Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Querétaro’

The twigster has accompanied me through many life chapters, and I am happy to reopen the twigster after a recess to chronicle my newest adventure. The twigster has branched out. Today marks a week of the opening of Raíces (Roots), a home and garden store in Querétaro, Mexico. The store is in line with the same mission I started out with upon graduating college – bridging the gap between the human and natural worlds.

Raíces aspires to offer clients options to include some greenery and natural living into their homes, gardens, and lifestyles. We offer the obvious – plants, pots, terrariums – to achieve that goal, while also offering the less obvious – jewelry made from natural stones, solar dehydrators, all natural personal care items, and fair trade artesanal products. We pride ourselves on one of a kind pieces as  the majority of our products are made in Mexico, by local artisans and friends. Expect lots of traveling as I seek to find interesting artists and products for Raíces. More to come soon.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: With the city of Querétaro growing at this rate, Queretanos must maintain their bond to the natural world.

madera,florerodevidrio

Handblown glass vase, wood kitchenware

atrapasuenos

Dreamcatcher

macetadeconcretoflor

Concrete flower pot

 

Read Full Post »

The summer of 2014, the CIASPE, non-profit group, that I work with in Mexico became involved in a community garden project. Naturally, I was thrilled. Ever since my experience working on an urban farm in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, I have been looking for my next opportunity to work in the urban gardening movement. As cities continue to grow and people move farther and farther away from the original source of food production, urban gardens offer people access to fresh, healthy food while also reminding them that carrots do in fact have leaves. As a woman who grew up in New York City,  I can attest to little and limited access city kids have to get their hands in the dirt and encounter the creepy crawlers. Now Menchaca, Querétaro is not quite the same concrete jungle as Manhattan, but it does have an interesting story.

The neighborhood of Menchaca was once an ejido or a communally-owned parcel of land that resided outside of the grasp of the city. Querétaro has been experiencing huge growth these past few years and poco a poco this ejido has become part of the expanding city. (They are even constructing a train to connect Mexico City to Querétaro.) In Menchaca, many people built temporary housing, that later became permanent housing, in order to be close to the growing work opportunities in the city’s center. Since this neighborhood grew without any real planning, there are still lots of empty lots. The Mexican Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources saw Menchaca as a great site for a pilot community garden and helped the community to obtain the resources to get started.

When I first saw the land that was destined to be sprouting with veggies, I was skeptical but largely excited for its potential. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer and I began to draw up some plans. We considered where we would put the water tanks, the free area, and the garden beds. We had grander plans, of course, but we prioritized the available funding. Along with community members, we began to outline the garden beds. Each participant was to receive a bed size of about 1 meter by 5 meters. With the biointensive method of agriculture, this was plenty of space to get started. To put it in perspective, consider that 100 garlic plants can fit in one square meter.

Over the next few months, the CIASPE team went out to Menchaca to share our experiences with gardening. We stressed the importance of building up the soil, and our first task was to build compost piles. With each subsequent session, and resultant homework, the space began to transform. Doña Maria brought a small peach plant to the community garden. Women decided to border the garden’s fence with corn. Calendula flowers and its curly seeds offered spots of  orange among the beds. Children began running around in the communal “free space.” It was truly becoming a space that everyone could enjoy.

After one session, a Peace Corps volunteer, asked for some help to conduct some surveys that would help her move forward in her Master’s  work. Loving those one-on-one talks, I jumped right in to help. One of the questions, seemingly straightforward, really captured my attention. The diagnostic asked, “Where do you spend most of your time?” Now, most of the participants in the garden are women, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the answer of “in the household.” What surprised me more, was the overwhelming majority of these women shared the second largest portion of their time in the community garden. As we continued to talk, they mentioned how the garden has given them another purpose, has offered them stress-release, and has given their kids a safe and stimulating environment to play.

The biggest benefit of Menchaca’s community garden may not be its spinach and swiss chard harvest. This community, which is characterized by high levels of marginalization, now has a source of hope, or in the least, it has an outlet for creativity and productivity. I am sure this garden will continue to grow. My friend will continue to work in Menchaca during her service in Mexico and help the participants to reach the great potential of this project.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Watch the transformation unfold with the photos.

Getting Stated

Building Compost, Building Soil

A Community Garden

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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,

Josephine

PS: More to come soon…

Bio-intensive Garden Beds

Pup at Work

Read Full Post »

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.

