viernes, 23 de enero de 2009

The Future of Food is Frightening!

I just watched the documentary "Future of Food" for the third time and like each time I had seen it before, I thought to myself: I need to see this monthly for the rest of my life. Please watch it if you have never seen it (as well as the special features, which star a lovely old lady who teaches us how to save seed from many types of vegetables and also offers some other great gardening tips).

The documentary reminds me why I need to continue working in the things I believe in: anti-corporate ownership of natural resources, sustainable agriculture and communities, and to have enthusiasm when raising awareness about the secret injustices being done to the 'small' people of this world. The 'small' people I'm talking specifically about now are the farmers and people who have fed the world since humans existed. In the US, over the last hundred years, that percentage of actual people working the land (understanding the land) has diminished to a mere 2%!

Machinery, chemical fertilizers and genetically engineered crops basically grow themselves (with lots of health, environmental and security problems attached), while Americans move into cities, consume and despose of the entire globe's natural resources...without even noticing much. The worst part is that the machinery, chemical fertilizers and genetically engineered crops that we ALL feed on, EVERY DAY, are made by companies (which moved from producing war chemicals to agricultural chemicals in less than 10 years in the 1940/50s)that have merged into a dirty, bloody coagulate of only a few names (Monsanto, DuPont, Cargill, ConAgra, Syngenta)-and this domination or pursuit for ownership of the entire worlds food system has been done in the name of US consumers! Aren't you bothered by that?!

Wars have been fought over land and natural resource ownership for hundreds of years, but the most bothersome thing to me is that its done in the name of fighting terror, or for freedom (which these days, only means only the freedom to participate in commercialism that benefits the already rich). In the case of Latin America, the complete destruction of indigenous communities and thereby sustainable farming systems was done to 'combat communism.' It's not a coincidence that we only fight terror in areas where the worlds highest reserves of oil are-our entire lifestyle depends on it!

I’m absolutely sickened by the state of the world and the ignorance and greed that has tainted the human race, stemming from capitalism. The Future of Food begins with a history of the patents on crops and plants (otherwise known as THE GLOBAL COMMONS—these are not things to be OWNED by companies-the land should belong for those who care for it, like children or any other life-source). But, since the 1970s, the US has allowed companies to put a PATENT on seeds.

The documentary then covers a few of the 100 cases (out of 9,000 cases brought onto farmers in the US alone by Monsanto Seed Company for having traces of Monsanto's patented soybean) where the farmers actually fought the powerful multinational monopolistic dominators of our FOOD SYSTEM. And lost. The cases were brought on by Monsanto saying that farmers had stolen their genetically engineered plants and planted them (but we all know, or at least we should, that plant seeds are dispersed by wind, by bird, bees, butterflies and now, trucks, freights and airplanes). These farmers didn’t even WANT the Monsanto Round-up ready resistant crops on their land! And Monsanto took it to the Supreme Court and won.

Others tied to the triangle of power (Searle, Monsanto and the US Government): Clarence Thomas, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft (biggest receiver of campaign money from Monsanto), and a ton of other recognizable evils. Another wierd government-patent-seed/food supply oddity: the "terminator gene," owned and patented by the US GOVERNMENT is a specific gene infused into plants so that the plant will not produce seed or that the seed it does produce will not reproduce itself, meaning that once a farmer uses this seed (which undoubtedly also contains favorable traits like drought-resistance, etc), he has to continue buying year after year after year. Rather than saving seed from plant and planting the strongest or best tasting crops' seed, as has been done for tens of thousands of years. Now, I may come from a long line of conspiracy theorists, but this information sheds a little light on the fact that the Iraqi National Seed Bank was one of the first buildings to be bombed in March, 2003. Now, Monsanto supplies the largest of Iraqi farmers with their wheat seeds (which much be purchased year after year, cutting into their already very small profits). Sickening, but this I believe. If you'd like more information on the seed bank and Monsanto seeds being delivered to Iraq, please read the book "Against the Grain" as well as the UN and US government documents it cites for supplying that information.

This is something I cannot stop talking about. Its the reason why I feel better about myself today, my conscience slightly more tranquil these past few months. Living outside of the US, you begin to realize how much people can really produce on their own, how much we can reuse, how much contact you have with the things you consume: you nearly always know the farmer or at least you know the seller knows the farmer. Until recently, genetically engineered crops weren’t a part of the national quilt of diverse agriculture in Guatemala.

This also happens to be the reason I can’t wait to return. Here is a brand new administration, falling into old patterns (The Sec. Of Agriculture is pro-GMO and pro-market expansion of crops, dairy and livestock) and I want to be a force in setting straight the “collective madness” humanity has become. Me AND my little eco-warrior prince, Oliver…whenever he may arrive (he's already two days late, btw)!

miércoles, 7 de enero de 2009

The Rough Draft of Our Three Month Plan!

