02.07.2012 - 28.07.2012
I haven’t had blisters on my hand in years. Sitting in front of a computer and typing just gives you carpal tunnel. No blisters. But it feels so good to get out in nature and just stick your hands in the dirt.
Unless, of course, there are tarantulas, scorpions, black widows, centipedes, giant reddish grasshopper-like bugs, crickets and other things that Mother Nature put outside to scare you into staying inside. The local people just pick up these cool creatures with their bare hands, to show us “city folk” that they don’t hurt you IF you don’t accidentally step on them or grab them in an unfriendly way. Right. Whatever. As long as you avoid being bitten by a black widow, which you would most likely die from since the nearest hospital is an hour away, the work at the community garden in Santo Domingo-Ocotitlán, Tepoztlán, is masochistically fun.
Casa HOY has sent volunteers two weeks in a row now; the first week three of us went and the second week four of us went. Arriving at the site, we break up into teams. A pair goes off into the brush to find “hojarasca,” the decaying plant material that we sprinkle on top of the beds to provide added nutrients. Another group starts turning over dirt to loosen it up. Another group pulls out weeds and grass and crickets. And the last group begins the more intellectually challenging task of shaping and forming the vegetable beds. I don’t usually participate in that group, because my garden pathways end up more like crooked waves than straight paths for a wheelbarrow to follow.
The project in Ocotitlán is one of a few projects in the area run by the Fundación Comunitaria Morelense, and is a continuation of the local gardening project. A few years ago the Foundation taught local families how to plant a garden for individual use, and that project was so successful that they have managed to rent a piece of land nearby to create a community garden. Produce from the garden will be sold in nearby towns, such as Tepoztlán and even Cuernavaca. The land has already been plowed once, by oxen, and it is now our job, as upright beasts of burden, to mold it into something more productive.
The first week we made 5 beds, in which community members later planted lettuce, fennel, strawberries, etcetera. They grew some plants, like lettuce, in the greenhouse until they were big enough to survive being out on their own. The land hasn’t been cultivated in many years, so the soil is rich and well watered by the daily summer rains. The beds have been made wide enough so that in the dry season two small hoses can run down their length and water the plants. In just a few short weeks, many of the crops will be ready to be harvested and sold. The Foundation already has one buyer in Cuernavaca, La Maga Café, one of Casa HOY’s favorite restaurants. (Their lunchtime salad bar has all the leafy greens you need). This week we did 6 more beds, and finished clearing out the rest of the weeds. We’ve finally gotten the hang of building and shaping the beds, and making sure they’re wide enough for the plants and the hoses.
For me the highlight was lunch, of course. The townspeople provide us with rice, beans, cactus, chicharrón, potatoes with pepper strips and best of all, handmade tortillas. Will work for food. Casa HOY people included volunteers from Oregon, the Virgin Islands, Cuernavaca and Madrid. It’s so inspiring to see an international effort involved in this project. Although we won’t be sending volunteers to the garden for a few weeks, the Foundation promised to keep us posted for the first harvest so we can go and pick out our own veggies.