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Archive for the ‘Plants’ Category

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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I am working with a nonprofit in Mexico that is joined with the Mexican government, and then joined with the DIF of Huimilpan. Complicated for me to understand, I can imagine how you feel. Anyway we are working on a 10-month project to implement 160 family gardens in the communities of Huimilpan. In order to kick start this whole project, the organization, na ya’ax, held a training/application weekend, during which, a group of 50 of us learned about biointensive gardening, composting, and the social impacts of this type of work. Everyday, we completed a test in order for the organization to weed out potential applicants in search of the elected trainers for each municipality.

With all that out of the way, now we are in the process of getting out to the communities, explaining the benefits of the family garden, and signing up interested campesinos. Presenting the idea and the project to community members is admittedly a challenge. However my passion and faith in people regaining ownership and the right to produce their own food is my driving force. You see, in these smaller towns, they only have access to the small “corner store.” And what is in these corner stores? Of course all types of soft drinks, potato chips, cookies – everything that has expiration dates at least 5 years into the future. Much like the food deserts of the US.

No, there are not any fresh veggies. In order to get vegetables, the women have to walk into Huimilpan, the municipality’s center, take a taxi, or their own car if they have one. Unfortunately, you can’t stock up on veggies, they spoil. So these communities, most of which have moderate or high levels of marginalization, don’t view many benefits in buying vegetables. They view it as a waste of time, a waste of money. From their perspectives, I’d agree, but there is hope in this initiative. The motive of this project is to make the vegetables accessible to the community members. So accessible, that they would only need to step out to their patio for some fresh cilantro and tomatoes right off the vine to make their salsa.

Each house would have their own vegetable beds, with compost to provide the nutrient-rich soil for these beds. The community members will receive free training, and free seeds to get them started. The community members will be encouraged to look around for available resources in order to start the garden. There will be not be any input costs other than open-mindedness, creativity, and getting their hands dirty. At the end of the day, they will have an array of fresh, organic vegetables, grown without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and black water.

If only it was that easy. There are many factors that can affect the success of this project. Such factors as serious as a lack of water to water the gardens, a lack of the green materials needed to start compost (hopefully the approaching rainy season can help with this), and most importantly, a lack of morale and buy-in. The Mexican government itself will admit that it has played a role in making the people accustomed to putting their hands out, waiting for help, waiting for money. For example, the DIF is also starting a program, Bécate,  in which the people will receive training for free on such topics as carpentry and baking. Great deal, huh, free classes? It gets better, they people get paid to attend the classes.

So when I come along and say, “we are going to start family gardens!” The first question I am asked is, “Well, what do we get out of it?” My response of training, seeds, knowledge, empowerment and fresh vegetables usually doesn’t elicit an enthused reaction. Some people will flat out just leave the meeting upon hearing that news. But those who remain, yes those who remain until the very end, signing their names on the attendance sheet, asking me questions, yes those are the hope. Those are the ones who will begin to change their fellow community members’ opinions about the benefits of the family garden, those are the ones who will feed their children a snack of celery rather than papas fritas. Those are the ones that I will be holding onto.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Check out my rant about nutrition in Mexico.

The Start of Compost in Capula. We asked a local flower shop for the scraps they didn't want in order to provide the needed "green material."

The Start of Compost in Capula. We asked a local flower shop for the scraps they didn’t want in order to provide the needed “green material.”

A Sunset Caught on the Way Back from a Meeting in a Community

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So I never had seemed to get around to finding an efficient way to top off the worm compost buckets. The plastic lid didn’t let it breathe, hard mesh is not easy to work with, and I ran out of creative alternatives. Since the lid was on and off every other evening (an experiment of sorts), it didn’t take long for those pesky little fruit flies to arrive, much to my annoyance.

Now each time I added more veggie scraps to the compost, I had to slowly lift the lid and prep myself to be swarmed by the fruit flies. I read about putting some wine in a jar to lure the fruit flies into a drunken death. I tried that. Fail. I read about offering the frit flies some apple cider vinegar as well. I tried that. Fail. So, on one windy day, I decided to bring the fruit flies onto the roof and wait for the swift desert wind to carry them away.

They decided to just go ahead and hunker down in the buckets instead. They were cozy. They had found a new home, and they liked it. One week led to another, and the fruit fries remained banished to the roof. I bought some soft mesh to top off the buckets, but if I added that now, wouldn’t I just be encapsulating the already large population of fruit flies into the bucket? What to do, what to do? I began to pack for my week of training in Querétaro, and hoped that some of the other Environmental Education volunteers would have some ideas.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Check out the other posts that brought me to this point. Worm Compost: Part IWorm Compost Part II.

PPS: I’m not giving up! I’m just experimenting, finding what works, what doesn’t.

