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

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