Tuesday, January 29, 2013

F2F Nicaragua Country Director Dr. Ronald Blandon Visits Wisconsin

Wisconsin Nicaragua Partners' (WNP) chapter invited Farmer to Farmer (F2F) Country Director, Ronald Blandon, to attend their annual meeting at Stevens Point,Wisconsin this past December.  Dr. Blandon discussed the progress made by the Farmer to Farmer horticulture and dairy beneficiaries in Nicaragua.  Much of the program's success has been due to the technical expertise provided by the large number of  volunteers from Wisconsin.  

At WNP chapter meeting
Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners of the Americas, Inc. is a not-for-profit, non-political organization working to enhance the quality of life in both Wisconsin and Nicaragua through people-to-people programs promoting cultural awareness and sustainable community development. It is one of the most active partnerships in the network of Partners of the Americas.  Many of the chapter members have volunteered and have recruited within their networks for experts with the needed skills to support the work of  Farmer to Farmer hosts in Nicaragua.

During the meeting, Dr. Blandon presented a certificate of special recognition to one of the WNP chapter members, Arlen Albrecht.  As a member for many years Arlen has helped maintain the strong link between WNP chapter members and the Farmer to Farmer program. He has recruited many volunteers from the University of Wisconsin extension service where he works with extension agents and teaches community development.  In addition to Nicaragua, Arlen has supported Farmer to Farmer activities in other countries and project areas.  Last March, he traveled with his wife, Lucia on a flex assignment in Chile to help with community gardening.  There are plans for a Farmer to Farmer assignment to Nicaragua for Arlen later this spring to support the horticulture activities in the country. 
Visiting Spanish class at local high school
While in Wisconsin Dr. Blandon met with past F2F volunteers and was able to provide updates on their host and work. He also met with potential volunteers and discussed specifics of the Farmer to Farmer program and the support needed in Nicaragua. Dr. Blandon was interviewed by the Medford local radio station and was invited to meet with area Spanish class high school students. He presented on Nicaraguan culture, history and the work done by Partners of the Americas and F2F. While working through a busy schedule of activities Dr. Blandon also had the opportunity to enjoy the winter pastime of ice fishing. He had a productive and fun trip and was thankful for the hospitality and warmth expressed by the people of Wisconsin.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Workshops Begin! Empowering Native Inn Owners to Harvest Rainwater and Grow Food on San Andres Island

Update from F2F volunteers in the field in Colombia…

Femke and Matt discuss the benefits of small-scale vegetable
gardening to a group of small inn owners
We only have one week left here on San Andres Island and are humming along with our assignment. One highlight has been meeting the staff and consultants working for our host organization the Providence Foundation. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to addressing social and environmental concerns on the archipelago of San Andres, Providence and Santa Catalina islands. The Providence Foundation was the group that initially encouraged and supported the posadas nativas (native inns) to form an association, which is now called the Caribbean Paradise Lodging Association (CPLA). The members of CPLA have been our target audience.

Matt measures the footprint of an inn to
determine the roof catchment size
Providence Foundation executive director June Marie Mow and ecologist Laura Valderrama helped advise us as we prepared for and held our first community meeting for members of the CPLA. In the meeting, we discussed the economic, environmental and social benefits of rainwater harvesting and small-scale farming in the posadas. We also passed around sign up sheets for the farming workshop we will hold next Tuesday and the home rainwater harvesting system assessments that we have been conducting for the posadas. We were thrilled by the overwhelming support and enthusiasm of the posadas and expect a great turnout at our workshop next week.

We have also completed the first half of our home rainwater harvesting system assessments. For each assessment, we visit the posada to take a series of measurements and conduct an interview with the owner to analyze the efficiency of their current rainwater system. Our aim is to help the posadas move away from using bottled water or water supplied by the unreliable local water company (that is rumored to use environmentally unsound practices).

Femke sips fresh sorrel flower juice made by
a native inn owner with herbs from her garden
One assessment that stood out was at a posada called Coconut Paradise. It is one of the most historic houses on the island, with a rainwater cistern that is over 90 years old! We were impressed by the size of the cistern’s capacity of over 22,000 gallons. However, we did determine that the posada could make a few upgrades, such as replacing their gutters to prevent spill-over during heavy rain storms, that would improve their system and allow them to discontinue their connection to the water company. We also encouraged them to place screens on all of their open tubes and tanks in order to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Finally, we suggested that they install gutters on their kitchen, which is a separate building from the main house, to capture water for irrigating their vegetable garden.

A few of the other common recommendations we have made in these assessments are: increasing storage capacity by adding additional tanks or cisterns and investigating water purification options to reduce reliance on bottled water for drinking. With the help of the Providence Foundation, we will give the posadas as many resources, tools, and information as is available so that they may implement our recommendations in the coming months.