Finally there is activity at the school (and in my mind and heart) again! Today, my new partner (Mandy) and I went to the school and re-evaluated an action plan, which was totally necessary. After nearly 2 months of hassle (the school has been closed and the key constantly hidden in different people's homes) the plants on the school site are only half-producing. There has been a lack of sunlight and water, AND maybe a little too little love and care :)

Today, we're finally printing the informational brochures to distribute to all of the teachers (which are also a call for ideas on how to get the students and teachers interested and involved). I'm printing the bare minimum (still working on limited funds), mainly just to give to the acting director and a few more for promising teachers.

Tomorrow the plan is to borrow a wheelbarrow and bring large rocks to build clear boundaries around the plants so the kids don't step on all of them. And if time allows, we'll also bring treated soil to fill in the small beds. For the rest of January, we'll simply be bringing healthy soil to the lot and making sure the students get a feel for the garden project and us. I feel right now, its best to introduce these things slowly and answer questions when they come up and ask them, rather than forcing the information down their throats right away. Everyone is interested in what the silly gringas are doing anyway!

Also before February rolls around, I would like to host the teachers in the school in an informal site for coffee or a beer or whatever and see what kind of interest they have already. Have they ever experienced similar projects, are they resistent to the idea of working with outsiders, etc. If the teachers aren't interested, they will surely let the project fall fallow immediately upon my departure. Or jeopardize/dismiss it. Also, I want them to know that I am willing to search for funding for their ideas as well.

In February, we'll begin to transplant the seeds and already growing plants to the site and watch them grow! I remember biology classes in junior high school and think that this will be an exciting time, fostering student's protection for the plants. We can also begin to talk about pests, reasons for pests (in this area, its because there is little biodiversity), and how to naturally deter them. The Tzutujil have many, many plants that have pest-control characteristics. During the month of February, I would also like to get to know some of the local organic farmers that live closeby as well as begin to collect compost and raw materials from local restaurants and hotels.

In March, hopefully good relations and discussions have sprouted up around the garden project by this time. Perhaps we can dedicate an hour to garden talk where we discuss current food issues, local and globally. Food crisis because of reliance on oil, the pros and cons of genetically modified foods, food in historical and cultural contexts, other aspects of industrialized foods (excessive waste, unfair treatment to communities around irrigation systems, loss of land, loss of biodiversity, etc).

This month will be the beginning of scheduled maintenance, where a gardener really gets settled into caring for her plants. Some of the plants may be nearing maturity and we can talk about harvesting fruits, vegetables and herbs as well as taking seed from the plants and replanting (hopefully the students want to start home gardens-even if its only possible in containers).

By the time April rolls around, I'm sure lots of new prospects will have taken route. We can also think about including tourists in this project, to improve relations between locals and foreigners. Tourism isn't going anywhere around here and it certainly needs to have a vested interest in the local people because the community is changing and developing to more fit the wants of the wealthier tourist population (usually is not sustainable development!)

So, for the next three months, these are the goals and I will continue to post updates and pictures (promise they will be more interesting--the kids are cute!). After the three months, we'll evaluate progress and build new plans! Looking forward to any questions, ideas or comments from readers, as always!

Thanks for reading!

domingo, 4 de enero de 2009

Environmental Education through Gardening

Hi all! It's been awhile since I wrote and, well..not much has happened! I am in my 37th week of pregnancy so I have slowed down quite a bit and am thankful for my friend, Mandy Wieser, who has come to help assist in the school garden project while I attempt to gracefully enter motherhood (alone)!

The new year has ushered in lots more information and upcoming events regarding sustainable agriculture which I'd like to discuss here. Firstly, I want to point out who Obama has chosen as his Secretary of Agriculture of the US, Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack has been a supporter of ethanol and domestic sources of fuel-even at the expense of driving food prices up, market-driven dairy production, genetically modified foods (of course he is, he's from IOWA, a state which has many beneficiaries of GMOs) and is not very progressive when it comes to real change in agribusiness functions. I plan to post more later on how we can push for more reform, as I think agriculture/food and fuel issues should be at the top of the new president's to do list!

The next thing I wanted to say is the next couple weeks at our school project. The students are returning on January 15th and I'm not exactly sure how to incorporate the garden into the class curriculum. I know WHY gardens are important in primary school: a hands on approach to ecology and the importance of conservation, learning how to grow one's own food and fodder to reduce oil consumption for transportation, re-emphasize indigenous farming practices that are more sustainable and use less chemical inputs, biodiversity protecting the watershed that so many thousands rely on here, strengthen local economy and reduce reliance on imported foods...These things are easy to understand the importance of for an adult...but a 9 year old? I have no experience teaching kids (to tell you the truth, I don't like kids very much--despite being 3 weeks away from having my very own!) and am really searching for some good ways to make the garden project fun--if anyone has any resources, ideas or experience, please let me know!

jueves, 11 de diciembre de 2008

Natural Pesticides I'm Trying!

As you can see below, the pole bean plants are suffering from some kind of pest or bacteria. I can't see any insects or signs of them on the bean plants and they seem to be coming from within the plant. A local botanist called it "mosaic," which causes the leaves of the plants to have an irregular shape and the yellow-greenish coloring you can see in my photo. What worries me is that infected plants are known to produce half or even less beans than non-infected plants.

The fact that the garden has a pest problem already is not surprising, due to the lack of diversity in this area--the school is located in the midst of lots of houses which grow only corn and beans on their property. After that interrim of corn/beans, there is alot of development and paving of everything.

My first answer to the problem of pests is to have as diverse of an ecosystem as possible an to grow naturally repelling plants such as garlic, chili and onions...but not everything grows as fast as beans (although the garlic has really taken off!) and so far, there aren't any other meal options for the insects at the school. At my house, I'm growing native grasses, weeds and other plants (like amaranth, yucca, llanten, consuelda and chipilin) to deter the insects but they aren't strong enough to put on school grounds yet. Mother Earth magazine says that Marigolds are the best deterrent for insects that effect beans and I have several of those coming up right now. But in the meantime, I'm hoping that one of these homemade and/or local suggested concoctions works...

I'm starting with one that is the easiest to make (at least around my house...I live with two heavy smoker/drinkers). It's called "Hillbilly's Breath," and was suggested to me about a year ago by a close friend. It consists of used cigarette butts, some beer, crushed garlic and chili powder. I put it in a spray bottle and sprayed the plants. We'll see how it works.

The locals around here did suggest using tobacco derivitives as a spray, apparently nicotine is poisonous to many types of insects. Also, Chrysanthemum is supposed to be similar to Marigolds and repel insects with the naturally occuring chemical pyrethum (a base for many synthetic, harmful pesticides with chlorine and phosphorous and other chems added). I'm not sure where I can find Chrysanthemum seeds around here, but I'm looking into seed donations from ECHO (oddly, a Christian-environmental group).

Other people suggested that I pound several types of local plants that have strong smells and then mix with a little bit of water and spray those on infected plants. I am kind of excited by my new trial and error experiments.

The following is a set of other common natural pest deterrents for gardens or homes in general (new ways to USE your plants!):

The first thing to do is remove the infected leaves and plants and dispose of them far from the garden site...they're only attracting insects at this point. Prune the plant all the way to the stem, leaving the stub invites the bug inside the plant.

Another piece of info I just read that I didn't previously know was that wet foliage attracts the most bugs. Best to water early so it dries during the day or to invest in a drip-irrigation system which will avoid wetting the foliage all together. I would love to have someone help me build this, but I don't see it happening in the next few I'm just gonna get even closer to the ground and avoid the leaves of all my plants.

To keep ants/cockroaches/mites out, place cucumber peels at their place of entry. Most ants have an aversion to cucumber. If that doesn't work, crush cloves and mint and spray along their path. Also, citrus oil, cayenne pepper, cinnamon or coffee grinds work. Cataria or catnip can also be made into a more effective spray than DEET (for mosquitos).

Any questions, I'd be happy to research them for you! Just let me know!

martes, 9 de diciembre de 2008

New Sprouts!

Ahhhhhhh, well. These weeks have been pretty busy. I'm growing half the plants at my house and half on the school ground, so there is a lot of running (walking, actually) back and forth. But here are some of the newest to show their faces at the schoolgrounds and my home set-up--you can see we've expanded from one compost bucket to three :)

domingo, 30 de noviembre de 2008

Prepping for 1st Formal Volunteer Event

Starting Saturday December 6th, we're going to have weekly volunteer events for anyone who wants to come and help speed up the project. The students come back in mid-January and I would really like to have put all the hard work into the project before that happens. The plan is to have the majority of plants reach maturity as the classes are working in the project and also to have some of their first lessons be about seed saving and maintenance...which obviously cannot be done if we don't get started now. Its the beginning of the dry season and to be planting right now is actually against permaculture theory, but I figure since all the extra energy being expended is MINE then its all good. I think with a good mulch and daily attention it should work out fine.