Image

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

When I am in the big city of Querétaro, and stop in the Peace Corps office, the first thing I do is head to the metal mailbox and frantically check for letters and care packages. I often leave empty-handed cursing my family and friends and crossing some names off of the guest list for my self-thrown welcome home party. So this week, I walked into the Volunteer Lounge reminding myself not to confuse the usual stack of bank notices for handwritten greetings from the homeland. But, my stubborn hope glanced over to the mailbox, and spotted a box jutting out. Exhilaration peaked.  Dropping everything, I ran over to find that a high school in Missouri sent me a care package. I ripped open the box to find Dove dark chocolates, Burt’s Bees face wash, Kashi cereal, granola bites. Heaven. It didn’t take long for the other Peace Corps volunteers to surround me, ready to pounce on the coveted American goods. It’s an unwritten rule to share, so I did. Begrudgingly.

While contently snacking on my salvaged personal stock of creamy, rich, decadent dark chocolate, I began to read the letter from the teacher, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Honduras.  One paragraph in, and I found her words touching my soul – almost as much as the chocolate. It is true that there is no bond like that between Peace Corps volunteers; it is a bond of frustration, hope, mishaps, and adventure. I think it might even beat that fraternity bond those bros brag about. This girl got me, and we had only met one time before in the lovely St. Louis, Missouri when I was in the middle of my Peace Corps application process and asking her just what the hell the Peace Corps was about. Life is beautiful sometimes.

Here are some points we both agreed upon…

The SHOW: I live in small community of about 2,000 people so more often than not, the people I work with are the people I see at the taco stand, at the flower shop, at the market, in the plaza, etc. For that reason it is tricky to go to roll out of bed to buy some fresh mangoes and not have at least 5 people take note that you have not yet brushed either your teeth or your hair. So, us Peace Corps volunteers often need some alone time, free of worry about the show us gringos are putting on for the Mexicans or the host country. This, inevitably, brings on the guilt.

The GUILT: Combine a long day of speaking in language that is not your own, being culturally sensitive, and trying to follow plans that change upon the hour, and you too would find it is necessary to sneak into the house and read a book in English alone. While you may finally have your coveted alone time, the words on the page of your book cannot and will not diffuse the nagging in your mind to go out to the plaza, meet up with some friends in town, or go to that carne asada. You should be integrating into your community!  You are a bad Peace Corps volunteer, just awful, I mean really.

The ISOLATION: Since you have been indulging yourself in some alone time, you feel a bit disconnected from your town. Now you are having a bad day, and all you want to do is call someone from home. There have been times when I have done this, to get it out, to vent a bit. After about five minutes, I realize that the person on the other side of the phone line has no idea what I am talking about. The trials and errors of Peace Corps are hard enough for me to explain to myself, how am I going to explain rural Mexico to my friend working on the 23rd floor of a building in Midtown Manhattan.

The 2 LIVES: This gap in personal understanding between myself and friends and family leads to the panic that I am living in a completely different world, and life at home is moving on without me. Which life is the real one? – my Mexican life? my American life? Can they be combined? Who am I and what the hell am I doing with my life?

The MOOD SWINGS: That same day that you may be having a nervous breakdown about your personal direction and the person you have become/are, may be the same day that you have the best moments of your Peace Corps service. It has happened before that I am on the brink of tears at 9:00 AM, and by 5 PM I could not imagine my life if I did not have this experience in Mexico. The women in the Mexican campo can change your attitude with some homemade tortillas, and an hour chatting about their gardens and what they harvested to cook today’s comida.

Now you can see why us Peace Corps volunteers really, really love the care packages and the words of inspiration from home. I send a big thank you to the students of Maplewood Richmond Heights High School in Missouri and all my friends and family for taking the time to think of me, write me beautiful cards, send me Orion magazines, Thai noodles, and all the other reminders of home.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: If you have friends or family in the Peace Corps, send them a letter or a care package. I promise you, it will make their month. I know this one did.

PPS: I connected with this high school through the Peace Corps World Wise Schools.

