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February 2008 : News

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Karla Arroyo Rizo  |  Gerardo Tenorio  |  Juan Manuel Martinez

•  Karla Arroyo Rizo is the Garden Manager at Los Cañadas in the Cloud Forest area of Veracruz state in Mexico and was an Ecology Action Intern in 2002.  Jodi Roebuck of New Zealand was an Intern at the same time.

I started working with the Biointensive Method when I got to Las Cañadas in the year 2001, 6 years ago. I used to weed the beds they had, and I started to plant with the Biointensive Method. I haven’t stopped since then and I’m still amazed at its benefits. I worked in Las Cañadas garden for two years and was in charge of 150 beds that produced food. Taking advantage of the abundance, I started producing a few seeds. Then I went to do an Internship at Ecology Action. I was there for six months to learn more about the Method, and that changed my life.  I want to thank Carol and John and all the team for preparing me to continue using the Biointensive Method. When I was there, I met Jodi Roebuck, a great friend and seed lover who taught me about the possibility to establish a garden to produce seeds. When I came back to Mexico, inspired by such experience and with the support of Las Cañadas, I started 12 beds to produce seeds. Today after 4 years there are 40 beds, and I hope to duplicate that number soon.    

Last year I travelled to help Jodi establish his Biointensive garden to produce seeds at New Zealand’s SEEDKEEPER. In a season we made 40 beds and about 20 compost piles! Jodi has a lot of experience in seed production and an incredible seed and book collection about agriculture, which gave me the opportunity to study when the sun was intense and we couldn’t work in the garden. They were eight very intense months. Being in New Zealand with SEEDKEEPER was great training: I was able to come back to Mexico with all the vision of what I had to do to improve what I had been doing. 

The Seed Garden is keeping alive 38 vegetable varieties with open-pollinated seeds produced with the Biointensive Method. Many of them are in danger of extinction, and most of them are not commercially available. It’s sad to think that 90% of the vegetable varieties are extinct and that the varieties that can be commercially gotten in Mexico are “improved” seeds adapted to chemical agriculture, most of them hybrids. 

It is imposible to compete with NAFTA, because it allows the free entrance of corn and bean seeds from Canada and the United States to Mexico. As a result, the future will see the loss of a great number of corn and bean varieties in our country, including many ancient (Creole) varieties. This is frustrating! This is why now more than ever we are promoting the exchange of seeds. The Seed Garden is organizing a Mexican Network of Creole Seeds in which small organic producers exchange seeds for free. In exchange for corn, beans and other vegetables we give seeds they need, and in this way we can distribute these varieties that could very soon disappear. 

Each year, we publish a catalog in which the varieties that are produced in the Seed Garden are shown and the seeds from the Mexican Network of Creole Seeds are made available to the public.

My dreams for the following years are:

  1. To have varieties that are more resistant, productive and delicious, to be able to produce seeds of varieties we don't have such as celery, broccoli, Swiss chard and artichoke and to adapt potato, sweet potato and Jerusalem artichoke varieties, among other things.  
  2. To make available to the public through the network corn and bean varieties that have been adapted to different climates.

About the lessons I have learned in Las Cañadas, there are so many that I don't know how to talk about them. I have learned:  

  • To produce material for compost from wild plants, such as gigantón (a type of dalia), San Nicolas, Sauco, etc., grown Biontensively, that have the capacity to produce big amounts of biomass.  
  • To recognize the importance of knowing your soil's conditions in order to produce better plants. For example, the soil in Las Cañadas is acid and low in phosphorus and boron, and it is interesting to see the results once lime and phosphorus have been added. 
  • To share the Biointensive Method in the workshops organized by Las Cañadas. Each course is a lesson.


•  The following is an interview with Gerardo Tenorio of Aguascalientes state Mexico.  Gerardo was an Ecology Action Special Intern in 2007 at the Golden Rule Mini-Farm

I was born in Mexico City in 1980, and I grew up in Aguascalientes. Since I was a child until I became a teenager I always participated in my school's politics. My character and my thoughts were very different from today: I used to think that you had to reach the top to be able to change what is at the bottom. In 1994, as a teenager, I started participating with a nongovernmental organization of environmentalist slant and collaborated in campaigns to raise public awareness and promote environmental education. In 1998, I started my studies at the university. At the beginning I wanted to study things that are completely different from each other: history, agronomy or industrial design, but at the same time I wanted to be a political actor in my state. As a consequence I decided to study Political Science. I thought that would give me the tools to understand what was happening in the local, national and international spheres.  

