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Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’

During the last two months of my Peace Corps service, I began to collaborate with CIASPE on a rooftop garden in a day-care center (t.e.p.e). The students in the Center are at risk of childhood labor and/or at risk of living and working on the street. The school garden was to serve as a way to connect the children with nature, learn a useful set of skills, and offer a break from the regular classroom routine. Sandra, my co-worker, and I were to facilitate sessions with 3 different age groups ranging from kindergarten to high school. The planning of each session was complex, as each age group was very distinct, but the planned activity for each day was to be the same.

We began with the base – soil and composting. The high school boys weren’t too happy about using a shovel or getting dirty. The middle school kids really liked soil, so much so that they found it fun to throw it at classmates. The kindergarten students were content simply running their hands through the soil. After Day 1, a day full of trying to maintain control, attention, and in-tact fingers, Sandra and I went back to CIASPE exhausted. We began to pick apart the session to see what went right, what went wrong, and how we could move past incidents like “soil in the face of a friend” and the resultant hysterics. We knew we had to change our approach and come to an agreement with the students about appropriate guidelines. That’s when Guideline 1 was created: No throwing soil at oneself or another student.

With each session, the list of guidelines grew. We utilized guidelines rather than rules to avoid becoming potentates. We wanted to create an environment in which the students had control over one another, the sessions, and the activities. After all, it was their garden. Sandra and I were not going to water it daily. They were. We were not going to decide what was planted. They were. We knew how important it is that the participants’ have a sense of ownership of the garden, because experience has shown that school gardens are everyone’s when there are pretty butterfly visitors, but when it comes time to weed it is no one’s. We needed the students to be excited and more importantly, invested.

The chaos boiled down. That was until they found a frog. That session was a ruckus. But instead of fighting it, Sandra and I abandoned seeding to learn more about frogs’ habitat and what they need to survive. So, things were going along pretty swimmingly and the rooftop garden was growing. We had some beets ready to harvest, some chard, and the herbs were doing great with Queretaro’s full sun. Many students were still learning the names of many of the veggies, so we wanted to keep the excitement growing and actually have them taste the fruits of their labor. To experience earthy beets, distinguish chard from lettuce, and bite into a crisp carrot is to fall in love with a garden. To give the students that experience, we designed a cooking class.

We were scared, yes. Little kids with knives. Little kids with blenders. Older kids with knives. Older kids with blenders. But we threw caution to the wind, and the result was pure beauty. The kids, of all levels, were the most behaved they have ever been. We chopped up some beets, and prepared them with tajín and lime – they wanted to lick the plate! We prepared water with swiss chard, lime, basil, and chia – they held out their cups for more. We made a big salad with lettuce, carrots, beets, onion, amaranth, and pear tomatoes – they began planning to seed more carrots. As a foodie, I was elated to watch their excitement as they bit into the beet and commented to one another, “this tastes different than the one my mom buys,” and “we need to plant more of these.”

As Sandra and I discussed the session, we realized that we didn’t need any new guidelines that day. All along, we just had to give them some green juice.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: I am now a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer back in NYC planning for the next adventure. Stay tuned!

Watering the Garden

Can't Get Enough of those BEETS!

Future Foodies!

Future Foodies!

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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,

Josephine

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

A Disguise

Street Dogs?

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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
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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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,

Josephine

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.

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I finally found the happy medium for my worm compost with just a few minor adjustments:

Juice. I put the container on a slope, which was easily achieved with some concrete bricks that were around the house. Now the slope is directing all of the valuable worm juice right into the bowl. I can easily add this juice to the watering can, and give my veggies an extra boost of nutrients.

Shade. Next, I covered the box in order to water the compost less frequently. Also, I put some leaves on top of the compost to help maintain humidity, just like in nature.

Flies. In order to keep away the flies, I  add a bit of soil on top of recently added food scraps.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Check out the failures of worm compost that brought me here: Worm Compost: Part I, Part II, Part III.

PS: The second photo is from a Rancho Acuario. The new home of Benny, the kitty, and also a home to many great eco-technologies and organic veggies.

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The idea is to add food in sections so the worms follow the food through the maze. Once they make it to the end, you have your rich humus.

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No two houses are the same. There are those built mainly out of cinderblock and concrete, fortresses in the midst of the campo. There are those made with the beautiful natural stones that are also used to establish the winding fences to contain their roaming cows. There are those that sprawl, growing as the years come and go, growing with the family, growing with money availability. There are those built in the picturesque US style, spurting up in Mexico upon migrants’ return to their hometown. One thing is a constant, however, in these homes, you will always find a kitchen with a fresh stack of warm tortillas and  some chickens roaming on the property, picking at some corn kernels.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Check out how to build a cob house, a natural and environmentally friendly alternative to home construction.

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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

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