Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Plants’ Category

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Guiltily, I have never had my own compost system. I have always lived in apartments with roommates and family members who were never too keen on the idea. However, now that I have my wonderful apartment in Mexico, one of my first priorities is to get a red-worm compost system started and see how it all works. I live in an apartment in the town center of Huimilpan, so although I escaped the concrete jungle of New York City, I still don’t have a green patch to call my own. And so, with the help of Nicole Salgado, a friend of the Peace Corps here in Mexico, I am constructing a compost system for city/apartment dwellers.

The basic concept is a system of two stacked buckets. The stacked bucket will have holes in the bottom to allow the worm liquid or “worm juice” to escape into the second bucket. This liquid can be used for compost tea or as a natural pest repellent.  The stacked bucket will also house the worms, bedding, and of course the food and resulting worm castings.

Here are the steps I have taken thus far:

1. I purchased two large paint bucket-type containers.

2. I drilled many small holes into one of the buckets

3. I asked a community member for a gift of some worms, which I will receive tomorrow.

The twigster,

Josephine

PS: I will keep posting as more developments arise and I have the finished product. UPDATE Worm Compost: Part II

PPS: Check out this article about Worm Compost on a huge scale in a US airport.

Worm compost bucket with small holes drilled in

Read Full Post »

Well hello you watery delight. Oh, and you too. Well look at you all with your magnificent colors. I might just have to take some photographs, and study your existence. Don’t mind me, I just want to propagate you have a roof full of your friends soon.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Anyone with knowledge on how to care for these guys, share please.

Rosettes

Image

Image

Image

Image

Read Full Post »

In Manhattan, you are able to find all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and meat – organic, semi-organic, biodynamic, processed, injected with hormones – you name it, you got it. There are options, endless options that cater to the environmentalists, semi-environmentalists, the green-washed and those looking for the best deal. With all these options, I naturally grew to be spoiled. I became accustomed to pushing my squeaking shopping cart amidst the old ladies at the market, right into the organic produce aisle. “Oh, they have organic apples this week, well hold on, before I can pick these apples, let me see where they are sourced from – from New York.  Local and organic. Check. Check.”

Even better, when I was working on Threshold Farm, one of my beloved family members would drive up to the Hudson Valley to pick me up and drag me back to the concrete jungle periodically. Whenever they showed up to the farm, donning business suits or designer flats in typical NYC fashion, I seized the opportunity to load up on fresh, organic, biodynamic, grown-with-love veggies that I had picked that same morning. Consciously choosing my food was easy, and accessible – a part of the culture, even a part of the latest fashion. Boy was I thrown for a loop when control was taken away, options diminished and I found myself in a food desert.

During my Peace Corps training I lived with a host family in the Historical Center of Querétaro in México. The Peace Corps contract with the host families puts forth that the families provide trainees with all meals. Now you have a general discussion when you first meet the host families about your diet preferences, but like I said, this is when you first meet the families – your first day off the plane from the US. You can imagine that you don’t want to start listing all these intricacies in your diet that you want realized, and be that person. Tack on your lack of Spanish, your anxiety, and your desperate desire for integration. Yea, that conversation didn’t even have a glimmer of hope of going far for any of us trainees.

And so, for three months you are to eat whatever is put it in front you. Meat, tortillas, some more meat, beans, and quesadillas of course. Then you got your occasional dinner of pig skin in chili. Oh, and you can forget about being a vegetarian here, or a once in a blue moon meat eater as I was. Meat is the norm, the rule, the option. Anything green on your plate, you meet with overwhelming delight. You exclaim in glee when presented with a plateful of shredded Iceberg-type lettuce, that a few months before, you quickly would have pushed aside. The watery lettuce is such a rarity that it is worth the risk of intestinal trouble later on in the evening. Thus, as three months of training quickly slipped away, I went from an occasional, let me treat myself to an organic grass-fed burger girl, to a full-fledged carnivore. To add insult to injury, I had no idea where my meat was coming from.

Now, Mexicans also have a love affair with sugar. When I first noticed the poor quality of many Mexicans’ teeth, I thought it was the water. As a result, I decided, obsessively, that I was only going to rinse my mouth with bottled water when brushing my teeth, an expensive endeavor, but for someone fanatical about dental hygiene, totally worth it. A few more days of observations brought me to conclude that I was throwing money down the sink. It was obvious that Mexicans’ overwhelming consumption of sugar – snacks and soda – was to blame for the absence of any Orbit smiles.  Packaged, processed snacks of the likes of Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, are consumed without an afterthought. Then come the chips of every size, shape, and artificial flavor. And what do we have to wash it all down? Not my teeth brushing bottled water. No, it’s Coca-Cola, and you better believe it’s on the table with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

At first, I got suckered into the snacking world that is Mexico. I ate my fair share of cookies and even chips. I’m going to blame it on the need for integration and the fear of turning down food for the concern of being rude. It’s more probable that it’s just plain hard to resist these snacks sometimes, especially when everyone around you is eating them and your choices are chips or a banana (keep in mind that you probably had a banana every day that week). Luckily my short-lived snacking habit was easier to kick than the meat-eating custom. I just took to carrying a banana with me so I always have the option to say, thank you, but I have this great banana. Now the chips aren’t even an option. Hey, it works.

