Written by Laura, La Mariposa Intern
This project began with two objectives for the families in Santiago: 1. Improve the nutritional health and diet of the participants and 2. Increase the income of the participants. The concept of improving the nutritional health of the families in Santiago is pretty straightforward with bourgeoning veggie-gardens, but increasing the income of the growers is where the CSA scheme comes in.
When I first arrived as an intern in November, there were dozens of overgrown gardens protected by living fences throughout Santiago, installed by a previous intern, Claire. Without the seeds and assistance that La Mariposa was previously giving, a lot of the gardens fell into disrepair. I was very early on introduced to Marta, one of the beneficiaries of the project in the past and someone who had shown a lot of enthusiasm and leadership within the community. Without all of the help and guidance from Marta, this project would look nothing like it does now, if it would exist at all. Marta and I, with the help of volunteers, visited nearly all of the families involved in the project and helped clear their land that had become overgrown by weeds from disuse over the last few months. During these first few weeks clearing land, I learned just how tough Marta is: if you need to spend hours in the sun with broken shovels, Marta is someone you want by your side. She gave the esteemed title of “force of the bear” to any volunteer that could work even half as hard as her. I was given the title of “force of the little chicken”—not nearly as prestigious, but I’ll take it!
In a matter of weeks, we had prepped several huertos for planting. We’ve used the raised bed method for many of the huertos and have seen fantastic results. Here’s a small excerpt about the beauty of raised beds from Lazy-Bed Gardening (a book lent to me from our drop-off in Managua): “Imagine yourself as a plant and think about where you would like to live. You cannot walk around and look for food and shelter—they have to be within each reach of your roots…Because the soil is loosened so deeply, the plant roots are able to penetrate deep into the soil, instead of needing to spread out in search of water and nutrients.” This method has been especially helpful with a lot of our root-veggies, like carrots and beets. Although the La Concha area is famous for it’s citrus fruits, and root crops are generally averse to acidic soils, we’ve had a lot root crops grow well in the huertos. Franklin, the manager of this project, has helped the huertos along with a lot of the technical knowledge he has gained from studying Organic Agriculture at university. He has been helpful in explaining how to plant and manage different types of veggies that some of these families have never grown before. Huerto owners such as Angel and Jorge have never grown any other type of vegetable other than tomatoes! That hasn’t dampened anyone’s spirits however. Jorge for example has an abundance of lettuce, carrots, green beans, eggplant—even kale!
All of the seeds that we have used are completely donation based and come from the generosity of guests and volunteers that come through La Mariposa. We have been able to sustain our current levels for planting thanks to the continued kindness from guests who always seem to know just when we are about to be completely depleted. Also, help has come from the La Mariposa organic farm as well: we’ve used a lot of seeds that we took from very successful bean plants growing at the farm and they’re coming along wonderfully in the huertos. I’m currently working on contacting suppliers in the U.S. that can hopefully add us to their roster of donation recipients. If we can depend on a consistent flow of seeds, this project can grow to its full potential.
In every aspect of this project it’s important to remember that every family is different, and every plot of land is different, and every watering situation is different. Water is the most interesting aspect of this project to me, and it’s remarkable to see how the huertos grow in relation to the available water supply. Some huertos have connections to the municipal supply but that doesn’t matter when the water runs out; most do not depend on the municipal supply and are dependent on a delivery system that comes twice week. Marta, for example, does not have an irrigation set-up like Annielka or Angel. Luckily however, Marta’s source of water is reasonably close to her land, unlike Jorge’s and Arlinda’s huerto—where their water is at the bottom of a steep hill and huerto at the top of the hill. Yscenia has a small huerto and collects her water in a kiddie pool near her huerto whereas Jacqueline’s huerto is watered by her daughter. These systems, as varied and complex as they already are, are going to get extremely complicated now that the dry season will fully take hold and water will become even scarcer. The weather is already so hot that carrying the heavy buckets of water to and from the huerto can only be managed very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Most of the families water twice a day: once at 5am and once around 4pm.
The product of all of our hard work takes the form of our bright, veggie filled, yellow bags that are delivered to Managua every Thursday. Patrick Troy, the drop-off in Managua, has volunteered his time in helping to arrange and deliver the produce to ex-pats living in the city. Bags are $15 and all of the proceeds are sent directly back to the families growing the produce in Santiago. As of today, we have just completed the 11th bag! This week we had: oranges, mandarins, platatnos, coconuts, carrots, arugula, ginger, eggplant, okra, and spinach. Since beginning the CSA in January, we have also delivered: avocados, beets, radishes, mustard greens, chard, quequisque, pineapple, cucumbers, kale, peppers, a variety of salad greens, spoon-leaf cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, pumpkin, pipina, green beans, honey, eggs, and bread. I am at a loss to explain how rewarding it is to write all of those veggies down and to know that we’ve delivered every single one. Not bad, huh?
If there is only one thing to say about the success of this project, it is because the families in Santiago are patient, amazingly good-humored, and extremely hardworking. Starting a CSA project in Nicaragua is not easy; there are a lot of different variables within one single huerto (insects and pests, chickens eating the crops, sunlight, soil, water!), and when we take that and multiply it by 7, it can seem daunting (LOTS of insects, pests, and chickens!) But going in to our 3rd month of this project doesn’t feel strange at all. It feels like we are exactly where we need to be: still learning, growing, and working together!