Last week, the five Haverford interns working in Nicaragua gathered on the beautiful Isla de Ometepe for a mid-summer intern retreat, a wonderful opportunity to share stories, experiences and to process all that we have learned. Admittedly, amidst hiking volcano, kayaking a river famous for its unique bird diversity, swimming in the lake, playing pickup soccer on the beach, there was less time for reflection than I imagined. Nonetheless, I planned to write a blog post upon my return from the retreat, hoping that a few days away from my internship would give me a larger picture insight, that I may come up with creative way to sum up the past month in not too many words. Needless to say, it is a difficult task to share this experience through writing, and an impossible task to encompass the complexity of the project and place I am working in, as the dynamics are shaped and produced by historical, social, political factors that I am only beginning to understand.
I am working in between Esteli and Miraflor with a social enterprise called Luz Verde. Luz Verde is the “social arm” of Cafe Luz y Luna, an organic cafe and hostel in central Esteli. The cafe and hostel provide much of the funding for Luz Verde, which is funneled into several different projects, including Solana Organica Organic Kitchen Gardens, the project I am working with. Solana Organica is currently supporting 10 families in communities surrounding Esteli (including El Limon, Miraflor: El Coyolito, La Labranza, El Terreno, El Rodeo and La Pita) to grow organic produce. The produce is used both for the families’ personal consumption and is also purchased and used by Cafe Luz. Additionally, the project is meant to empower the women of the families, the women are given tools to be authority figures in the gardens and are returned all income. Currently, the project is struggling for two reasons. First, the gardens are not producing well and the cafe has been forced to rely heavily on the super market. Many families are experiencing problems with soil fertility, rain damage and irrigation, which has caused an overall delay in production.
And second, in almost every family the men are doing the majority of the work in the gardens. In my internship so far, I have been living in Miraflor with a family for 3 days each week, working with a different family each day. Essentially, my presence is meant to encourage the women and children to work in the gardens more often and also to think creatively about how to solve the problems they are experiencing having to do with irrigation and soil.
I returned to my internship from Ometepe to exciting news. Juancito (the project technician) and I were invited to attend a 3-day biointensive organics methods course in Condega, an hour north of Esteli, with 30 other technicians from around the country! Biointensive growing is SUPER cool and simple and seems to provide the solution to all of the problems we have been experiencing with the families. Biointensive focuses on ten basic principles including, doble excavacion (digging the beds 60 cm deep), composta (usually without manure), siembra cercana (planting in a hexagonal or triangle formation for best nutrient access and canopy), rotacion (crop rotation), asociacion (planting friendly plants together), semillas criollos (no hybrid or GMO seeds), transplanting, etc. The methods, when applied, serve to increase soil fertility, increase production, help with water drainage and retention, thereby reducing water use, increase overall self-sustainability of the garden. If applied successfully, biointensive growing could drastically improve access to fresh vegetables in the poorest communities across Nicaragua. Needless to say, we came away from the course very inspired and excited. We just returned yesterday and spent today planning a workshop with the families to teach biointensive techniques. Hopefully the workshop will happen within two weeks. However, convincing and enacting biointensive practices will will undoubtedly be a slow process as it requires a cultural shift in farming, which is a very sedimented practice.
The biointensive course was not only cool because we learned about new farming methods, but also because it gave us the opportunity to meet other people from across the country working on similar projects. It was incredibly inspiring to meet Nicaraguans of all ages who are excited about small scale agriculture and who are working in their communities to promote alternative techniques. The wealth of information within the group about farming techniques, farming culture and history, social change and movements, community organizing, was invaluable. I look forward to continuing to share ideas and experiences with some of the people I connected with (go email!)
In the next few days I am looking forward to celebrating the revolution! (Esteli on the 16th and Managua on the 19th.) And I am excited to report back on how the project and the new biointensive ideas continue developing.
And to finish, I am so happy to be here! I am learning so much! I have had the opportunity to meet wonderful people, to hear stories of the war, of politics, of children, of myths, of sadness and joy and so much more. My Spanish is improving daily and I can’t believe I will only be here for another month. Thank you so much CPGC.
(Siena emailed this post to Chloe Tucker)