom buys,” and “we need to plant more of these.”

As Sandra and I discussed the session, we realized that we didn’t need any new guidelines that day. All along, we just had to give them some green juice.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: I am now a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer back in NYC planning for the next adventure. Stay tuned!

Watering the Garden

Can't Get Enough of those BEETS!

Future Foodies!

Future Foodies!

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The summer of 2014, the CIASPE, non-profit group, that I work with in Mexico became involved in a community garden project. Naturally, I was thrilled. Ever since my experience working on an urban farm in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, I have been looking for my next opportunity to work in the urban gardening movement. As cities continue to grow and people move farther and farther away from the original source of food production, urban gardens offer people access to fresh, healthy food while also reminding them that carrots do in fact have leaves. As a woman who grew up in New York City,  I can attest to little and limited access city kids have to get their hands in the dirt and encounter the creepy crawlers. Now Menchaca, Querétaro is not quite the same concrete jungle as Manhattan, but it does have an interesting story.

The neighborhood of Menchaca was once an ejido or a communally-owned parcel of land that resided outside of the grasp of the city. Querétaro has been experiencing huge growth these past few years and poco a poco this ejido has become part of the expanding city. (They are even constructing a train to connect Mexico City to Querétaro.) In Menchaca, many people built temporary housing, that later became permanent housing, in order to be close to the growing work opportunities in the city’s center. Since this neighborhood grew without any real planning, there are still lots of empty lots. The Mexican Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources saw Menchaca as a great site for a pilot community garden and helped the community to obtain the resources to get started.

When I first saw the land that was destined to be sprouting with veggies, I was skeptical but largely excited for its potential. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer and I began to draw up some plans. We considered where we would put the water tanks, the free area, and the garden beds. We had grander plans, of course, but we prioritized the available funding. Along with community members, we began to outline the garden beds. Each participant was to receive a bed size of about 1 meter by 5 meters. With the biointensive method of agriculture, this was plenty of space to get started. To put it in perspective, consider that 100 garlic plants can fit in one square meter.

Over the next few months, the CIASPE team went out to Menchaca to share our experiences with gardening. We stressed the importance of building up the soil, and our first task was to build compost piles. With each subsequent session, and resultant homework, the space began to transform. Doña Maria brought a small peach plant to the community garden. Women decided to border the garden’s fence with corn. Calendula flowers and its curly seeds offered spots of  orange among the beds. Children began running around in the communal “free space.” It was truly becoming a space that everyone could enjoy.

After one session, a Peace Corps volunteer, asked for some help to conduct some surveys that would help her move forward in her Master’s  work. Loving those one-on-one talks, I jumped right in to help. One of the questions, seemingly straightforward, really captured my attention. The diagnostic asked, “Where do you spend most of your time?” Now, most of the participants in the garden are women, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the answer of “in the household.” What surprised me more, was the overwhelming majority of these women shared the second largest portion of their time in the community garden. As we continued to talk, they mentioned how the garden has given them another purpose, has offered them stress-release, and has given their kids a safe and stimulating environment to play.

The biggest benefit of Menchaca’s community garden may not be its spinach and swiss chard harvest. This community, which is characterized by high levels of marginalization, now has a source of hope, or in the least, it has an outlet for creativity and productivity. I am sure this garden will continue to grow. My friend will continue to work in Menchaca during her service in Mexico and help the participants to reach the great potential of this project.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Watch the transformation unfold with the photos.

Getting Stated

Building Compost, Building Soil

A Community Garden

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A little glimpse into my life in Mexico these days.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Try to make a story by connecting the pictures.

Here’s mine: I’m a dog and I like to run around in the corn. Oh! and I loveeee flowers. Flowers. Flowers. Blue flowers! There’s my master at work. She’s always in the store. She should come play in the mud!

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