Image

Good Day in the Peace Corps: Working with students at a local high school on a compost pile

Image

Good Day in the Peace Corps: Seeing the growth in a nopal garden

Read Full Post »

In Mexico el día de los reyes magos is similar to the Christmas Eve visit from the big jolly Santa Claus. All year long los niños look forward to this day. Much like Christmas in the US, there is quite the build-up beforehand. Toys line the sidewalks in the streets of the pueblito – trucks, barbies, kitchen sets, scooters – while kids pass with longing in their eyes. The little ones dream of that yellow tonka truck while convincing themselves of their good behavior during the year, and hoping that the 3 kings will turn a blind eye to all the times they disobeyed their parents. As the days dwindle before the promise of the visit, children begin to build their wish list, choosing either Melchor, Gaspar, or Baltasar to entrust with fulfilling their requests. With the greatest belief that their wish list will reach one of the wise men they send off their faith in a helium-filled balloon.

the twigster,
Josephine

PS: DiF, one of the Mexican government agencies with which I work, hosted its yearly event to celebrate the Day of the Three Kings this past Saturday. The pictures below are from the event.

PPS: It was very hard to see about 2,000 balloons cast off, knowing the damage they will cause environmentally. Why can’t the kids just send their letters to the North Pole?

Co-workers dressed as the Three Wise Men

Children of my pueblito

Up, Up and Away - Carrying wishes, causing environmental harm

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 »

My home for the next two years, I thought as I approached Huimilpan for the first time, “the place of the biggest cornfields.” My whole reason for joining the Peace Corps, to live and work in a community, was finally manifesting itself after a month of living in México. It was time for my site visit, time to gather the information I needed to survive physically and mentally for two years. Gathering, recording, processing. It felt a bit like collecting kindling with full arms. My mind was already heavy with new information. Taking a deep breath and fortified by the scent of the sea of flowers surrounding me, I stepped out of Señor Francisco’s car.

A combination of nerves and leaving the controlled setting of my Spanish classroom, instantly transformed this “intermediate” Spanish speaker into an eight year old. Nice to meet you. Smile. Nod. Smile. Fumbling over my words, I desperately tried to link context clues with what my boss was saying. Please,..time..to..process…the..translation. There was no stopping. “This is so and so, and this is my cousin so and so.” Dozens of hands shaken, dozens of kisses given. Nice to meet you. Smile. Nod. And so it went for four days in Huimilpan. Freeing embarrassment from my list of possible emotions, no entiendo, otra vez por favor, became a motiff in every dialogue. Smile. Nod. Locals turned a much-appreciated blind eye to my broken Spanish, helping me to feel less like a fish out of water. People were kind and patient, taking the time to repeat their sentence or say the same things with simpler words. The smile and nod returned if all else failed.

As the days passed, it seemed that the people of Huimilpan were happy just to learn the reason behind why there was this foreigner, the gringa, walking around town. Mexicans aren’t very shy in asking personal questions. Luckily, my family prepared me for this growing up. Uncles always put us on the hot seat during Sunday dinners to interrogate us about the latest boyfriend, or life step. With this experience under my belt, fielding the questions wasn’t too hard to navigate. Thanks, Uncle Joseph. Foreigner celebrity status was a bit harder. Sitting in the plaza after attending the outdoor mass to celebrate the Huimilpan’s patron’s saint, San Miguel, I felt hundreds of pairs of eyes of me. Peace Corps warned us about this. Since we Peace Corps volunteers are the odd ones around in our communities, people will be looking at our every action, all day, everyday. Gaga status. While in site we are “on” all the time.

Gaga status does have its perks though. While visiting one of the communities, Piedra Lisas, and chit chatting with a woman about her different eco-technologies, I was invited to make some tortillas with her using one of her eco-technologies, her efficient wood stove. When conversations involve food, somehow I manage to understand that Spanish. We spent the next hour making and eating corn tortillas with salsa made from the chili peppers she grew in her garden. Hot tortilla in hand and a mouth of fire, I stepped outside for a second and checked out the surrounding view – my new home. It was then that Francesca’s poem popped into my head. Francesca wrote “Simplistic Beauty” for me when I graduated from Tulane to serve as a constant reminder of the person I am, and the person I hope to be.

“There is nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…life isn’t about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself.” With this as my mantra, Huimilpan didn’t seem as intimidating anymore. I went back to my host house in the city of Querétaro, took out my Spanish Grammar Book, and got to work. After all, I can improve a lot in the month before my service begins in Huimilpan.

the twigster,

Josefina

PS: After an extended period of  thinking about every verb ending before speaking, all I wanted to do is chit chat with other volunteers in English upon my return and know certainly that they understand the sounds rolling off my tongue.

PPS: With only a quick assessment of the community to inform this, I think I will be working to build water cisterns and developing people’s individual gardens!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: