Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Growing" the Extra Mile

On March 22nd, Steve Oberle, owner of Hidden View Farm in Wisconsin, and Arlen Albrecht, a retired professor from the University of Wisconsin-Extenstion (UWEX), traveled to Guatemala to volunteer their time and expertise through Partners' Farmer-to-Farmer program. The main objective of their assignments were to teach organic, small scale/urban gardening techniques to urban and semi-urban women’s groups and family groups. Through three NGOs (Creative Works, International, A Couple of Christians Foundation, and the Association Libres y Triunfadores), Steve and Arlen trained 115 women and 46 men in 10 group sessions. They incorporated the use of Community Asset Mapping (CAM) to identify local resources to make compost and small-scale gardens, as well as assisted the NGOs in identifying potential future markets for the sale of surplus production or compost. Below are excerpts from their trip reports:

Arlen and Steve's Volunteer Assignment

The urban setting of Guatemala City can be overwhelming when trying to grow organic fruits and vegetables in a sustainable fashion. All of the participants had very few personal resources and very small house lots---but huge hearts, aspirations and dreams. During our work here, we helped them discover unique ways to grow fruits and vegetables in small areas, on walls, and on their roofs or patios. There is even great potential to grow these small garden systems year round - traditionally, people plant their fields just before the rainy season, but these proposed small garden systems do not have to follow this seasonal planting, and can be irrigated with about 2 gallons per day. However, traditions are hard to change, so it will take time.

F2F volunteers, Arlen Albrecht and Steve Oberle, demonstrate how to build
square foot gardens
Each of the communities visited had an informal leadership structure. The person in charge usually was the “early adapter” of new ideas. We recommended that these early adapters be encouraged and helped to grow in their skill sets, and thus more progressive change ideas will slowly move into the mainstream society. One of the men present raised chickens and agreed to provide chicken manure for everyone’s compost. He also had a vacant lot that would be a source for dry compost material, and a local small store owner offered to provide over-ripe fruits and vegetables for making the compost. The participants are also thinking about the idea of a community garden plot in the empty lot for participants who do not have room on their small properties/lots.

Two of the sessions were held at an orphanage in Guatemala City. Children of mixed ages and adults alike were very enthusiastic and asked many good questions about composting and gardening for the purposes of developing their own individual gardens, sharing a garden with their friends, and create their own small garden system when they leave the orphanage.

Arlen conducting a training on potential layouts for square-foot gardens
The two women’s groups we presented to were lead through the CAM process so they could identify practical local resources for compost materials and garden necessities. They also discussed leadership skill sets that the two women’s groups have, and they will be meeting regularly to talk about their gardens and other “community needs projects”. We reported that further group facilitation for needs assessment and leadership building could be very helpful in these types of groups. Future volunteers could provide leadership building exercises focused on women empowerment. The host organizations want to help participating women grow self-esteem, and seek self-actualized efforts to improve their family economics and well-being. Perhaps they will not be able to grow 100% of their fruits and vegetables as they can in the more rural areas, but they can supplement their diets and improve their self-esteem and self-worth as women and families through the mediums of composting and gardening.

Reflections on the Assignment

When asked to provide their personal reflections, Arlen said, “There are many important aspects of this work for all of the individuals, families, community groups, and host organizations involved. From my perspective, in addition to the teaching/learning of organic gardening systems and composting, if these initial efforts are successful and expanded upon, they could go a long way toward improving the self-sufficiency, food security, public health/safety, and environmental perspective/quality of the Guatemalan people. Potential, future efforts involving appropriate school age children and their teachers in organic garden development/maintenance and composting, and development of school curricula along similar lines will help transfer these efforts to additional families and future generations.”

Arlen added, “I am always humbled and impressed with dedication of leaders in small communities. In the communities of Guatemala this is no different. Local leaders care for their neighbors and friends. They go the extra mile to help them when possible, they give from the heart. I feel that the work that Steve and I did during the short two week assignment is just the tip of the ice berg… with the 146 people we met and grew together with there was change. Yes it was small but it can be significant in their lives… to grow at least some of your own healthy food is a hand up, not a hand out.”

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