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Posts Tagged ‘biointensive gardening’

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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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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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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There is only so much reading and learning about the sustainable food movement you can do before you start growing your own vegetables and begin to break reliance on others for personal nutrition. I’ve wwoofed working on organic farms in upstate New York and New Orleans, I’ve attended courses about the permaculture and biointensive farming methods, and have a mind satiated with information. But what purpose does information serve if you don’t put it to use? Now it is time for me to get my hands dirty, get some seeds germinating, and have a patch of land that I can call my own and care for.

Due to a lack of literal land, my roof in my Mexican home has always been the place I go to find some silence, and roast in the hot sun. And now, my roof will also be the place I can find some fresh arugula and comforting greenery in this desert landscape. The roof allows my veggies to receive the recommended dosage of 5 to 8 hours of sun daily, and I won’t have to travel too far to give the garden the daily care it needs. The idea to start my own rooftop garden has been taking root for the past few months, so I was constantly thinking of ways I can make it work with the available resources. After I got my worm compost started, my next goal became to germinate seeds.

Rather than buying anything, I looked for things around the house to reuse as small planting boxes. I began to set aside plastic cookie trays and take-out containers, milk cartons, and even toilet paper rolls. I also began to collect organic seeds, harvested from the local environment from women in the communities and local Mexican organizations dedicated to the sustainable food movement, such as CIASPE and na ya’ax. Because these seeds are local, they have evolved to be better adapted to the environment here in Querétaro. One of the many benefits to seed diversity.

In addition to the start of becoming autonomous in my alimentation, I am also beginning my march in the Organic Food Revolution. A Revolution dedicated to helping rejuvenate the land we have stripped, and empowering people once again to grow their own food and having the right to a healthy, chemical-free diet. A Revolution that I can support and truly believe in.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: The rooftop garden will enable me to serve as an example and share the information you only find by doing. I’m working with community members of Huimilpan to start their own gardens, grow their own food, eat healthier, and save money in the process.

PPS: Happy Earth Day!

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Rooftop Garden

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