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Archive for the ‘Environmental’ Category

We, team CIASPE, started a biointensive gardening course in three communities of Amealco, Querétaro in January 2014. Every other week we made the 1 hour drive from the experimental farming center to the communities of El Apartadero, San Bartolo, and Tenazda. Over the course of these past 6 months we learned a bit about the history of the people, their desire to grow their own food, and the factors that sometimes get in the way of meeting that goal.

We shared information about composting, soil improvement, organic plague treatment, double excavation of garden beds and so on. I share with you some results of the great collaboration.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: The CDs in the fist photo are meant to keep the birds away. What a great way to use what’s at hand!

Chasing Birds

Chard Explosion

A Different Start

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            CIASPE  is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable agricultural practices and research. It is a fairly young organization, only three years old, and the majority of its funding has come from its sponsor organization, GMI. As CIASPE is growing older, the organization is working towards covering a larger percentage of its operational costs and becoming more financially independent from its sponsor. Seeing CIASPE’s desire for self-sufficiency, the CIASPE team began to conjure up the vision of opening a gift shop to generate a supplemental income for the non-profit.

            CIASPE receives visitors from universities, other non-profit organizations, and groups of people interested in the sustainable food movement. The traffic and the demand for the products already existed. We met this basic rule of business. Next step: a suitable space for the store. Once we found and transformed a perfect nook in CIASPE’s teaching center, I drew on my contacts in Huimilpan and began to slowly fill the store with inventory. I called Lourdes from Capula, and ordered 30 bottles of nopal capsules. Next I spoke with Gustavo to develop jewelry made from seeds, and so on. As excitement began to build about the store, CIASPE team members began passing me more and more information about potential products.

            Today in the store we are selling organic seeds from CIASPE, portable solar lamps, crocheted key chains and baby toys, nopal products, succulent plants, and manuals about the biointensive method of gardening. The store continues to grow as Equipo CIASPE seeks budding products and continues to build relationships with community members through our gardening courses. For example, we are teaching women in Amealco to crochet baby blankets so that they may sell their work in the store as well and gain a small income. The store, therefore, is not only generating income for CIASPE, but also for community members with whom CIASPE works.

            As the store grows, we will continue to seek potential markets. There is talk of starting an online store using etsy, but we are not quite there yet. We are also developing salsas and natural beauty products using plants and veggies that come right from CIASPE’s garden. It will be a truly beautiful thing to not only promote sustainable farming practices, but sustainable consumerism through CIASPE’s small “organic boutique”.  We are generating an income for the non-profit, for community members, all while supporting our mission of promoting sustainable lifestyle choices.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: We still need a name for the store. Any ideas?

Lourdes from Capula with her xoconostle jam & nopal pills

Lourdes from Capula with her xoconostle jam & nopal pills

Nopal in Bloom

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I recently moved to CIASPE, an experimental agricultural center just outside the city of Querétaro.  I am working for a non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting and teaching sustainable agriculture practices. I am doing exactly what I love.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: More to come soon…

Bio-intensive Garden Beds

Pup at Work

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Women in three communities of Huimilpan, Querétaro – Piedras Lisas, Capula, and El Sauz Norte were trained in the mosaic method of gardening two years ago – long before Peace Corps volunteers arrived to their pueblito. They planted their cilantro and broccoli in haphazard beds, explored flowers for seeds, and experimented with growing leafy greens. They improvised and learned with their hands in the soil. When my compañera and I conducted interviews upon our arrival, the women spoke of their gardens enthusiastically, but with a tinge of defeat. After a few interviews, we began to see a common theme of lingering questions. What vegetables do I seed for the winter? What can I do to get rid of the worm in the col? What do I do with all this swiss chard?

Since the women of these communities saw the benefits of growing food for their families, and were driven to continue advancing, another volunteer and I collaborated together to write a SPA grant. In partnership with the organization, CIASPE, we started a four session gardening course to share the  biointensive gardening method – a method that produces more in less space, uses less water, and takes care to regenerate the soil. It is a method that will allow the women to seguir adelante.

Since the first and most important step in starting a biointensive garden is the elaboration of a compost pile, a large part of Session 1 was dedicated to compost. As humans, what we put inside of us is reflected on the outside. Similarly the soil quality, or the nutrients that are available to the plant’s roots, is reflected in the leaves, stems, vigor of the plant, etc. Also, many of the plagues that we encounter in the garden are a symptom of the larger problem of poor soil quality. Rather than focusing on recipes to expel plagues, we must think about addressing the root of the problem, the poor soil quality. This can be treated with compost piles, or the production of nutrient-rich soil.

Compost Pile

One of the things that I love about the biointensive method is the focus on using what is available at hand. Surveying the land in each community, we used different materials for the “green” and “brown” matter in the compost piles. In Piedras Lisas, we used vines of a harvested chayote plant and elotes. In Capula, we used grass and straw. In El Sauz, we used recently harvested corn stalks and dried grass. Each pile was adapted to what the women had in their community.

Here are some fun facts about compost:

*Compost improves soil structure by breaking up clay and clods. It also bonds sandy soils together.

*Compost creates soil with a good organic matter content, which holds much more water  and thus preventing erosion and nutrient run-off.

*Compost dissolves soil minerals, making them available to plants.

*Compost allows us to recycles nutrients back into the soil that we have taken nutrients from.

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The next part of the day’s lesson was to seed in transplanting boxes. Most of the women were accustomed to seeding directly in the soil, so this was a very new concept to them. Stressing the importance of using what is already on hand, we used milk boxes as our almácigos. Seeding in almácigo has the benefit of using a lot less water. Instead of watering the whole garden bed, you only have to water the small box. Also, you are able to give the seeds the best soil possible (your compost soil) and since the boxes are easy to move, you can better protect the seedlings from extreme temperatures.

Session 1 ended with homework of course. Each woman was assigned to go home and repeat what we had done during the day: Compost piles, seed boxes. Let’s see if they are good students…

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Check out the biointensive gardening bible here.

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The cornfields are thirsty.  They are waiting for rain. The people are desperate. They need a break from the barren, dry land. They turn towards the heavens. They turn towards Tlaloc – he who makes things sprout. They plead for greenery; they plead for their Earth.

The rain begins to fall.
Falling falling falling.

The people now look down.
No more waiting waiting waiting

The soil soaks up the pellets
And drinks up the water
No more waiting waiting waiting

The brown turns to green
The seeds turn to flowers
The fields turn to corn
And the people turn to
Earth.

the twigster and her sister,

Josephine & Francesca

PS: Rainy season began in late May and is now coming to a close, which means that corn harvesting season is right around the corner. ¡Elotes!

Capula: Rain Capsules

Mirasol: Look at the Sun

El Sauz: Watercolors and a threatening sky

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I have struggled with the incongruous factors of wanting to grow vegetables, but not having a place to do it. For that reason, I began to look into urban gardening, and visiting such places as the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn, NY. When I saw the more than ample rooftop space in my apartment here in Huimilpan, México, I knew the time had finally arrived to experiment with rooftop farming, or more specifically, container gardening. Over the past few months, I have found that it is indeed possible to grow a significant amount of food in containers and my roof is transforming from a concrete wasteland to my lush Eden of edibles. Ok, I haven’t quite reached Paradise yet, but I do have fresh lettuce, cilantro, rosemary, arugula, swiss chard, lavender, dill, basil, and baby tomato plants. I have definitely come a long way from where I first started.

The same principles of the biointensive gardening method in earth gardening can be applied in container gardening. That is to say, that the association of the crops is also important in the containers and companion planting can help plants to fight and keep away plagues and even improve the plants’ flavor.  Check out examples of said “companions” here. You also want to add the flowers not only for the aesthetics but also to attract pollinators. This little garden is helping me to produce organic and locally adapted seeds to share with community members, helping me to clear my mind, and helping me to avoid drinking Coca-Cola for Breakfast.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: The little pup’s name is Canela or Cinnamon. I found her abandoned about a month ago, and took her in with the intention of finding her a good home. We haven’t had much luck yet, but still have hope. Isn’t she adorable?

PPS: Worm compost is also great to have on the rooftop or urban garden. Those worms work hard turning your kitchen waste into great humus for your seedlings.