-- Femke Oldham and Matthew Freiberg

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Reflections from Haiti: Cash Flow, Dignity, and Rabbits

Below are some excerpts from the Devils Gulch Ranch blog, where Myriam Kaplan Pasternak - veterinarian and development practitioner volunteering in Haiti this month - shares her reflections of progress in Haiti, and challenges and successes in the rabbit project. Dr. Kaplan-Pasternak has been volunteering in Haiti with Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer Program for six years.

F2F Field Officer Gerard Michel Joseph ("Papy") gives thumbs up
...So how is Haiti after 6 years of observation?

A place of extremes, confined to an island divided, spilling over to a global reality, hanging on to tradition while flooded by international generosity. A micro reflection of a global future attempting to redirect history so as to not repeat itself. If any country can change fate it is Haiti. Is that what draws global giving or is it the rain of coins traveling the rivers of NGO cash flow? Cash flow, cash flow, that is the key to what the Haitians want. They want jobs more than anything so they may take care of themselves and their families with pride and the dignity to make their own choices. Hospitals, schools, orphanages, etc. are all well and good to get one through, but cash flow builds lives and sustainable futures, limited only by creativity rather than poverty and charity.

The evidence is showing that cash is flowing in Haiti. The cities are cleaner, electricity is on more than off, buildings are blooming, and new businesses with freshly painted signs are emitting the entrepreneurial spirit of the post earthquake era. Build Back Better. Yes! Time will tell if it is better. Stability is key to keeping the spirit alive but not an easy thing to do when you can't make everyone happy all the time.

...The rabbit project is still growing. Around the the hotel, I overhear people (missionaries and NGO's primarily) talking about various rabbit projects affiliated with their groups, with a general air of excitement. From the Haitian producers themselves I hear a lot of frustration. As their production grows, problems arise.
Agronomy students in Port au Prince prepare for training

As a producer myself with around 7000 rabbits, I can attest to the fact that rabbit production can be frustrating even with every available resource. First, don't have industry backing like the pork or beef industry, which means we do our own R&D. Second, while rabbits breed like rabbits, they also die like rabbits, which is why the world in not overrun and why the are the krill of land dwelling carnivores. At least in the USA we do have veterinary services, feed mills and lots of reading materials and experienced people we can share ideas with. In Haiti, all of these things are limited, inaccessible or non existent.The two biggest needs right now are year round, locally available, feed sources that are store-able and transportable, and veterinary services. Pelleted commercial rabbit feed is currently made from imported ingredients and is often so old it cause vitamin deficiencies in the baby rabbits. It is expensive and only available in the Dominican Republic or Port au Prince. Not a practical solution for small farmers, but not insurmountable with time and an incremental plan. ...Veterinary services are also in the same boat, but thanks to several, Haitian, Cuban and American veterinarians, the incremental sets are happening slowly and we are including veterinarians in our rabbit trainings. Several of them supplement their incomes by selling rabbits!

So, you can see by this tiny sliver of development, that Haiti is complicated. Its moving forward, but still has a long way to go. To quote a new friend that I met this week who has lived and traveled in the Caribbean for many years, " Haiti is like the Caribbean in the 1940's".

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tropical Roots and Fruits, the Raizal, and the Tourism Economy on San Andres Island

Matt and Femke with Raizal farmer, Miss Theresa,
on Providence Island.
Update from the field - F2F Volunteers in Colombia!

Hello again from Femke and Matt on San Andres Island, Colombia. We are almost one third of the way through our trip and can barely believe how many wonderful characters we have met, and the amount of information we have gathered, over the past week on Old Providence Island and here on San Andres.

While on Providence, we visited half a dozen organic farms that are run by native islanders and also met with representatives from the National Parks office and the local farming and fishing cooperative. Our goal was to gather as much information as possible about crops and farming practices that have been successful in this Caribbean island environment. Though the soil here on San Andres is different than on Providence (here it is mostly rocky or red clay while Providence is mostly volcanic), the native culture and farming/food traditions are quite similar.

Femke learning about "Coll"--a type of 
collard green-- from Jackeline, a farmer
on Old Providence.
We were astonished by the abundance of fruits and root vegetables that are commonly grown on the islands and the enthusiastic willingness of local farmers to share farming secrets with two outsiders from another country. Papaya, pineapple, mango, avocado, banana, ginger, plum, yucca, and yams are a few the common crops with which we were already familiar. Breadfruit, nezberry, soursop, sweetsop, sorrel, jambolin, maracuya, gungu, and noni are a few foods that we only just discovered.  The farmers patiently walked us through their farms pointing out important plants and teaching us how they start each from seed or cutting, how they care for the plant, and how they harvest the fruits and roots when they are ready.

