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Archive for the ‘Plants’ 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

macetadeconcretoflor

Concrete flower pot

 

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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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            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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