The Making of a Border Partner

Sherry Reynolds (left) digs into the compost production. She “digs” Border Partners.

by Sherry Reynolds, Border Partners Board Member

I’m a wanderer. I wandered the southwest for years after my retirement, volunteering at federal and state recreation lands and a few NGOs. There was too much to see and to experience ever to repeat a volunteer gig. And I never did.

Until Border Partners.

The idea of having nothing to do was an anathema to me. So, when a government-shutdown made my upcoming assignment at a National Wildlife Refuge iffy, a friend told me about Border Partners.
Location: Great; I already was in southern NM.
Work: Many and varied projects; surely there’d be something I could do.
People: Friends of my friend, so probably ok.
And, heck, I needed to fill a couple of months, not make a lifetime commitment.

That was going-on 4 years ago, and I keep repeating and repeating and repeating the gig! (Were it not for my summer travels, I might have to stop characterizing myself as a wanderer.)

So, what could propel an inveterate wanderer off the road? To make a long-term commitment to a single organization? Border Partners: it could and it did—because it’s different:

  • No lip-service: when they say they want the projects to be sustainable, when they say border residents are capable of improving their own communities, they mean it and work to make it so.
  • No patriarchy: the word empowerment is front and center in their overarching goal to empower residents of border communities.
  • No complacency: lots of pride in the work that is done, but no smugness, no resting on laurels.

Today I am as excited about what Border Partners is doing as I was when I first met the members of their community on both sides of the border and learned of their myriad projects. My secret passion is the greenhouses where, in an area that has been called a “vegetable desert,” vegetables are grown in community-, school- and home-greenhouses; used in hot meals prepared for isolated seniors, used by schools for making lunches, and used in homes to provide healthful meals for families. It’s classic Border Partners: working on long-term and sustainable ways to improve eating habits and encouraging the consumption of fruits and vegetables, and changing an area that was a “vegetable desert” into an area of many vegetable gardeners and cooks.

While greenhouses are my secret passion, they link to and complement other Border Partner projects. The vegetables improve nutrition and when coupled with Border Partners programs to augment the area’s recreation facilities and exercise classes, overall health improvements result. Link again to mental health workshops and to classes for expectant and new mothers. And link yet again to blood pressure and glucose checks. The linkages go on and on as is necessary to improve overall general health and quality of life in the borderland.

Border Partners does so much, and has no shortage of ideas to do so much more. But funding can be a challenge. That is why, beyond the commitment of volunteer time, I have made Border Partners the primary recipient of my charitable donations.

Given all that Border Partners does, how could I not become a Border Partner?

Irrigation system set to drip in newest greenhouse

The drip irrigation system feeds water directly to the plants in the soil, allowing for better water usage, less evaporation and water loss, and ultimately improved vegetable production. This conserves natural resources and saves money.

Border Partners staff and volunteers completed our third community greenhouse this week. This one has a drip irrigation system – something we’ve wanted for a long time. The gardening staff rose to the occasion, putting in extra hours to get the greenhouse shell and the raised beds finished in time for the volunteers’ arrival. The volunteers brought supplies and a good plan for the installation.
Fortunately, the weather cooperated: no high winds or intense heat interfered with this construction job.

BIG THANKS are due to many:

  • the generous donors to our “SeedMoney Challenge” fundraising event of November 2021 who funded the materials.
  • Pete Nason, faithful supporter, for his solid knowledge of how drip irrigation systems function.
  • Samuel, our neighbor near the greenhouses who allowed Border Partners to site the greenhouse on his land.
  • Peter Edmunds for his research into the parts needed for the system and how to put them together successfully. And finally –
  • Juan Rascon, our Community Coordinator in Palomas, for master organization and to
  • Border Partners’ competent gardening staff: Joel Carreon, Juan Lares and Jose Luis Munoz for their hard work getting the greenhouse built.

What’s Next?

The gardeners plan to keep careful records of the water use. This will let them compare the new system compared with the traditional hose-watering used in the other two greenhouses. They’ll also track and compare production of vegetables in all the greenhouses to try to quantify the effect of the drip irrigation. From all we have learned, drip irrigation will use less water more efficiently. In our desert climate, it’s very important to conserve water.

Come and visit if you can to see the plants growing. And if you can’t, we’ll keep you posted about how it’s working.

Spring brings more than flowers to Palomas

Fresh greens in the greenhouse announce that spring is here. And we add our third community greenhouse this month.