Surely, you must be thinking, this diet has to have an affect on Mexicans’ health and lifestyle. Indeed, it does. For starters, Mexico has beaten the US for the grand title of the world’s fattest country.  Who ever thought that was possible? This isn’t my point though. My point here is, God, how easy it is to be a conscious food consumer when you have options! I can laugh at myself with how spoiled I was in Manhattan – where there is more education and more emphasis placed on a healthy diet. Since I have arrived in Mexico for my Peace Corps service, consciously choosing my food has been far from easy. I have met roadblock after roadblock, and have been feeling like I have been the worst environmentally as I ever have been in my life.

Sustainable food production and consumption, along with the promotion of a healthy diet is my passion, and now my passion has been put to the test.  I need to find a way to stick to my morals and convictions, while learning about and navigating the hardships people face to do the same when the options just don’t exist. During the next few months, as I become more adjusted to Huimilpan, my home for the next few years, I hope to start unraveling the many challenges of maintaining a healthy diet while living in rural Mexico. Inspiration has hit as well. I’ve got a suspicion that  my project here will focus on providing healthier options to the Mexicans that are sure to become my friends, my peers, and my co-workers. In the meantime, I will continue to turn down the offer of Coca-Cola to wash down my eggs and toast.

* This post is based on my own observations of food consumption in Mexico. Mexico is a huge country, and I’m sure there are many different eating habits that exist within it. Please don’t take my experience as a generalization of Mexico.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: I hope you all had a great Turkey Day! I was thinking of the Macy’s Day Parade while making goody bags to pass out to the children of Huimilpan this Christmas season. Hopefully this post won’t make you feel too guilty about how much you ate yesterday.

Image

Image

Read Full Post »

The cool and crisp morning air awakens my senses to all that surrounds me. While dodging kids on their way to school with their breakfast churros in hand, I catch glimpses of the city’s past. Facades of buildings chipping. Ornate wooden doors. Mexican flags waving proudly in the breeze. Querétaro, a city of living history, is full of wonder at every turn. Spanish colonial churches, skinny stone sidewalks, and tiendas selling gorditas, charm residents and visitors alike. And so, I walk. Soaking in the city, I am in a trance-like state for forty minutes, on my way to prepare for what is in store for the next two years. Within what seems like only minutes, I find myself in front of the Peace Corps office, hardly ready to start another eight hour day of training. As the clock strikes 8:30, there I stand, left contemplating my fortune to experience this gem of a city.

the twigster,

Josefina

PS: I am always really tempted to buy a churro from the street, but reconsider, wondering if churros are the best start to the day.  Tempting though, huh?

Image

Image

Read Full Post »

Four years in New Orleans meant many nights parading around the humid town with a face full of glitter and homemade toile skirts. Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Second Line parades, Halloween- there was always an opportunity to let loose, to enjoy and celebrate life within the unique New Orleans culture. Friends or strangers, it never mattered. Everyone was happy and dancing while complimenting one another’s homemade costumes. This was one of my favorite things about life in NOLA, the self-proclaimed right to dance in the streets and sport purple and green hair, if only for the night.

After Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations this past weekend, I know I have found myself in another place with people that know how to appreciate and savor this life. Thursday night, with a tip from staff at the Peace Corps, I walked over to El Templo de Santa Cruz with some other Peace Corps volunteers. In celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day, hundreds of people gather in this square in Querétaro in order to dance the Concheros for two full days, non-stop. A dance with indigenous roots, it has been performed since the Spanish Colonial times blending Catholic symbolism and ancient ritual.

When I arrived to the Plaza, I was in the middle of a sea of feathers. People surrounded me with costumes of all colors, dazzling spectators with costumes made of sequins, beads, gold, and silver. Feather headdresses adorned the dancers’ heads, extending a meter in each direction. Organized in a group, dancers rattled the instruments on their ankles, dancing for hours at a time. They filled the air with music coming from conch shells, drums, and string instruments. All the while, I stood there awestruck, attempting to drink in all the sites and process all that I was seeing. With incense smoke, floating into the air, I couldn’t help but float away myself. Wow, I thought. I live here now. ¡Qué suerte! ¡Viva México!

the twigster,

Josefina

PS: There is a tradition to crack cascarones on friends for good luck and shower them with confetti. Check out some instructions to make them here. They could be great for your next celebration!

El GRITO (The Cry for Independence)

¡Mexicanos!

¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria!

¡Víva Hidalgo!

¡Viva Morelos!

¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!

¡Viva Allende!

¡Vivan Aldama y Matamoros!

¡Viva la independencia nacional!

¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!

 

Read Full Post »

They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them. Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine. Four who do not belong here but are here. Four raggedy excuses planted by the city. From our room we can hear them, but Nenny just sleeps and does not appreciate these things.

Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep.

Let one forget this reason for being, they’d all droop like tulips in a glass, each with their arms around the other. Keep, keep, keep, trees say when I sleep. They teach.

When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees. When there is nothing left to look at on this street. Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be.

– Sandra Cisneros, excerpt from The House on Mango Street 

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: The trees in the sidewalk can just as well be the trees in the forest. Let your mind escape itself.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: