12 New Greenhouses Improve Health, Nutrition in Palomas

12 New Greenhouses

Ramona (left), veteran gardener, and Juana (right), Border Partners garden coordinator, review winter veggies almost ready to harvest.

While people in the northern US are still shoveling snow this month, families in Palomas, Chihuahua, MX are harvesting fresh lettuce for their dinner salads. Only a few years ago, diabetes was epidemic there and fresh vegetables not available. In response to residents’ requests to help them improve health, Border Partners introduced raised-bed, covered gardens in 2009. Gardeners have raised healthy vegetables year-round in this small border outpost ever since.

greenhouses veggies

Nutrition-packed, leafy green vegetables thrive in greenhouses during the cool winter climate of the high desert.

But since last fall, thanks to grant funding from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, production is blossoming! Twelve experienced gardeners now have home greenhouses (12’ x 15’) where they can increase their production. This month they’re harvesting celery, spinach, chard, kale, beets, cilantro, radishes and broccoli–in addition to that lettuce. These are all crops that thrive in cool weather. Since temperatures in this high desert town often fall into the 20’s overnight in January and February, these crops grow very well.

Peter Edmunds, Border Partners’ general manager explains:

“Greenhouses are about control. Throughout the year, the extremes of summer heat and winter cold are controlled. Greenhouse gardening, if done right, lets the gardener use every square foot of space–all year.”

Greenhouse Construction

greenhouse construction

Home gardeners worked together to help each other build the home greenhouses, using materials provided by a grant from Paso del Norte Health Foundation.

Border Partners provided the materials for the greenhouses. But the gardeners constructed the greenhouses themselves, working together with our gardening staff. Each recipient agreed at the outset to contribute forty hours of labor to help build all the greenhouses. Twelve are now completed at family homes. These families not only eat the vegetables they grow themselves but generally they also share them with extended family and neighbors.

Two larger greenhouses will be built in March at elementary schools. Palomas school children will learn how to garden and will harvest vegetables to use for their own school lunch programs.

Next Priority: Rainwater Capture

In March, each gardener in the program will receive a rainwater catchment barrel and eave troughs to collect water from the roof of their home for watering the greenhouse. This promotes production since they’re gardening in the desert–where every drop of water is precious. And that highlights another advantage of greenhouse gardening: soil needs less water because it’s protected from direct sunlight.

Border Partners places strong emphasis on its gardening program because of the potential that better access to fresh vegetables has for making significant changes in community health.

Starting Young: School gardens and nutrition classes

kids prepare fresh salad

Learning nutrition is “hands-on” (quite literally) as students get involved in preparing nutritious foods.

students eat fresh salad

Students enjoy eating the fresh salads that they prepared as part of nutrition class.

Back in March, Border Partner’s gardeners and volunteer parents began building gardens at two elementary schools in Palomas: Ramon Espinoza and Ignacio Zaragoza. These schools share a facility and grounds but one student body meets there in the morning and a different one convenes there in the afternoon. After planting seeds with the children, each school now has four raised garden beds alongside each other–all growing summer crops in the hot sunshine.

The next step was to ensure the children would eat the vegetables they were growing. So, our gardeners began to get the children involved. They had the kids plant seeds in cups so they could take a plant home. They made a big salad with the kids so they could taste the veggies they were growing. And, they taught them about all the vitamins vegetables have that will make their bodies strong.

In her own words, Juana Flores, tells about the classes she’s teaching:

“The children in one of my classes are from ages 6-7 and in the other ages 9-10. I’m teaching them about the vitamins and minerals that fruits and vegetables have and how to enjoy the flavors of vegetables. Some children are not familiar with the vegetables that we’re growing. These vegetables are chard, spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, tomatoes, cilantro and celery.”

She continues: “The vegetables the children like best are carrots, green chiles, lettuce, spinach, radishes, broccoli, lettuce and cucumber.”

“One day in the class, we prepared a big salad with chard, spinach, lettuce, carrot, green chile and cucumber. The lesson was about vitamins. The funny thing was that the children who said they didn’t like vegetables finished them all and wanted more. They learned that vegetables are very important, so they stay healthy and grow well.”

school gardens

Parent volunteers constructed the covered, raised bed gardens at the elementary schools.

Master Gardener Visit Yields Benefits that Cross the Border

Jackye Meinecke (L) chats with the Border Partners team Juan Rascon, Peter Edmunds, and Juana Flores during her visit to our garden program in Puerto Palomas.

Jackye Meinecke (L) chats with the Border Partners team Juan Rascon, Peter Edmunds, and Juana Flores during her visit to our garden program in Puerto Palomas.

Jackye Meinecke, a master gardener from Las Cruces, NM, responded to our invitation to Puerto Palomas. Her mission on September 21 was to see Border Partners’ garden projects and advise us about our methods. It was a productive visit!

As Jackye arrived that morning, the local gardeners were in the process of moving the locations of garden beds inside the community greenhouse. Immediately, Jackye admired the healthy soil, appreciatively cupping it in her hands and sniffing it. Jackye was able to offer some advice on bed location and design, but she also generously affirmed the gardener team on the good work they were accomplishing.

Noting that would be a difficult to cultivate plants near the building, Jackye advised that we increase rain water collection along the exterior of the building walls. If even weeds don’t grow in any location, she commented, that’s a sign that it will be hard to make any other kind of plant grow in that location.

Jackye also advised us to ensure that tree roots don’t encroach into the nearby community demonstration garden bed. She recommended adding compost around the base of the trees to promote tree health.

Jackye enjoyed samplings of various edible plants we offered her. She seemed to appreciate this opportunity, as some of them are quite uncommon in the U.S.

Jackye then toured many of the home gardens around town. At the various home sites, she offered advice that would promote improved plant production by altering bed design, by using home livestock compost and by rotating garden locations.

While at various home gardens we all enjoyed sampling white pomegranates. Although Jackye had heard of this variety, she had never before tasted it.

Jackye’s visit to Puerto Palomas concluded with lunch with members of the Border Partners team. It was a beneficial day of real cross-border partnership. View more images from the day on our Flickr album.

Life ends, but assistance to programming continues–thanks to supporter’s help

Pat Dingels

Pat Dingels’ positive influence will continue to promote growth and assistance. [Contributed photo]

Our friends on Facebook saw Border Partners’ supporter Pat Dingels’ positive “thumb’s up” frequently. No matter what the status update, we could count on her “liking” our news about Palomas Oilcolth Designs. Her encouragement was unflagging, and she was a good customer of their products, too. When we received word of her death last month, we grieved. But Pat’s support of our programming continues, nevertheless, and in a unique way.

One of our unfulfilled wishes of recent years has been for a golf cart. We can envision so many practical uses for this simple form of transportation in the town of Puerto Palomas, a place where many people don’t own personal cars. When we learned that Pat bequeathed her golf cart to us, we hastened to transport it from it’s storage place in Arizona to its new home, serving residents on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Because this golf cart is electric, it roughly costs only 2 cents per mile to operate. Our truck, in comparison, costs about 20 cents per mile to operate. Although the cart must be recharged after about 80 miles of use, it will still save us money. Moreover, it uses no gas and produces no emissions.

golf cart

Gardening coordinators are eager to use the golf cart to visit home gardens in Palomas.

Our new golf cart will allow Border Partners’ local coordinators to get about town efficiently: be it to visit gardens, get to meetings or assist local residents in need. Since our mission promotes sustainable technology, we plan to equip the cart with solar panels, so it won’t need fossil fuel. Palomas’s bountiful sunshine can power the cart’s trips about town. Then, it will leave no carbon footprint at all!

When people die, their influence to effect good continues nevertheless in the memorial assistance that is contributed in their name. No surprise that people have designated Border Partners as the beneficiary of memorials in Pat’s name. This funding will promote a better standard of living for people on the border who, through no fault of their own, lack many advantages. Additionally, her family donated to us her clothing as well as dishes, pots and pans and garden tools.

The sad occasion of Pat Dingel’s death calls us to thank her and her family for their ongoing support that we so deeply appreciate. Our work, now newly augmented, will continue. And, while it is true that no one can take Pat’s place, we hope that the inspiration of Pat’s example will inspire us all to remember those less fortunate and redouble our efforts to assist them.


Palomas garden program now generates funds through local sales

fresh produce

Gardening coordinator Juana Flores shows the packaged produce which is ready for sale.

Border Partners’ gardening program now sells locally grown produce, marking another step forward for the citizens of Puerto Palomas. Our local producers and gardening promoters now offer fresh produce weekly at Palomas stores and restaurants.

The program began last month and sold offerings including a variety of lettuces, spinach, chard, cilantro and parsley. The Pink Store, the large downtown tourist restaurant and vendor of Mexican artisania, placed the first major order for the garden produce, using the very fresh products for a large party they hosted. Since then, Memo’s Grocery and interested individuals have been returning customers.

Vending local produce allows the gardening program to raise funding that will supply seeds, equipment and support to local gardening families. This will support sustainable programming and help the gardening program expand to involve new families that want to participate.

Local leaders of the gardening program–Juana Flores, Juana Lozoya and Helena Myers–prepare harvest, prepare and package the produce for sale.

Because locally produced, organic produce provides improved nutrition and reduces risk of health challenges associated with chemicals sometimes used in commercial production of produce, these sales offer a healthy alternative food source to the border community.

According to Helena Myers, the gardens are currently being re-planted to grow spring crops. As soon as the new crop is ready to harvest, sales will resume.

“Possibilities are expanding,” she remarked.

Palomas principal appreciates help that makes a concrete difference

school food program

Ford Elementary School principal Angel Garibay displays canned food Border Partners deliveredi

We at Border Partners prefer to partner with existing institutions in order to provide material assistance. Institutions already in place are more familiar with the needs of the people and have also determined the best way to address those needs. One partner institution with whom we’ve developed a warm relationship is the Ford Elementary School in Palomas.

When we were making a short pre-Christmas visit to Ford, Angel Garibay, the Ford principal, seemed delighted to have the chance to thank Border Partners and its supporters for the concrete support his school has received from them. The Principal in fact immediately launched into a beautiful and impromptu statement of appreciation when the microphone was passed to him.

We present to you his statement –translated whole and entire. It is you who make this good work possible through your donations. We want you to know how much it is appreciated.


I appreciate the work that Border Partners has done, especially in education. Their support of us [at Ford School] has been very good.

They have especially helped us in two areas.

First: in the area of computer technology, their “computer team” helped us acquire the equipment. Now the children have a computer teacher, and they also have the machines so that they can work.

The other area—one that’s also very important–is that every month Border Partners supports us so that we can provide food for the students. That means that they bring us eggs, potatoes, fruit, cheese, a variety of canned products—and all of this is for the good  of the children.

The children are eating breakfast here between 7:30 and 8 AM and they eat another meal here at school between 1:30-2 PM. This would not be possible without the assistance you’ve given us.

At this point in the end of the year, hope that God will bless every single person who has helped us through these projects. We also hope that 2013 is filled with fruitfulness for you all.


Ford students at garden

Ford Students are successful gardeners.

Now that 2013 is underway, we’ve begun and accomplished two more important projects at Ford. In addition to the new school garden plots that are already producing (see photo, right) we also installed a solar cooker. The school food program will be able to use the cooker, utilizing free sunshine rather than the expensive utilities of gas and electricity, to provide warm food for the children.

You help allows us to augment the important work of the Ford educators, enriching the lives of the young students. Thanks for your support!

Students Create a Ford School Garden

garden diggingThe elementary school students at Ford School in Palomas are doing-it-themselves. They’re creating a school garden. In fact, they’re building several raised bed plots.

The plots will teach life-learning lessons about gardening, food and nutrition. Eventually, teachers will base curriculum lessons on the gardens–particularly in math and science. Best of all, the students will proudly eat the food they’ve raised themselves at school lunches.

In this photo sequence you’ll see the students building the raised bed frames for the garden plots and preparing the soil. Their intense interest and eagerness to participate in the process can’t be faked–it’s “the real McCoy!”

Our garden coordinators are working closely with the Ford School staff to direct and teach the children. But, the digging, the hauling, the watering, the planting–actually, in every aspect–the students are doing the work themselves.

See this process for yourself on our Flickr set: Ford School Garden! Thank you so much for making the good work possible with your support! [Click on the thumbnails individually to see the full-sized photo for better viewing.]


Ford School Garden, a set on Flickr.

Top 4 Needs in Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

A Special Report by Polly Edmunds, Border Partners co-founder

Itʼs always difficult to know where to start when I am asked what the top needs are in Palomas. I wish I could take you on a tour of this Mexican border town, and you would see for yourself as we drive along the dusty, rutted streets: the empty factories, run-down housing, poorly equipped schools and parks.

But I think you would also be impressed with the calibre of people you would meet. Despite difficult living conditions and generally low levels of education, so many people in Pto. Palomas are energetic and hopeful for their communityʼs future.

Need #1 More income

After working closely with people living in the community for four years, I can say with confidence that their most important need is for more income. By some estimates, unemployment in Pto. Palomas is at 80%, but most people do find some way to make a little money. They have garage sales, wash cars for tourists or sell cookies to a local grocery. Right now there is work in the fields
paying about $10 for a nine hour day. Border Partners is always looking for opportunities for people to earn money. This is our greatest challenge.

Palomas Oilcloth Designs: Creater and customer meet

Palomas Oilcloth Designs: Creator and customer meet

Accomplishments and Hopes

  • We’ve helped seven women start their own cooperative business, making products out of Mexican oilcloth. They now run this business themselves, needing assistance only for sales in the USA.
  • Border Partners employs three Mexican citizens who work in their community promoting our programs year round. We hire several more for special projects.

Need #2 Programs to improve health

On our tour, the second need would not be as visible. Because of chronic low income and lack of good, affordable fruits and vegetables in the stores, there are many health problems associated with poor nutrition: high blood pressure, diabetes and respiratory illness. Many people are overweight. The parks do not have good play equipment nor are there programs for children to get good outdoor

In addition, there is only one public clinic in this community of about 5,000 and no private doctors. The closest hospital is in Deming, NM, and most people cannot cross the U.S. border to access it. The closest hospital in Mexico is 1.5 hours away.

home garden

Introducing cold frame gardens to Palomas provides improved nutrition, even during the winter months.

Accomplishments and Hopes

  • Border Partners has helped 35 families start year-round home gardens so they can grow their own, organic vegetables for their families. Our promoters offer free materials, seeds and technical assistance. We would like to expand this program and eventually start a farmers market.
  • Border Partners sponsors three free aerobics classes every week.  We hope to soon build adult exercise stations in one of the municipal parks.
  • Border Partners has made improvements at two city parks, adding playground equipment, volleyball courts, basketball hoops.  We hope to build a dirt bike track and climbing wall which would provide more recreation for teens. There is very little for them to do in town.
  • Border Partners provides about $150 worth of canned fruits and vegetables,cheese and eggs to each of three elementary schools each month. This supplements the dried foods they get from the government and improves the quality of nutrition the children receive at school.
  • In June, 2012, we sponsored a training for community health educators. There is a great need for health education for all ages. The teen pregnancy rate is high. Child abuse rate is higher in Pto. Palomas than in other parts of Mexico.

Need #3 Education

Many people in the community have not completed more than the 6th grade. Many families can’t afford the costs of education.

Accomplishments and Hopes

  • Border Partners has upgraded the computers at the public library so that now they have 12 computers connected to the internet. Some of the main users are high school students because the Prepatoria (high school) in Pto. Palomas does not have internet. We hope to build an community education classroom with state of the art equipment so it can offer distance learning college classes as well as basic literacy, math, computer skills. 
  • In August 2012, Border Partners will set up a computer lab for each of the three elementary schools. They will be able to use learning software provided by the Mexican government. We would like to add more computers to each lab. For now, we only have six for each school.

Need #4 Better Housing

Palomas dwelling

Many family homes in Palomas are substandard.

Many of the homes are in poor condition, unfinished and/or very small. Most are constructed of cement blocks which provide poor insulation. Thus, homes are hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

Accomplishments and Hopes

  • Border Partners collects used and donated building materials and helps people fix their homes.
  • We are supporting a group of women who want to repair their homes by teaching them to make papercrete blocks (made of cement and recycled paper which makes them highly insulating and lighter than pure cement blocks). The women can use these blocks to repair and expand their homes as well as to sell so that they have money to buy other construction materials they need to upgrade their family’s homes.

The needs are clear to us. The people of Palomas are ready to work toward a better future. We invite you to join with us as we build a better U.S.-Mexico border community together.

“People say, ‘What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment.”  – Dorothy Day

Desert Exposure spotlights Border Partners


Desert Exposure masthead

Desert Exposure masthead

Desert Exposure, a free monthly magazine in tabloid format, is featuring this month Border Partners’ work and activities in Palomas. It is running an extensive article by Marjorie Lilly, entitled “Putting Heads Together,” as one of its major news stories for June 2012.

Marjory Lilly traveled to Palomas twice as she researched her material for the article. She visited gardens, a gardener’s meeting, our woodworking shop and a Palomas Oilcloth Designs business meeting. She also individually interviewed Polly and Peter Edmunds, Border Partners founders, and Joel Carreon, a member of the Board of Directors.

The article demonstrates the needs in Palomas and showcase some of the ways Border Partners is responding. A few highlights from the article:

  • Juana Lozoya, our Palomas garden promoter, shared her belief that every garden member family has lacked food at some point in the past year or so.
  • The gardening group membership has grown from just 15 last winter to 40 members currently.
  • Border Partners is introducing “papercrete” — bricks made from paper, sand, cement and water–in Palomas constructions due to its phenomenal insulating qualities.
  • The women of Palomas Oilcloth Designs earned an average of $75 a week in 2011, an increase from just $45 in 2010. “This group is really in business now,” states the article.
  • Border Partners is the only international organization currently in Palomas that is doing “development projects.” Other groups primarily distribute supplies and provide services.
Marjorie Lily

Marjorie Lilly (photo credit: Desert Exposure)

Desert Exposure has served readers throughout Southwest New Mexico since 1996. It’s been called “the New Yorker of New Mexico” for its unique mix of investigative reporting, colorful columnists, in-depth feature journalism, interviews, offbeat stories, arts and events information and humor.

Desert Exposure reported in May 2009 on our worker-owned women’s cooperative business when it was but a fledgling group [c.f. “Viva La Cooperativa”]. Palomas Oilcloth Designs, now standing almost completely independent of Border Partners, receives important attention in the article. [See also “Some News from Palomas Oilcloth Designs” for recent updates.]

We genuinely appreciate Marjorie Lilly’s time and attention to detail as she reported on the community development projects Border Partners has initiated and/or supported. Desert Exposure’s distribution will broaden regional awareness of both the needs in Palomas and a number of the ways we at Border Partners are “putting heads together” on the U.S.-Mexico border to address those needs.


Meet Juana Flores, our newest Palomas promoter!

Juana Flores

Juana Flores, our newest promoter in Palomas, at her home garden.

Juana Flores, our newest Palomas promoter, came on-board this spring to coordinate projects funded by our grant from the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC). She heads the crew that is installing greywater reuse systems in the homes of Palomas gardeners. These systems divert washing machine water to the gardens to irrigate the home crops.

Juana and her crew have already installed 21 such systems, after beginning production in April. These yield significant improvements by:

  • boosting plant growth in our harsh desert environment
  • diverting water that would normally be lost to the sewage system
  • preventing increased utility bills by diminishing the fresh water needed for irrigation
  • conserving the precious natural resource of water–particularly important during this time of severe drought.

These photos illustrate that the water reuse systems, coupled with our compost soil augmentation system, are producing remarkable results:

Juana Flores in garden: April 18, 2012

Juana Flores in garden: April 18, 2012

Juana Flores garden: May 11, 2012

Juana Flores garden: May 11, 2012

In a few weeks, the plant growth is significant. The graywater reuse collection system is visible in the May 11 photo (above): note the blue barrel next to the house, toward the rear of the garden. The technology is not complex, so the cost is reasonable.