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,


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

Living the Dream

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,


PS: More to come soon…

Bio-intensive Garden Beds

Pup at Work

That Little Fluff

It was a rainy and chilly day in Huimilpan. The sky was overcast and that seemingly omnipresent sun was nowhere to be found. I was working from home that day, an excuse to stay in sweatpants and a flannel shirt. Hunger, boredom or procrastination led me to the kitchen in search of something edible. Moving around boxes of pasta and bags of uncooked beans, I knew I was down to the dregs of my kitchen supply. I had to leave the house. The horror.

I made it to the market without any run-ins. As much as I rock it,  grunge still hasn’t been accepted as a look here in Huimilpan. I was more than halfway back to my house with a full canvas bag of veggies on my shoulder when I spotted a small black fluff ball peaking up at me from under a truck. Naturally, I stopped. I’m cold, so she must be cold, I sympathized. I  got down on the stone sidewalk, and started calling to the little fluff. She came, I scooped.

Oh, I was just so excited. I had a new little friend. I rushed home while Fluff made herself cozy on my arm. I pulled out the remaining dog food from Canela’s stay and anticipated the chow down. Fluff casually walked over to the bowl, sniffed the croquettes, and came back to sit on my lap. Weird. We moved on to the bath. I took out the flea soap and the comb and got to work. Only one flea. Weird.

The little Fluff was so cold, so I decided to blow-dry her. She sat on my lap content as could be as I styled her curly black hair. She let me brush her paws. She let me hold her paws and look at her nails – her short, clipped nails. In that moment I realized exactly what I had done. I stole a dog. I finished her ‘do and did the only thing I could do. I took her right back to where I found her, dropped her off, and hoped her owners wouldn’t be confused by their dog’s spa day. Goodbye Fluff.

the twigster,


PS: I am going home for Christmas this year and I get to play with MY dog!

A Disguise

Street Dogs?

Day of the Dead

This Mexican culture that mocks death and celebrates it at the same has inspired me to write the following calavera. Calaveras are full of subtle or not so subtle wisecracks that criticize the living.  With that said,  please don’t take my poem too seriously…

In dedication to the dedicated Peace Corps Volunteer

Here lies a good Peace Corps Volunteer,
Who died of grief
From being stood up at community meetings,
Left alone at each meeting;
She has died of a defeat
Received a blow too big
And such was her foolishness
That she was already in the tomb,
Turned into skull and bones
And waiting for community members
to join for the meeting
of the dead.

the twigster,


PS: Today was the last bio-intensive garden lesson in the communities. People are growing veggies!

Death by Diabetes: Dedicated To Those Who Loved Their Sugar

From Death to Compost

From Death to Compost: Dedicated to Those Who Have Fought For the Natural World

Diamond Encrusted: Dedicated to Those Who Die in Vain

Diamond Encrusted: Dedicated to Those Who Have Died in Vain

Hand in Hand: Dedicated to Those Who Have Died of a Broken Heart

Hand in Hand: Dedicated to Those Who Have Died of a Broken Heart

Cempasúchil: Dedicated to Those Who Have Not Given Up on Life and Her Beauty

Cempasúchil: Dedicated to Those Who Have Not Given Up on Life and Her Beauty

The women are not very accustomed to eating their greens. Mexicans, in general, are not very accustomed to eating their greens. Part of the course, therefore, is to teach the women how to eat healthier, better utilize what they have in their gardens, and save money in the meantime. Since women have power over what is put on the table in these communities, we are encouraging the women to make smart choices in what they are feeding their children – start now in the fight against obesity and diabetes. Diabetes is the number one killer in Mexico, and Mexico is the most obese nation in the world. Yes, we are more than justified in suggesting these changes.

CIASPE shared very simple recipes with the women about how to make different kinds of milks and green waters. The women showed great interest during the course, commenting about the deliciousness and manageability of the recipes. The hope is that this enthusiasm will translate to their gardens – they will be motivated to grow a wider variety of vegetables and herbs and that they see their garden as an asset rather than a burden. I have shared a few of CIASPE’s recipes with you below.

Milk with some nutrition

The Director of CIASPE making nutritious and wallet-friendly milks.

Take this into consideration…Humans are the only creatures on earth that consume milk from another animal.

Recommended use: indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, post-surgery
Characteristics: It has almost no saturated fat or choloresterol, but also does NOT contain protein.
It helps to regulate the intestines.
(In order to make 1 liter of milk, you need 1/2 cup of rice and 1 liter of water)
1) Soak the rice for four hours.
2) Liquefy the rice in blender.
3) Add water.

Recommended use: high cholesterol, cardiovascular problems, constipation, strengthens the nervous system
Characteristics: Rich in fiber and Vitamin B.
(In order to make 1 liter of milk, you need 6 tablespoons of uncooked oatmeal and 1 liter of water)
1) Soak the oats overnight.
2) Liquefy the oats with the soaking water in the blender.
3) Add water.
4) Add cinnamon for flavor. (Cinnamon also speeds up the metabolism).

The women are taking notes!

The women are taking notes!

I am very excited about sharing these water recipes with the women and I am so very enthusiastic that this will cut down on their Coca Cola consumption.

