Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Oaxaca Wednesday: Food for Families

by Aly Lewis

For Oaxaca Wednesday I’d like to tell you about my favorite Plant With Purpose project: family gardens. Family gardens grab me from the get-go. I like families. I like gardens. What’s not to like?

What is a family garden?, you ask. Well, a family garden in the Plant With Purpose context is a small vegetable plot that families (usually women) garden in order to provide food for their families and income from the vegetables they sell. These gardens consist of vegetables, medicinal plants, fruit trees, nitrogen-fixing trees, and small animals such as chickens, sheep and rabbits.

For this project, Plant With Purpose teaches women how to create gardens that will diversify the family diet, better use the limited space available for growing food, and improve the fertility and production capacity of their plots. Our agronomist, Raul, conducts the training on topics such as composting and fertilizing, grafting, crop rotation, animal care, soil preparation, nitrogen-fixing plants, harvesting, and food storage. Plant With Purpose also partners with local health clinics, which have unmatched credibility in rural areas, to conduct nutrition seminars. Those topics include the importance of having a balanced diet and the nutritional value of vegetables.

Since the first family vegetable gardens were implemented in Oaxaca in 2002, hundreds of Mixteco families have benefited from the increased nutrition of a more varied diet. Four hundred and fifty-four family gardens have been established to date, producing a wide variety of vegetables supplemented by proteins from meats.

This all sounds well and good—because it is—but I didn’t understand the radical impact of this project until I visited Oaxaca and saw for myself what a difference they’re making in the lives of the farmers and their families. Without family gardens, most farmers only grow corn and beans, meaning they’ll only have corn and beans to eat unless they produce enough to sell extra. If that doesn’t sound unvaried enough, last year a drought caused farmers’ corn and bean crops to fail—dead cornstalks haunted the steep hillsides—and the price of corn and beans skyrocketed. Farmers didn’t grow enough to eat or sell and they couldn’t even afford to buy their staple crops. Even before the drought, doctors estimated that as many as 90% of Mixteco children younger than 5 years old suffer from malnutrition. The devastating effects of malnutrition include stunted physical growth, arrested brain development, and inability of the body’s immune system to effectively combat disease.

But there is hope. Plant With Purpose’s family garden projects make a huge difference in the lives of these children who would otherwise only have corn and beans to eat. To combat drought, Plant With Purpose works with families to construct cisterns to collect and store rainwater during the rainy season so that there is water available to nourish the plots and ensure vegetables—and improved nutrition—year round!

So there you have it, my favorite Plant With Purpose project. Families. Gardens. Improved nutrition. Better lives. What’s not to like?

To donate toward family gardens and help a family improve their nutrition and quality of life, Click here.


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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