We don't have a lot of funds but I'm thinking that the first couple events will be pretty short and simple. I need some help bringing organic matter to the garden, mix it with topsoil, build raised terraces and take out all the rocks as it is PAINFUL to do this stuff alone! I really feel for full-time farm laborers.

I had two people who were studying agricultural science in Germany (two friends of my roomate and living with us...yes, its been a full house since moving in) come to the project last week to brainstorm on how to more quickly and efficiently improve the soil structure. They confirmed my belief that one way or another I'll have to get manure in the I literally took my hand shovel and ran around town scooping horse poo from the 'roads'(there are more horses than cars in my town) and am bringing it in next week.

I am not sure how to post the English language flyer for volunteers, but of course if you are reading and in the area, email me and I'll send it to you personally!

miércoles, 26 de noviembre de 2008

Plans for Expansion

I applied for a wonderful grant yesterday, so EVERYBODY PRAY! Goddess knows, I/we need it. I don't know why, but I always just expect if something is the right thing to do then it will work out...however, that has not been the case and everyday is a struggle: financially, culturally (i.e. the time and date on your watch or computer mean absolutely nothing here) and sometimes ecologically. And...all these problems combined sometimes lead to periodic breakdowns on my part.

So, anyway, the garden has been undergone a severe overhaul in the last couple days (why I'm slow at writing blogs). I've started to bring in compost from my own house and from local restaurants because the plants aren't growing nearly as fast as they should be. The soil here is rich and volanic but after years of maltreatment, it has turned pretty dusty. So, I brought in the compost to build structure in it, allow it to hold more water and am also digging up all the rocks, putting the plants that did push on through into containers for the meantime, so that I can reform the soil before putting them back in the ground.

Another problem with the way the garden has developed is that the school administration doesn't want to give me the key so I have to call from an internet cafe or phone booth for the director, arrange a time and wait. And wait and wait and wait. Sometimes she doesn't show up at all and the plants lose a day of water, all the while the dry seasons hateful sun bakes those poor little guys. The system has really got me down and I'm about to get into a further discussion with the director so that I may have a key. The project will progress alot faster and with a lot more success if that happens.

Anyway, the real reason I'm writing is to inform interested parties of the upcoming plans for expansion (if we get the grant). The following programs will be part of Huertos Escolares:

1.) Students participation in the garden and its maintenance, starting in January and ending in October 2009. All 350 students in the Humberto C. Guzman School will be participating in one way or another of the garden project, as well as all 25 teachers. They'll be learning how to seed and plant the plants, how to conserve soil through composting and mulching, water conservation and constructing a drip irrigation system (thank god I will have the professors help in this!), and most importantly the history, cultural importance, uses and the scientific reasons these native plants exist in this ecosystem.

2) Art, mostly recycled art/structures/mosaics to emphasize how COOL it is to reduce, reuse and recycle!!! But we're also gonna make informative signs on each plant as well as a mural on the wall facing the garden (it is currently the most boring place on earth). I think art is an excellent way to get the kids vested in the garden project.

3) Media: The bi-monthly newsletter will be in Tzutujil, Spanish and English. We plan on printing enough to distribute all around the lake, so that people on all sides can get an idea of what community food production is all about, why it exists and why its important in conservation and for the future of the people who live here. The newsletter will focus on sustainable practices in the community regards to agriculture, tourism, consumption, culture, etc as well as profiles on local people and businesses, perhaps a volunteer or two, some history and progress on the garden at the school. Also featuring contact information and ideas on how to take this project to your home, to your business, etc. Interview on conservation oriented Guatemalan organizations will also be included and articles will be accepted by students or local youth on what they think about sustainable development.

4) Tourism and Volunteer Outreach and Participation: About once a month, we'll do a big event where tourists come and work with the students on the gardens maintenance and start-up projects, learning all about it and hopefully taking a piece of the local wisdom with them. Also, sharing previous experience with me/us.

5) Expansion program to install native species gardens in students homes, other public schools and public spaces. The underlying goal of the project is to help families in this region reach as near subsistence level as they can, reducing their costs and the pollution, obesity, and energy that comes with imported foods.
This will begin with students taking what they’ve learned home, with knowledgeable assistance as well.

So, these are the primary component of the expansion plan! There are a couple more smaller things, but I've got to get to work now!

Thanks for reading!

Above is a picture of the center of the school, where I hope to put container gardens make it look less like a prison. The main containers I have in mind (and okay, quite a few have gathered in my front yard...just like back home in Southern Illinois, haha) for this project are tires and raised beds made from fallen wood or bamboo.

Above and below you have the difference in the soil I've been adding compost to and the the soil at the school. Nothing short of a miracle is needed. Luckily, miracles are my specialty :)