One of the projects in El Sontule, Miraflor Reserve focuses on the development of organic kitchen gardening. Many people have a bit of land by their house, perfect for growing veggies to meet many of the families’ needs.
A few years ago a group called UNICAM (La Universidad Campesino) sent up experts to teach the principles of organic agriculture and help families get set up to grow. The project has had a lot of success. For one thing it has helped diversify the diets of the pueblo. In the past beans and maize were staple crops (they still are) and often families would rely on these – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now with education they are growing beetroot, potatoes, garlic, carrots, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, etc.
Importantly they have learnt to cook with these veggies and also to use the nutritious leaves of plants like beetroot to glean the most vitamins and waste very little. At the families’ own admission diets have improved tremendously – although it would be highly unusual to sit down to a meal devoid of delicious beans and corn in some shape or form!
The families are also composting with worms and cow manure, of which there is an abundant supply. Cows are an important source of income and food in the pueblo – most people own or share some beasts. Fresh milk is made into a kind of cottage cheese daily called ‘cuajada’ (absolutely delicious on rainy days sandwiched in a fresh, hot tortilla) and in times of financial need a cow will be sold to help the cash flow.
This is all good stuff. But there are still issues to grapple with. Funding ran out for UNICAM a few years ago and the programme had to stop. Although some families are now merrily growing and harvesting, many are not and are in need of assistance to get started.
Also, there is a need for more education on composting. Although by no means rocket science there are certain principles that should be adhered to in the composting process. Otherwise decomposition takes place in the wrong conditions and instead of a lovely, loamy compost you get a sloppy, smelly, rotten mess.
There is a problem in sourcing seeds. The people of the pueblo are very reliant on donations from abroad, primarily from NGOs. There is little education around seed saving and therefore the slightly precarious chain of dependence could be broken with disastrous consequences if for some reason the packages stop coming.
Climate change is also posing a problem for growers. The rainy and dry seasons have been unusually wet or unusually dry in the last few years. This has alternately washed out the veggie patches or frazzled them so that production has been negatively affected.
There’s always two sides to every coin, and our discoveries of the organic gardening project just serves to highlight some of the complexities of development projects. However, there are efforts to try and confront some of these issues head on. Time will tell whether or not they succeed.