With the beginning of Spring, everything is more open in Palomas. This is both welcome and a relief after two years of confinement and limited activities. New projects are sprouting up. Old ones are blossoming. Schools are open more hours. All the staff are very busy!

New Projects

  • Staff set up an exercise room at the Middle School with weights, stationary bikes and other exercise machines. It will be open to teens and adults.
  • Ten teenagers attended a workshop on healthy sexuality and methods of birth control.
  • All the kids at the two elementary schools in Palomas each got lunch one day per week – prepared and delivered by our staff. Because of government COVID regulations still in place, no one can cook at the schools. The Promotoras make peanut butter sandwiches at our office and deliver them along with fruit to each classroom. It looks like the restrictions may be lifted on April 25 which would allow cooks back in the school. Then we hope to resume our delivery of supplemental healthy food for the cooks to use in their menus – as we did pre-COVID.
  • We started using compostable plates for our senior meals on wheels program. This will divert Styrofoam from the landfill and help with making the compost we use on our gardens.
  • Joel Carreon, our Gardening Coordinator, gave a class for 10 people about how to successfully manage a home greenhouse.

Ongoing Projects Continue

  • Staff distributed 100 food baskets to benefit 496 people in three neighboring towns. They also gave clothing.
  • Each weekday the Promotoras deliver a hot meal to 25 isolated seniors.
  • The Border Partners Education Center is open regularly again 3-6 p.m. each weekday.
  • 46 people came to our office for blood pressure and/or glucose checks.
  • Ten people are regularly attending our daily zumba classes.
  • The greenhouses at the three schools and at our main site are literally sprouting all kinds of veggies.

This week staff will build a third greenhouse. Look for photos next month of installing our first real drip irrigation system. We’re hoping to save water and grow better vegetables.

 
March 2022

How asylum seekers relate to Border Partners–one volunteer’s perspective

People cross into El Paso from Juarez at the Paso Del Norte port of entry.

By Billie Greenwood

You probably don’t know me, but you know my work. I’ve been the Border Partners website manager almost since its beginning. I met Border Partners while volunteering in El Paso 15 winters ago. This winter I again helped process incoming immigrants in El Paso, folks seeking asylum in the US. 

Volunteering in El Paso is a different type of volunteering than writing and uploading photos for you. I was face-to-face with people I hear about on the news: 

  • Haitians, 
  • unaccompanied minors, 
  • Central American migrants, 
  • families who languished in Mexican shelters for months as they awaited the opportunity to enter the US.

Billie Greenwood, in her plain volunteer dwelling in El Paso

All of them would have preferred to be back home. Wherever “home” was for them. But, they felt forced to leave. Some were forced by violence, others by poverty. These lucky “few” I served in El Paso somehow eluded the man-made barriers that trap most in peril and force them to remain in Mexico.

Border Partners, on the other hand, helps people be able to stay at home in or near the Palomas border. When living conditions improve, people don’t have to leave. Migration is hard. It’s better to help people stay.

Through its history Border Partners has weathered seasons of violence in Mexico. It remained stable throughout political shifts and election changes. It works respectfully with all people and has earned respect in return.

I’m proud of what Border Partners does. Even better, I love how they listen to people’s needs and partner—never dictate—to improve lives. 

Whatever we can do to help people stay home is very important.

Diaz Donation to Improve Computer Center in Palomas

Internet access and computing technology advance opportunities for all border residents.

 

Edward Diaz, 1958-2019

Border Partners received wonderful news last week. New Mexico Chile Products and the Diaz Family donated $15,000 to honor their brother Edward who recently died. The money allow us to replace the computers and a printer at the Border Partners’ Education Center in Palomas with new equipment. Updated technology will better serve the needs of people in Palomas.

The Center will be re-named in honor of Mr. Diaz. In the future, it will be called the Eduardo Diaz Education Center.

The Silver City Rotary Club donated the computers that are currently used in the Education Center in 2013. Those devices will receive updates. Then, they’ll find a new home in school computer labs in Palomas.

This donation comes at a perfect time for Border Partners. Last month, the Municipal Government of Palomas gave us permission to open the Education Center again after being closed by COVID restrictions for two years.  Once again, we’ll be able to allow students to come to do their homework using the computers and the Internet. Our Border Partners staff can once again offer classes. From 3-6 p.m. each day anyone who needs to use a computer can come to the Center and use one there.

Juan Lares, the Education Center Coordinator, is currently teaching computer skills and use of the Internet to the Promotoras .

We’re profoundly grateful to the Diaz Family for their generous donation. It will to improve educational opportunity in Palomas. Muchas Gracias!

Border Partners and Border Health

by Morgan Smith

Two gardening coordinators harvest for Border Partners in one of the community greenhouses.

Sometimes what you remember most is not what you have seen but what you haven’t seen. In my ten plus years of working along the Mexican border what I haven’t seen is green – the green of fruit and vegetables being grown in people’s back yards. The reality is that communities like Palomas, Mexico or the area on the west edge of Juárez are “vegetable deserts.” Not only are vegetables not grown but it is almost impossible to buy them.

Border Partners, a non-profit formed in 2008 by Peter and Polly Edmunds of Deming and Helena Myers of Columbus, New Mexico is trying to change that in Palomas.

When they formed Border Partners, their two main Palomas issues were the lack of jobs and the poor health services. With a population of less than 5,000, no real industrial base and a long drive to the maquila plants outside of Juárez, job creation is always going to be a struggle for Palomas. In terms of health, however, Border Partners has been a leader and innovator.

Health is a huge issue in Mexico and particularly along the border. Seventeen percent of Mexican adults aged 20-79 have diabetes. It’s the third leading cause of death after heart disease and COVID. Mexicans consume more Coca Cola than any other country in the world with 634 8 ounce servings per year per person. ( The US is in third place with 403 servings per year.)

Before COVID, volunteer medical personnel from the United States filled some of the gap caused by a lack of government supported Mexican health care. For example, the non-profit Siguiendo los Pasos de Jesús (SPJ) located on the west side of Juárez hosted monthly clinics that were provided by volunteer medical personnel from El Paso.

Starting in 2015, the El Paso del Norte Health Foundation began providing grants to Border Partners for a variety of health initiatives in Palomas and the smaller communities to the south. In 2021 these initiatives included.

  • Delivering more than 6,000 hot meals to 25 isolated seniors every weekday.
  • Providing 922 free checks for blood pressure and glucose levels.
  • Providing training for pregnant women in various pregnancy related issues.
  • One on one counseling for 20 pregnant women and girls.
  • School workshops regarding COVID prevention.
  • Individual support to 42 gardeners who have greenhouses.
  • Providing food for the community through its two large greenhouses.
  • Offering 177 free Zumba exercise classes and organized one community bicycle event for 40 participants.
  • Organizing three training sessions for its “promotoras” related to pregnancy, early childhood development and nutrition.

Making two deliveries a month of food to three small communities to the south– Modelo, El Entronque and Victoria. I participated in a delivery to Modelo last September and the need was enormous.

What Border Partners is doing, however, goes beyond simply providing food. The larger goal is to change eating habits and encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables. In shot, to change the food culture.

What we focused on during my February 25 visit was the gardening project, an innovative venture considering the relative shortage of water, the very poor soils and the lack of a culture of producing or even eating vegetables.

The first step is to improve the soil by mixing manure from the nearby feedlots with what is called biochar, a charcoal that is produced by burning pecan shells. Border Partners has produced a biochar stove that can be used both for home heating and for burning these shells. It was designed by Bill Knauss of Silver City and Adrian Acuna of Palomas is building them in his metal shop.

Border Partners is now working with families to help them implement this for home heating as well as the production of the biochar.

In addition, 42 families already have home gardens and 12 of them have small greenhouses.

Border Partners also has two greenhouses of its own. ( A third is planned.) The carrots, cilantro, varieties of lettuce, and other vegetables are used in the preparation of the meals for the 25 seniors. In addition, some bedding is to be packed in small boxes and taken to local schools so that students can learn how to produce vegetables themselves. What’s obvious, however, is that it doesn’t take much space to produce enough for a family.

How will this turn out? Will the initial families stick with the program of making the biochar? Can more families participate? Will the students begin encouraging their parents regarding a change of diet.

I think also of the barren terrain in the area west of Juárez where SPJ works. SPJ has exercise programs and will soon, we hope, be able to resume its twice-monthly health clinics. But what about a vegetable program there modeled on the work of Border Partners?

For years I’ve been making monthly trips to deliver food and clothing to the border but that’s just for temporary survival. What Border Partners is doing very different and much more important; it’s a project that is permanently changing life styles and culture. Congratulations and best wishes.

Morgan Smith has been writing about border issues for the last decade. He can be reached at Morgan-smith@comcast.net.

 

An Amazing Day in Palomas–plus a recipe!

By Polly Edmunds

Every day I spend in Palomas is wonderful but yesterday was exceptional! I learned even more than I usually do, saw impressive projects and was even more grateful for our hard-working staff.

It all began with an invitation to meet with Morgan Smith, a good friend of Border Partners (BP), at our office. He wanted to talk about the how my husband and I and Helena Myers had started BP. It was fun to talk with him in our office which is now back on the same corner as where we had our first meetings in 2008, to talk with women about what Palomas needed.  

Since growing healthy food was one of the first things those women said they needed. So, our conversation with Morgan naturally turned to how our gardening program has evolved over the years.  Early on, we began using manure from the stockyards in town to enrich the native soil.  Now we have found a source of manure that is well-aged rather than fresh. Using aged manure serves us better because it is useful in much less time because it doesn’t require a time-consuming wait.  

For the last seven years, we’ve added bio-char to our compost. Made from burning pecan shells in special stoves, bio-char holds nitrogen in the soil and releases it slowly to plants. Our Gardening Coordinator, Joel Carreon, told our group that now they are experimenting with growing plants in the manure/biochar mix alone without any soil.

They’re also planning to experiment with several different growing “soils” in our new (third!) community greenhouse. This experiment will demonstrate the difference that the type of soil makes in plant vigor and production. The soils will be:

  • local dirt alone
  • dirt with added bio-char and manure
  • bio-char and manure alone

Cabbage Soya Salad: a typical taste of Mexico. Try our recipe in your kitchen.

During our conversation, the Promotoras were busy making their daily lunch for seniors.  The menu included a main-dish salad with vegetables (mostly from the BP gardens) served on a tostada.  We all loved the samples they gave us!

Here’s the recipe: Veggie Salad with Soya and Lime

Just cut up equal parts of cabbage, carrots, celery and spinach. Add some dried soy granules (sometimes called texturized vegetable protein or tvp). Dress it with lime juice and a bit of salsa. Serve with chips or on a tostada. This is a taste of Mexico!

Then, the excitement started!  Staff were running into the office building and calling for water!  Flames spewed across the street from a pickup owned by the Volunteer Fire Department. The fire grew rapidly and was quite scary. In just minutes, the fire truck arrived to douse the flames. But, the truck was ruined.  Fortunately, no one was injured.

Destructive fire consumed fire department pickup across the street from the Border Partners office.

Mayor of Palomas, Jose Adame

In the middle of all this we were pulled aside to meet the new Mayor of Palomas, Jose Adame, who had come to see what was happening.  

Then it was time to see some gardens.  We visited the community greenhouses which had winter greens in all stages of growth – from ready-to-pick to just starting to grow. Good planning, gardeners.

Joel Carreon (left) and Juan Lares (right) stand before the greenhouse at Yolanda’s house in Palomas

Next we drove south to see one of the home greenhouse gardens and meet Yolanda Garcia and her daughter who grow healthy vegetables assisted by our BP gardeners.

Yolanda (right) stands proudly in their family greenhouse with fresh vegetables growing behind her and her daughter.

Our last stop was at the home of Jose Luis Munoz, one of our gardening staff, and his family.  His wife, Monica Montano, showed us all the environmentally-friendly methods they have incorporated into their backyard “farm”:  

  • fruit trees and flowers watered with water from their washing machine;
  • a BP greenhouse filled with vegetables and
  • sheep, chickens, rabbits, and quail growing in pens.

As we were leaving Monica and Jose’s home, Juan Rascon, told us more good news. An official from the state government agency that assists adults who want to learn trades contacted him for more information about BP’s gardening program. They will make a visit soon to discuss it further.

This was truly an inspiring day. I’m very grateful for our staff for their hard work in maintaining the high quality of all of our programs and all of our supporters who make our work possible with donations of all kinds.

Biochar Stoves: Heat source of the future?

 

Recent biochar stove installations in Palomas will heat, sequester carbon dioxide and improve our soil.

Border Partners has been involved in the development of a new kind of heater for homes. It burns pecan shells and, in addition to heat, produces an additive for gardens called biochar. Despite the fact that Palomas is located in an area that many people think is always warm, it is common there at night, for the temperature to dip into the teens. Many people in Palomas live in poorly insulated, cement block houses and don’t have adequate heating units. Because of this, Peter Edmunds from Border Partners, joined an effort several years ago. The project, led by by Bill Knaus and Jamie Thomson from Silver City, set out develop a stove that could heat homes for a reasonable cost. But it did more than that. It also produced biochar, a carbon byproduct very useful to enrich our garden soils.

