Having income to buy food is important to health–but its only part of the issue. In Palomas, fresh food that’s available to purchase is limited in variety, often poor in quality, and expensive. Growing home gardens was a logical first step to take. But, it wasn’t easy. The soil was too poor to produce crops. So, we started to improve the soil.
The Palomas stock yard, eager to reduce the volume of manure they had to dispose, favorably considered a joint project with Border Partners. They permit us to make enriched garden soil at their site. We use manure, cardboard and the additive bio-char, a valuable soil amendment. It holds carbon in the soil and increases the soil biodiversity. Bio-char is produced locally by partially burning pecan shells, abundant in the southwest US. When we mixed enriched soil with the local clay soil 3:1, gardeners could grow vegetables!
In 2016, eighty home gardeners work with Border Partners. Their households receive technical assistance and materials which include, not only composted soil, but also:
- blocks to make raised beds,
- plastic for winter cover,
- shade cloth to protect plants from sun in the summer and
- drip irrigation hose.
Others have started gardens and were forced to quit for various reasons, but may again return to gardening.
Border Partners employs two experienced gardeners from Palomas, Juana Flores and Juana Lozoya, to manage the gardening program. We receive many donations of equipment, tools and supplies from generous individuals and businesses in the US that help keep the program advancing.
In the last seven years we’ve
- built three greenhouses with drip irrigation that are in production year-round.
- installed a 700 gallon rainwater catchment system near two greenhouses,
- started a garden at two public elementary schools and another at a kindergarten.
The garden coordinators offer monthly group classes on elements of successful vegetable gardening. They also teach nutrition classes for children to stress the importance of eating vegetables.
One of the Border Partners’ greenhouses is maintained and harvested year-round by parents and staff from one of the local elementary schools. They use the vegetables in their school lunch program. Previously, they had no source of fresh vegetables to serve the children.
Thanks to a grant from the Paso del Norte Foundation, we hope to open the first farmers’ market in town in late 2016. This will allow more people in town to access to fresh, organic vegetables.