Worm Compost

A potential new plan in the works: The women in the community of Capula have these fully-functional worm compost systems in large plastic boxes, and I just purchased one to see where it leads me. More surface area = better aeration?

Worm Juice Collection

They put the worm compost box on a slant to collect the worm juice that pools on the lid.

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When I first arrived at the Cultural Center at Rincón, the first thing that caught my eye was this ghost of a greenhouse in the Center’s garden area. It seemed as though it was just waiting for someone to come and revitalize it, love it, and fill it with all sorts of greens. Naturally, I thought this person was yours truly. I couldn’t get this greenhouse out of my mind for the following weeks. How perfect, I thought, I can work with the older people of the cultural center to plant and care for the greenhouse while providing them with a fun outdoor activity, while also providing the Center’s kitchen with fresh and organic veggies. Peace Corps project heaven!

Greenhouse

So I started asking around. Why was the greenhouse abandoned? Why was the plastic cover all ripped up? What was the story of this greenhouse? In order to learn more about the greenhouse and the community of Rincón, I started to volunteer at the Center every Tuesday, cooking with the women and talking with the abuelitos. While cutting up some nopales, I started to learn more and more. The greenhouse had been an initiative of the DIF a few months back. They built the greenhouse with the same intention that I would have, to supply fresh veggies to the Center while cutting some costs since they provide comida for about 50+ people twice a week.

The reason it was abandoned. Well, the young kids of the community destroyed the greenhouse, not once, but twice. Disheartened, the DIF decided to give up on the project. It wasn’t going to get anywhere, they decided. I thought differently, I decided that I would build my way up to the greenhouse. First, I would gain the trust of the abuelitos, next I would start a small herb garden with them, and finally, if all went well, we would get started on the greenhouse. Tired of looking at the waste strewn across the greenhouse’s soil, and thinking of all the chemicals leaking into the sustainer of future organic veggies, my first order of business was to clean up the greenhouse, to send a message that this greenhouse was ready, bueno, or about to be.

The Clean-up

The greenhouse was littered with plastic bottles because once the project was abandoned; the Center began to store the plastic bottles it collected for resale in the greenhouse. Literally hundreds of plastic bottles littered the floor. And so, I got to work. Bottle after bottle was disentwined from the captive roots of the grass, and placed in a bag, ready to be reused and recycled. With the clean-up out of the way, I asked the Director of the Center to follow-up with the collection of the bottles, so they wouldn’t continue to decorate the fence line of the greenhouse.

After

As it sometimes goes with Peace Corps service I was pulled in a million different directions for a few weeks after the big greenhouse clean-up and was unable to work at the Center for two Tuesdays in a row. This past Tuesday, finally, I had arranged my schedule to get back to the Center with the hopes of talking to the abuelitos about the following week’s workshop to plants some seeds so the herb garden would be ready for the approaching spring. Cilantro, basil, rosemary, chamomile maybe even some swiss chard and other lettuces. All the seeds were collected and ready to go. I had even attended a urban gardening course this past Saturday to brush up on some planting details.

Like every Tuesday, I rolled up to the Center on my bicycle, excited and ready to get the day started. However instead of finding the “after” picture of the greenhouse, I found the same greenhouse that I had first met a few months back – a sad greenhouse with plastic bottles strewn all over the floor. Since one cannot often control first reactions, a hot anger rushed up through my entire body. I felt my muscles tense up, and in order to expel the negative energy from my body, my mind kept pressuring me to let it all out and just scream. Scream because I had already invested time and energy into planning this project. Scream because sometimes with every step forward in Peace Corps service, I later find myself two steps back. Scream because sometimes the bad intentions can and do defeat those that are good. A few minutes of pacing later, I had calmed down, and went into the kitchen to forget about the greenhouse for a little and begin to prepare the day’s meal…

Once more, an abandoned greenhouse.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Sometimes the bad moments make the good moments in Mexico that much richer.

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day! I saw this spiky heart-shaped nopal cactus pad on a hike in San Luis de la Paz, Guanajuato, and couldn’t resist snapping a picture of it to share with you all for Valentine’s Day. Here in Mexico, this day isn’t just for lovers. It is also a day to celebrate friendships, and people in general. No need for a novio or a novia (boyfriend or girlfriend), share some chocolates with a best friend or gift a rose to a complete stranger. Why? Well, because love is in the air…

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: My plans for Valentine’s Day? I will be gifting myself with some freshly baked nutella-filled donuts using this recipe I found yesterday on Foodgawker.com.

PPS: Check out where the twigster was last Valentine’s Day here.

PPS: The nopal cactus is also found in the desert regions of the US. Check out some cacti I came across while traveling in Arizona last year here.

A Prickly Heart.

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