Rooftop Garden

Lettuce, Arugula, and a Street Dog named Canela

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When I am in the big city of Querétaro, and stop in the Peace Corps office, the first thing I do is head to the metal mailbox and frantically check for letters and care packages. I often leave empty-handed cursing my family and friends and crossing some names off of the guest list for my self-thrown welcome home party. So this week, I walked into the Volunteer Lounge reminding myself not to confuse the usual stack of bank notices for handwritten greetings from the homeland. But, my stubborn hope glanced over to the mailbox, and spotted a box jutting out. Exhilaration peaked.  Dropping everything, I ran over to find that a high school in Missouri sent me a care package. I ripped open the box to find Dove dark chocolates, Burt’s Bees face wash, Kashi cereal, granola bites. Heaven. It didn’t take long for the other Peace Corps volunteers to surround me, ready to pounce on the coveted American goods. It’s an unwritten rule to share, so I did. Begrudgingly.

While contently snacking on my salvaged personal stock of creamy, rich, decadent dark chocolate, I began to read the letter from the teacher, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Honduras.  One paragraph in, and I found her words touching my soul – almost as much as the chocolate. It is true that there is no bond like that between Peace Corps volunteers; it is a bond of frustration, hope, mishaps, and adventure. I think it might even beat that fraternity bond those bros brag about. This girl got me, and we had only met one time before in the lovely St. Louis, Missouri when I was in the middle of my Peace Corps application process and asking her just what the hell the Peace Corps was about. Life is beautiful sometimes.

Here are some points we both agreed upon…

The SHOW: I live in small community of about 2,000 people so more often than not, the people I work with are the people I see at the taco stand, at the flower shop, at the market, in the plaza, etc. For that reason it is tricky to go to roll out of bed to buy some fresh mangoes and not have at least 5 people take note that you have not yet brushed either your teeth or your hair. So, us Peace Corps volunteers often need some alone time, free of worry about the show us gringos are putting on for the Mexicans or the host country. This, inevitably, brings on the guilt.

The GUILT: Combine a long day of speaking in language that is not your own, being culturally sensitive, and trying to follow plans that change upon the hour, and you too would find it is necessary to sneak into the house and read a book in English alone. While you may finally have your coveted alone time, the words on the page of your book cannot and will not diffuse the nagging in your mind to go out to the plaza, meet up with some friends in town, or go to that carne asada. You should be integrating into your community!  You are a bad Peace Corps volunteer, just awful, I mean really.

The ISOLATION: Since you have been indulging yourself in some alone time, you feel a bit disconnected from your town. Now you are having a bad day, and all you want to do is call someone from home. There have been times when I have done this, to get it out, to vent a bit. After about five minutes, I realize that the person on the other side of the phone line has no idea what I am talking about. The trials and errors of Peace Corps are hard enough for me to explain to myself, how am I going to explain rural Mexico to my friend working on the 23rd floor of a building in Midtown Manhattan.

The 2 LIVES: This gap in personal understanding between myself and friends and family leads to the panic that I am living in a completely different world, and life at home is moving on without me. Which life is the real one? – my Mexican life? my American life? Can they be combined? Who am I and what the hell am I doing with my life?

The MOOD SWINGS: That same day that you may be having a nervous breakdown about your personal direction and the person you have become/are, may be the same day that you have the best moments of your Peace Corps service. It has happened before that I am on the brink of tears at 9:00 AM, and by 5 PM I could not imagine my life if I did not have this experience in Mexico. The women in the Mexican campo can change your attitude with some homemade tortillas, and an hour chatting about their gardens and what they harvested to cook today’s comida.

Now you can see why us Peace Corps volunteers really, really love the care packages and the words of inspiration from home. I send a big thank you to the students of Maplewood Richmond Heights High School in Missouri and all my friends and family for taking the time to think of me, write me beautiful cards, send me Orion magazines, Thai noodles, and all the other reminders of home.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: If you have friends or family in the Peace Corps, send them a letter or a care package. I promise you, it will make their month. I know this one did.

PPS: I connected with this high school through the Peace Corps World Wise Schools.

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Good Day in the Peace Corps: Working with students at a local high school on a compost pile

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Good Day in the Peace Corps: Seeing the growth in a nopal garden

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