Posts Tagged ‘Environmental education’

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.

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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

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The PAC Tour crew pulled up to Kartchner Caverns in Arizona and navigated the sea of asphalt in order to find the perfect shaded spot for our cruise boat of a vehicle. Once the awning was down, and bike racks were set out, Susan dismissed Parker and I from lunch duty and handed us two tickets for a tour of Kartchner Caverns. We ambled on over to meet the tour guide, an employee of the Arizona State Parks, and the rest of our group. The tour guide greeted us briefly and started to etch out the rules. No cell phones. No photography. No touching the formations. No backpacks. Great, I thought, all in the protection of the cave.

With that out of the way, our tour guide told us to load onto an extended golf cart. Considering the distance was equivalent to about three city blocks, I was puzzled, that we were driven to the cavern’s mouth. The entrance proceeded with a misty shower that glazed over us in an effort to prevent any lint or dead skin from escaping us and entering the caverns’ ecosystem. I was impressed. They really went through extra effort to preserve this cave. Finally, we were ready to enter.

The first thing I noticed was that walkways, wide concrete walkways, wound throughout the cave. As a group, we followed the tour guide down these twisting paths as she explained cavern formations by likening them to the types of food they resemble. Once we hit all major food groups, we took a seat for a show of a lifetime. Seated in an abyss of darkness, with the hit of a button, the tour guide transformed the cavern into a Vegas light show. Red, yellow, blue, and purple lights danced across a giant stalagmite as world music reverberated throughout the cave. I sat dumbfounded.  Nothing beats the finale, of an educational experience, I suppose.

The light of day made me question, was I just at Disney World or in a natural ecosystem?


With PAC Tour over, we got moving. An overnight train from Tucson brought us to Los Angeles, where another train then took us to Ventura, California. The ferry to Santa Cruz Island wasn’t until the following day so we took some time to load up a shopping cart of instant cous -cous, Uncle Ben’s rice, avocados, and French bread in preparation for our week of backcountry camping. Laden with our purchases, we headed over to the RV Park where we set up camp to carry out night with the whir of nearby freeway serenading us to sleep.

Bright and early the next morning, I indulged myself with a warm shower, knowing there wouldn’t be any showering for the next few days. Clean and ready to be dirtied, we made our way to the harbor to begin the final leg of our journey to the Channel Islands. Upon setting foot on the boat, I was reminded of my seasickness. Luckily, I wasn’t able to focus on that long since I was staring at a pod of orcas swimming and dancing in the water nearby. With a big dive down to the sea floor, and the distraction gone, I began reviewing all the important things in my pack. Toilet paper. Gas. Leatherwoman. Sleeping bag. Hot sauce. I was ready.

As prepared as we were with our gear, we hadn’t had much time to learn about the geography of the island, its history, or the campsite. We knew the basics. We knew we were hiking in our supply of water and well, hiking in. At the dock, we both strapped on our packs, grabbed a map, and began a steep ascent. Per usual, my pack was PACKED. I was hiking with probably 50 pounds on my bike, and mostly climbing. I allowed myself breaks, but it was an arduous hike to the campsite. Uphill.

Arrival to the campsite revealed that the hike was worth the panting. There wasn’t a soul in sight, except for the island foxes that visited daily. Once the morning fog rolled out, the sun burnt away the clouds, and my cup of tea was finished, we spent the days hiking around the island. Grabbing invasive fennel, we entertained ourselves with sporadic sword fights, as the blue scrub jay chirped around us.  At night, we fell asleep to the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashing and seals barking. The canopy of stars served as the perfect nightlight.


I offer these recent encounters with the natural world, to point out the difference between the two. The tour of the Caverns was pre-packaged. The tour was an hour, the speech was rehearsed, the path had to be followed. We didn’t need take off our sweaters to confront the issue of the temperature change upon entrance, because we had already been informed to shed layers before entering. My point here is that we were, simply put, led. I did not experience anything that the tour didn’t intend for me to experience and I wasn’t prompted to formulate any thoughts of my own about the cave, because I was told them.

Instead of a pre-packaged experience, my time in the Channel Islands was completely organic. I figured out for myself just how steep the climbs were up the sandstone rocks and how much the temperature drops at night without a cloud cover. I hiked my own trails and formulated my opinions about the beauty and destruction surrounding me while lying on a hill with the sun’s warmth on my face. This backpacking week was full of feelings, both sensory and mental, feelings which allow us to establish a connection to our experience.

Environmental education, like the tour of the caverns, has the ability to evoke these feelings I speak of.  The inducement of these feelings is a building block towards understanding and appreciating the natural world. Remember that time you played on the beach and spent the whole day digging in the sand to build that epic sandcastle? Feeling those grains of sand between your fingers is enough to make you want to protect that beach, to preserve that memory. So here is my call for people to experience the natural world, naturally. Don’t let the forests, the beach, the caves become Disney World – pre-packaged and devoid of real bonds. We are a part of the natural world too, experience what its like to be a part of it. For yourself.

The twigster,


PS: Made it to San Francisco!

PPS: I will put up pictures of the island foxes ASAP!

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