Ingredients: 1 liter of water, 1 handful of mint, 1 big cucumber diced
Recipe: Mix all the ingredients in a jar and leave in the refrigerator for 2 hours for all the flavors to come together.

Ingredients: 1 liter of water, 2 skinned cucumbers (without seeds, diced), 3/4 cup of lime juice, 1/3 cup of sugar (or substitute with honey)
1) Put all of the ingredients in the blender.
2) Drain the water using a colander.

* Parsley and lime (Parsley is packed with vitamin C, so use it as an immune system boost.)
* Chard and lime
* Spinach and pineapple or guayaba
* Beet and lime
* Nopal, celery, and pineapple
* Celery and pineapple
* Basil, mint, lime and sugar

* When the recipe calls for the lime, put the entire lime in the blender. The majority of the vitamins are in the skin. ¡Ojo! Do not liquify the lime for a long time, or it will cause the water to taste bitter.

the twigster,

PS: I’d love to hear if you have any other great combinations for the waters.

PPS: Check out Biointensive Garening: Session 1 here.

A Different Future

A Different Future of Eating Habits

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.


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,


PS: Check out the biointensive gardening bible here.

Rainy Season

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

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

I Can Make Salsa

Today I paid close attention while Yolanda made salsa. You see, a few years back my friends and I decided to throw a party. A Tulane party. It might be my italian background, or just my love for food, but every time there is talk of a party, my mind jumps to the food planning. As a college student, my budget wasn’t large by any means so I planned on contributing salsa. Chips and dip. Party classic. I chopped at least 20 tomatoes, sprinkled in a bit of cilantro and red onion, and called it a masterpiece. I lovingly set out this large quantity of salsa, and awaited the praise.

My roommates hassled me about the salsa. I assured them that yes, everyone was going to eat it. And no, 5 bowls of salsa wasn’t overkill. The party ended. The salsa didn’t. Needless to say, whenever another party plan came up, I was always mockingly asked if I would be making the famous Josephine salsa. As I said earlier, I paid very close attention to Yolanda today as she was making authentic, Mexican salsa. Today I have reached my one year mark working in the Peace Corps, México.  After a full year, I can tell you this much. My salsa will never be ridiculed again.

Here are the secrets..

– Put the tomatoes and a jalapeño(s) on the stovetop until the skin is a little charred

– Add the tomatoes,  jalapeño(s) half a clove of garlic, salt, and cilantro to the blender


the twigster,


PS: New Orleans, you are in my heart today and every day. 504.

PPS: Check out another volunteer’s reflection on her one year mark here in Mexico.

PhotoBooth helped me to capture some important moments over the year…

Adventure Beginning

Red Lips, Always.

My own place! … after living with two host families.

Hospital Visit: Food Poisoning. Early In-Service Training.

Hospital Visit: Food Poisoning. Early In-Service Training.

One of the friends I have met along the way.

One of the friends I have met along the way.

Within the first hour of your journey from Puebla through the hills of the Sierra Norte the environment has transitioned from stained graffiti buildings to endless emerald green valleys. The views and vibrant jewel tones are enough to discount the four hour journey, and keep your gaze fixed on the foggy bus window. As you wind and weave through the hills, you pass small town after small town. You see steam in the air from wood-burning stoves. You catch sight of women dressed in traditional, embroidered clothing tending to the stoves, and adding to a stack of warm tortillas. Handwritten signs posted on the casitas entice you to buy locally grown coffee, and allude to the hot cup of dark coffee that awaits you in town. As you continue, your stress evaporates into the clouds you seem to be joining.

The bus pulls into another pueblo. You have arrived. As you step onto the rain-weathered cobble streets, you soak in the romance of the quiet town, and the humidity of Cuetzalan warmly embraces you. You walk into town passing restaurants boasting regional dishes of pipián and mole poblano, and you fall deeper and deeper into a trance. You forget the day, the month, even the year. Following the winding roads of the town, you have indeed joined the clouds. You wonder if you will find your way out again. You are enchanted.

the twigster,


PS: Cuetzalan is known for beautiful waterfalls. I went in the middle of a tropical storm, and was unable to make it out there, but I hear they are absolutely breath-taking.




I broke my biggest promise to myself. I saw a little dehydrated puppy scurrying under a nearby bush to hide from people, and I scooped her up – I scooped her up, wrapped her in a shirt, and speedily walked  to the Huimilpan vet. She was thirsty, hungry, and FULL of fleas. She also had the cutest little chocolate nose I had ever seen.

She went home with me that night. She got a name. I got a new best friend. Canela, or Cinnamon, sweet and spicy at the same time. Her personality perfectly embodied in a cooking spice. Since I had broken one promise to myself, I knew I had to make another. I promised that I would avidly search for a home for her, just like I did with the street kitty, Benny.  I had no idea though that most Mexicans don’t want female dogs. It is not part of the culture to neuter the dogs, and since they don’t want one dog to multiply into six, they shy away from the females.

And so, the search began for Canela’s home. Three months full of numerous posts on Facebook dog adoption groups in Querétaro, calls to dog shelters, and talking up the little pup didn’t get me very far. Until one day, one very nice man, wanted a puppy, and Canela was just the girl.

the twigster,


PS: I told myself that a street animal will not come home with me at least for three months. I got attached to this little Cinnamon Bun.





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