The past couple of days on San Andres have been equally insightful. One highlight was an early morning visit to an organic farm run by a man named Job Saas. Job inherited a beautiful plot of land from his grandparents and has turned it into a veritable eco-village, complete with a tropical fruit tree orchard, herb garden, and endangered animal habitat—including pens for black crabs, iguanas, and turtles. After touring his expansive space, we sampled fresh sorrel juice and cane syrup cake made from the fruits of his labor. Job will be an important mentor for our work here and has agreed to offer us further guidance as we move forward with workshop planning for the innkeepers.

Job Saas showing us one of the endangered
black crabs that he is protecting in his
In the coming weeks we have additional trips planned to meet with more local farmers on San Andres, some of the local community leaders, and the environmental protection agency CORALINA, to see how we can pool our collective resources and messaging to generate the greatest results for the community.  We are thankful to have found in-country partners that are supportive of sustainable, organic agriculture. However, our visits to the center of town and bus rides across the island are stark reminders of the ever-growing disparity between wealthy foreign proponents of the luxury tourism industry and the native islanders.  Large-scale resorts and duty free shops dominate the local economy and have had disastrous impacts on traditional island lifestyles and on the environment. Many of the younger Raizal (native islanders) are moving away from traditional farming work for more modern jobs in the tourism industry. Consequently, very little food is produced on the island and the Raizal are experiencing nutrient deficiencies as they now have to import expensive, lower quality food from off of the island.

Our project seeks to address the Raizal’s food security issues while also advancing their ability to benefit from the island’s tourism-based economy. Ultimately, in the final week of our trip, we will host a series of community meetings and a larger workshop on sustainable, small-scale horticulture practices. We have decided to start small and simple, with a plot of commonly used herbs and easy-to-grow vegetables, including: cilantro, peppermint, green onion, basil, oregano, spinach, collard greens, and bell pepper.  The goal is to inspire the posada owners with plants that grow fairly quickly in the island climate and produce year round.  We will also provide additional resources for those who wish to go further and plant larger crops that require more patience, care, and timing with the wet season (summer).

Cilantro-- one of the crops that we plan to include in our
demonstration garden and workshops with the posadas
nativas on San Andres Island.
In addition to food security, we hope that our workshops will enable native innkeepers to provide high quality organic produce to their guests—giving them a competitive edge in the lodging market and promoting an eco-tourism model over the all-inclusive resort system. We are also aiming to improve the efficiency and safety of rainwater harvesting systems in order to secure a reliable and sustainable water source for irrigation and all household uses. More on the rainwater component next time!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Uncovering Island Food and Water Secrets: The Beginning

Update from F2F Volunteers in Colombia!  Note: "We wrote this post about a week ago, but have not had internet access until today. We will be sharing more updates and photos soon!"

View from plane ride to Old Providence
Greetings from Old Providence Island, Colombia. We finally arrived yesterday morning after four flights and nearly 24 hours of travel time. The most eventful plane ride was certainly the final flight from San Andres Island to Old Providence (or Providencia). We didn’t anticipate that the airport would close down during our middle-of-the-night layover on San Andres Island, and, after a few fitful hours of sleep on the pavement outside the front gate, the security guards finally opened the airport at 6am. We were the first two people to check in for our 25-minute flight on a small prop plane over the textured turquoise waters of the southwest Caribbean Sea. We quickly realized the long journey was well worth it when we arrived to this vibrant jewel of an island.

Matt investigating Robertson's underground
rainwater cistern
Inspired by the beauty of the island and the warmth of the people here, we got straight to work. We were struck by the sheer prevalence of rainwater harvesting. Just about every home and hotel collects rainwater to some degree. One of the most impressive systems was at the very inn where we are staying. The owner, Robertson, proudly gave us a tour of his water system, showing us his hand-built cisterns that sit under two of the four buildings that comprise his inn.  Every building is lined with gutters and piped to one of the two cisterns that hold 9,724 gallons of water combined.  He says that the cisterns last about two or three days when the hotel is full (~15 guests), and when he runs out, he can count on his well water to meet the rest of their needs until the cisterns fill up again.  However, on Old Providence, it rains most days. Intense bursts of rain slowly replenish the cisterns on a regular basis. The water from the cisterns is used for everything—cooking, bathing, and even drinking (after it’s boiled). When we told Robertson that it is practically illegal in the U.S. to use rainwater for any purpose inside a home, even flushing the toilet, he laughed.