Four of these stoves have been used by our staff and others in their homes since 2016. They’ve received good results. The stoves heat well and, in addition, produce biochar from the pecan shells they burn. Over the years, designers made some improvements to the original design. They fixed issues and glitches they discovered. Flash forward to now: in the last few weeks, we’ve installed ten more stoves with a new and improved design in additional Palomas homes.

Each stove produces upwards of a ton of biochar each year. As a result, Border Partners has a plentiful supply to mix into the compost we apply to all of our gardens in Palomas.

Using some form of charcoal additive has proven advantageous to farmers for centuries. This biochar stove is a modern adaptation of proven agricultural methods. It uses a plentiful resource in this region — pecan shells.

Another promising aspect of these stoves is that they will play a role in mitigating climate change. Each pound of biochar produced, permanently sequesters four pounds of carbon dioxide into the soil. It takes carbon dioxide that would have been released into the air and locks it into the soil.

Ten more stoves have just been installed. There are now a total of 13 stoves in Palomas which will together make 13 tons of biochar per year for a total yield of 52 tons of carbon dioxide sequestered from being released into the air. Those13 little stoves are making a  big impact.

Successful start to new teen mental health education series

Teens have many challenges. The COVID pandemic has added more to the list of hurdles they must clear. Now, their school classes are held remotely. So, they’re unable to learn with peers. Socialization is also so important to the teen years. However, now there are very few social gatherings. And,  opportunities. Furthermore, all interactions require masks. It’s more important than ever that we all provide whatever resources we can to prevent teens from falling into depression.

For these reasons, Border Partners began a series of meetings specifically for adolescents in Palomas. This program will address some of the difficult issues they may be facing, particularly now during the pandemic. The sessions are open to all teens.

Teens’ rivetted their attention on the material shared in the initial session on how to promote good mental health.

Our first session met at the Border Partners’ office in Palomas. Ten girls and boys from the local preparatoria/high school attended the January 27th session. A psychologist from the District Health Office in Casas Grandes, Chihuahua facilitated this one-hour learning module.

A promotora receives this teen with friendly hospitality, welcoming her to register for the session.

She addressed important topics such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety. The teens responded well to her promptings and were quite interactive. Many asked questions. As the meeting concluded, the attendees indicated that they would like to attend more sessions on this topic.

Offering a chance to gather in a safe environment gives the teens the opportunity for much-needed socialization. This benefit may be equally important as the information that they acquired. We noticed the teens were pleased to see one another and converse before and after the session.

In related good news, the second dose of COVID vaccinations that are available for children aged 12-17 will be administered in Palomas this week.

The session also gave teens the opportunity to safely see their friends. In person school is closed until further notice in Palomas.

 

Border Partners’ Annual Report for 2021

Again this year, the major activity of all staff was to respond to the critical need families and seniors had for food during the pandemic when work was so scarce and children were not in school from January until September.

During 2021, Border Partners staff:

  • Prepared and delivered more than 6,000 healthy, hot meals to 25 isolated seniors every weekday.
  • Prepared and distributed 2,092 food baskets to needy families in Palomas and three nearby communities. These baskets provided food for 6,396 people.
  • Provided 922 free checks of blood pressure and glucose levels at the Border Partners office or in the community in 2021.
  • Presented training for pregnant women on the following topics: child development, pregnancy care, nutrition during pregnancy, prevention of pre-diabetes during pregnancy, infant death prevention and child mental development.
  • Provided one-on-one counseling to 20 pregnant women and girls, twice each week for four months, to answer their questions and provide information.
  • Assisted the schools by providing four workshops for children on preventing COVID; and two workshops for parents: one on nutrition and one on children’s mental health.
  • Donated soccer and basketballs and team shirts to the schools and, in November and December, gave one elementary school 600 sack lunches for children.
  • Gave individual support to 42 home gardeners including who have greenhouses.
  • Raised healthy food for the community in two large, year-round greenhouses.
  • Offered 177 free zumba exercise classes and sponsored one community bicycle event for 40 participants.
  • Presented four social gatherings for isolated seniors (36 people attended). At one of these, there was a presentation about maintaining mental health.
  • In addition, the Promotoras attended three training sessions to learn new skills. The topics related to pregnancy and early childhood development and nutrition. After completion of the classes, they received an official certification.