The beginning of the year 1999 was probably the most important turning point in my life. There had been a great boost for indigenous groups in my country, and in 1999 I started to work with them. The next four years were very important for my political and social education because I participated in a wider range of subjects and got involved with more civil organizations, especially two: one directed at giving sexual education and psychological, legal and moral support to HIV carriers and another one with a strong community and political focus. It was with the second organization that I worked with peasant women from the poorest municipality in Aguascalientes and got to learn more about eco-techniques, solar dehydration, biodigestors, building of houses with local materials, etc., and it was at that time that I received a copy of  How to Grow More Vegetables…  I didn't know anything about the Biointensive Method but had friends that were already working with it in some communities, and I started to know it. In those same years, I met the Base Ecclesiastical Communities which have their origins in Liberation Theology. At the same time I started traveling to Chiapas to do civil observation work and report violations of human rights. I was also an election observer in state and national processes and did follow-up work and monitoring of elected deputies in Aguascalientes. At that moment I was at the university; therefore, I tried to relate my research projects with what I was doing. It was a period full of activities that took me to participate in anti-summits: Monterrey (2002) and Cancun (2003), and to know national networks of groups that were looking for alternatives to change what was happening in Mexico at that time.   

I finished the university and went to the southeastern part of Mexico. I stayed in Chiapas in the Lacandona jungle for two and a half years. I wanted to do community work and so worked with a civil organization funded by international cooperation agencies. In the year 2004, I worked with three groups of Tseltal women in different parts of the jungle setting up organic gardens. I started the year 2005 working with Tseltal indigenous organizations. With one of them we founded two cooperatives: one of organic coffee and another one of organic cattle raising. Everything took place inside the jungle. At the same time together with the other organization we worked in 4 regions with agricultural ecology promoters and set up organic gardens, gave health workshops, made territorial organization plans with GPS and worked on the development of the "peasant to peasant" methodology.  

When I left Chiapas, I was convinced of the fact that I wanted to continue working with indigenous or peasant communities. So the next step was to get more techniques for sustainable organic production. I tried to do it in 2006 but it was not until the year 2007 that I was able to do it. Sustainable organic agriculture has a lot of answers for the environmental change we are already living. As we are able to diversify our knowledge to obtain the basic things to satisfy our needs in life and to transmit this knowledge to other people, we will be able to continue living on this planet.   

I maintain a moral commitment towards Ecology Action because they trained me in the Biointensive Method for 6 months. Now I want to select a place and work with the method, but I don't know where to take roots. In the meantime, I want to systematize Biointensive experiences and to collaborate with other regions in Mexico and the world where there are people who want to start working with the Biointensive Method.   


Juan Manuel's Continuing Marathon

The following is a brief summary of the trips Juan Manuel Martinez, Director of ECOPOL, made to Latin American countries in the last half of 2007.

From August 18th to 26th Juan was in Costa Rica. He gave a three-day workshop for 32 people: 5 students from EARTH University and 10 technicians from its Agriculture Department, as well as producers and peasants. Paulo Faerron, a three-month intern at Golden Rule at the end of 2006, led the field practices. The two people who organized the workshop had participated in the 2006 Six-Day Workshop. Juan also gave a training for the Costa Rican Organic Agriculture Movement. Juan visited the farms of 3 people who attended the 2006 Workshop and are researching Biointensive for their tropical area. He discovered that two of them, Nelson and Nuria, had previously given a workshop for 30 people, which “they did with such interest, motivation and professionalism that now there are more than 100 producers with Biointensive gardens in the area!” He then visited EARTH University to see the work Paulo had done there. Juan was impressed with the 25 beds Paulo had been able to install in the organic garden in addition to all of his school assignments. Paulo also made sure that all the students in the school got to work at least one day in the garden so that they would become familiar with the Biointensive method.

In September, Juan spent three weeks in Peru. A workshop was organized in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, given for a group of 30 people who were taking part in a two-week course on fruit growing. Yesica Nina and her brother Julio Cesar, along with a third person, were in charge of teaching the field practices. Yesica was an Ecology Action intern in 2005, and Julio Cesar participated in the three-month course Jennifer Ungemach taught in Paraguay early in 2007. Juan reported: “There was a magical moment during the practices when Julio Cesar explained in Quechua to the native participants how to make a pile of compost. He did it with simplicity, fluency and technical soundness. Jennifer did a great job in preparing him. Now we can be sure of the fact that both Julio Cesar and his sister have the capacity to continue the work in that part of Peru.” Juan also gave a four-day workshop in San Vicente de Canete and the mountains of Yauyos.

At the end of his trip to Peru Juan spent a week in Bolivia, in the small city of San Isidro. He gave two workshops in this area that has been deforested, its river polluted and its soil “almost solid as a brick” with weak crops attacked by disease and insect infestations. The producers there at first resisted accepting the soil’s needs but at the end showed themselves willing to try organic methods. He also spoke to young people, who were fascinated with the concepts of Biointensive and plied him with many questions.

The weather had a large input in Juan’s activities in this part of the year. A hurricane washed out two days of activity in Costa Rica. A serious earthquake in Peru necessitated last minute changes in his schedule there. More hurricanes postponed intended trips to Dominican Republic and Haiti. However, Juan is flexible and always makes best use of his time to further GROW BIOINTENSIVE, whatever the situation.




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