Femke learning about pumpkin cultivation from Moc,
one of the more successful farmers on Old Providence
We plan to stay on Old Providence for four days while we conduct further research on rainwater harvesting practices and sustainable vegetable cultivation. Then, we will return to San Andres Island—a much larger and more populated neighbor to Old Providence—to carry out the bulk of our Farmer to Farmer assignment. We hope our time on Old Providence will give us a sense of specific practices that are successful in this island community that has not experienced the same levels of environmental and cultural degradation that San Andres has faced. Old Providence is relatively untouched by large-scale development and the native Raizal people are the primary population. In comparison, on San Andres the Raizal are an ethnic minority in their own island due to massive immigration by mainland Colombians.

View from El Pico, the top of Old Providence Island.
The majority of this land was used for farming until about
20 years ago when a cultural shift and an orange blight
caused many young people to choose work on cruise ships
rather than tending to family farms. Consequently, the
island now imports the majority of its food.
Once we arrive on San Andres, our main goals will be to promote sustainable small-scale agriculture and rainwater harvesting at Posadas Nativas—small inns managed by the native Raizal people.  We will work with local youth and other community members to help create a demonstration edible garden and conduct a workshop to discuss some of the best agricultural practices we have learned from farmers on Providence and San Andres. We will also host another workshop discussing best practices for rainwater harvesting that we have observed at businesses on both islands as well as from our own experience in community-based water management and water resource science.  Both of our workshops will focus primarily on practices that stem from native knowledge of resource management, supported by our own expertise in efficient and user-friendly design. Ultimately, we hope to bring greater awareness of resource management to the island by encouraging sustainable food and water systems at the posadas. Additionally, we are aiming to provide the owners of the posadas with the skills required to reduce their dependence on expensive imported food and water by harvesting their own. We are excited for the weeks to come and look forward to posting more on this blog as our project unfolds.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Demonstration Shadehouse Constructed in Guyana

The Farmer to Farmer Program in Guyana has teamed up with the local Shadehouse project to construct a demonstration shadehouse on Saint Stanislas College Farm, where the F2F-Guyana office is located. The shadehouse will serve as a training site, an experimental station to test new production practices, and an example of structure design well-suited for weather conditions in Guyana. Planning is also underway for a second demonstration shadehouse in partnership with the Guyana School of Agriculture.

Partners of the Americas thanks all of the Farmer to Farmer volunteers who have contributed their time and expertise into the design and function of these shadehouses! Below are some pictures of construction on a rainy day.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Farmer's Markets and Soil Testing Support for Dominican Cooperatives

Lily Schneider and Matthew McCue working with farmer's market participants
Matthew McCue and Lily Schneider volunteered in the Dominican Republic in December 2012 on a Farmer to Farmer assignment focused on marketing strategies and soil testing trainings with small producers in the areas of El Cercado, Padres de las Casas,and Bani. McCue, an Iraqi war veteran, got connected to Partners' Farmer to Farmer Program staff at a conference where he was representing the Farmer Veteran Coalition, an organization whose mission is to "mobilize veterans to feed America" through employment and careers in agriculture.

McCue and Schneider have invaluable experience to offer, gained from owning and operating a 15 acre, certified organic, diversified vegetable farm in Fairfield, California. They participate in farmers' markets, and their farm produces more than 35 vegetables as part of a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. They deliver products to clients on a weekly bases. As part of the marketing component of their assignment in the Dominican Republic, they accompanied cooperative members to visit other community farmers' markets. Three areas of improvement observed were to organize production based on the demand and competitiveness of the local market, design and execute a production plan, and better promote their produce through good signage and produce cleanliness.

Conducting and analyzing soil tests at the local farms
Matthew and Lily helped producers build stands for their vegetable sales with locally available resources.  Producers were given advice on the appearance of their stands, focused on getting the produce off the floor onto stands on which they could place different color vegetables and fruits. Matthew and Lily helped build a wash stand at the cooperative's storage facility and advised producers to use the newly-created wash stands to clean carrots, beets, potatoes, yuca (cassava) and lettuce. The coop's facility will now be used for storage and washing. In addition to helping with the farmers' market, Matthew and Lily conducted a number of soil tests in nearby farms.

Building a stand to wash vegetables at the
host organization offices
Recommendations were made based on the findings of the soil tests, and producers were advised to increase certain nutrients to improve the soil fertility. Overall the general recommendation was that soil testing should be done before each planting season. Strong emphasis was also placed on making compost to treat soils and improve fertility.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year!

The Partners of the Americas' Farmer to Farmer team wishes you a Happy 2013! We hope you have enjoyed the holiday season and we thank you for your continued interest and support.

Did you make any New Years resolutions? Maybe to travel more, meet new people, practice a foreign language, help those who are less fortunate, learn something new, or share your knowledge and skill in 2013. Volunteering with the Farmer to Farmer Program can help you keep your New Years resolutions. Find out more about how you can volunteer today!