Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oaxaca Wednesday: No Small Tomatoes

by Aly Lewis

As the sun set over the hills of Rio Plaza, my world was about to be rocked—by a tomato greenhouse.

Earlier in the week our friend Godofredo of Llano de la Canoa showed us his family’s tomato greenhouse. I had been impressed with the size and production of the greenhouse; it produces almost 2,000 pounds of fresh, high quality tomatoes a year that Godofredo sells for a good price to his community. Little did I know Godofredo’s family business was small potatoes—or in this case, tomatoes—compared to what I was going to see.

The large, community-operated tomato greenhouse in Rio Plaza was huge. The tomatoes where suspended on vines, as if they were hanging from the ceiling, not growing up from the ground. I was reminded of a cornfield, but instead of rows and rows of corn, the place was sprawling with tomatoes. Lost in my own tomato admiring reverie, I couldn’t even hear—or see—the group talking on the other side of the building. It was that big.

We had been later than expected when we finally arrived in Rio Plaza, and almost everyone had left for home. Everyone except one patient farmer, Claudio. He patiently answered our questions, explaining that the plastic covering the mounds of soil is to keep the weeds out and the water in. When Graciela, one of our Oaxacan staff members, asked him how business had been, he responded with a simple “Try one” and a twinkle in his eye.

More striking than the massive scale of the greenhouse and the time and care and knowledge the abundant crop represents is the remarkable impact the greenhouse has on the community of Rio Plaza. Without a greenhouse they can’t even grow tomatoes in the chilly mountains of the Mixteca Alta. Most families grow—and eat—only corn, beans, and squash and malnutrition is a serious problem.

With PWP’s technical expertise and the community’s hard work, they are growing enough to supply the entire village with fresh, nutritious tomatoes year round. The greenhouse also brings in around $3,000 a year, providing a huge supplement to local income. With the added income, families can receive adequate nutrition, invest in other sustainable businesses, and even send their children to school.

Congratulations, Rio Plaza, you’ve put my Tomato Terror to shame.

Don Claudio smiles as he packs up tomatoes from the greenhouse.

The greenhouse in Rio Plaza, photo courtesy of David Overturf.

Top Right photo courtesy of Ruby Coria.


Aly Lewis is Plant With Purpose’s Grant Writer. She researches funding opportunities, writes proposals, and submits progress reports on funding received. She also writes the content for Plant With Purpose's Sponsor A Village program.

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