Addressing Mexico’s severe drought with rainwater harvesting and graywater reuse

The severe drought currently cursing Mexico has not spared the northern state of Chihuahua. The drought has already cost farmers more than a billion dollars in crop losses alone and set back the national cattle herd for years, reports Reuters. Experts say this is only the beginning, that Mexico faces a drier future.

Van Clothier

Van Clothier (Image source: Amazon)

The grant we’ve received from the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission allowed us to bring a regional expert on water conservation to Palomas this month. Van Clothier, a certified water harvester, taught us about rainwater harvesting and graywater reuse possibilities for Palomas buildings. Van is the author of Let the Water Do the Work: Induced Meandering and owns Stream Dynamics, Inc., a watershed restoration business located in Silver City, New Mexico.

Van’s expertise helped us assess the suitability from among several houses for the graywater re-use systems we’ll be constructing. He also helped our team evaluate the entire block of property that houses the public library and the funeral building the town has allowed Border Partners use to house our woodworking shop.  His consultation is a prelude to setting up rainwater harvesting and shaping the land so that the water flows to the trees on the property.

Van suggested some simple ways to form what amount to rainwater gardens. We’ll construct depressions in the land to catch rainwater flow. Plants can then grow around the perimeter of these rainwater basins. Alternatively, a tree can anchor the central position in the rainwater garden if it’s established so as to protect the root ball.

An added bonus is that the BECC grant will enable us to hire several people from Palomas to work on the project. This gives the town a boost economically and is a welcome income source for local families.

Van Clothier gave us lots of ideas and, best of all, we learned that some of what we want to accomplish will be simpler and less expensive than we originally thought. That’s priceless information as we prepare for more dry years to come.

Making the Palomas, Mexico desert bloom: Border Partners’ garden promoter is “peachy”

Palomas, Mexico peach tree

Peach tree is in full bloom in Palomas, Mexico. Thanks to Juana and Border Partners there will be many more.

Border Partners’ garden promoter is quite literally doing a “peachy” job; she’s making the desert soil of Palomas, Mexico bloom. A recent visit during a spring garden tour verified that the peach trees are in full bloom in Juana Lozoya Ortega’s home garden.

Juana readies peach saplings to share with Palomas gardeners.

Juana readies peach saplings to share with Palomas gardeners.

Juana is carefully cutting slips from her initial peach tree and rooting them. When they are ready, she plants them in soil and watchs them launch into seedlings, then saplings. She’s founding a veritable orchard to share with her neighbors.

The blossoms are lovely, and they pop against the deep blue desert sky in the blinding Palomas sunshine.

But, even more mind-popping is the story of how Juana began this project: she planted a peach pit seed.

This is the resourcefulness that characterizes the people of Palomas. They will transform their town.

We are proud of Juana’s abilities and respect her generous heart. And we admire her ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Even a lowly peach pit can be put to good use.

Juana Lozoya Ortega

Juana Lozoya Ortega (left) consults with a Palomas gardener about spring planting.

The people of Palomas, Mexico will transform their town

Political sign reads: We will transform Palomas.

Political campaign sign reads: "We will transform Palomas."

By Polly Edmunds, Cofounder of Border Partners

Last week I finally took a photo of a political campaign billboard on the street in Palomas that caught my eye last year. It reads: Transformaremos Palomas (We will transform Palomas). I believe that Palomas citizens will transform their town and that the contributions of many caring and committed activists will make those changes happen.

That very day I met several such people.

We spoke for the first time that afternoon with the new Acting Director of Escuela Ignacio Zaragoza: Prof. Mefiboset Trejo Tirado. Border Partners is providing a food supplement to augment the meager food supplies  they receive from the government to feed their school children.  He was grateful that, because of our food donations, many of the children would eat at least one good meal during the day.

The children in this school suffer many challenges. A significant number of their mothers have worked as prostitutes. Many of the children may have been affected by alcohol use during pregnancy, so they have additional behavior and learning problems. Prof. Tirado told me that Palomas has more incidents of child abuse than do other parts of Mexico. (To address this social issue, this week the school will sponsor a program about child abuse for the children, with special speakers and videos. This example of compassionate concern for the children’s well-being will affect coming generations.

Librarian meets with Border Partners

Polly Edmunds (left) learns of upcoming opportunities at the Palomas public library from librarian Benita Saenz.

At the town library, we met with another energetic person working for change in Palomas.  Benita Saenz, the librarian and Border Partners board member, told us that she’ll co-lead classes with a Palomas psychologist for parents at the Secundaria (Middle School) on parenting topics such as instilling values in children, sex education and bullying.  I have not heard of another parenting class offered in Palomas.

The library is also offering, for the first time, a free literacy class: two weeks for three hours each afternoon. If it meets a need, they will extend the classes, providing an opportunity for adults to learn to read and write—opening new doors to them and augmenting their own dignity. Educational empowerment will transform Palomas.

Earlier in the week, Benita submitted a grant proposal to the Mexican Environmental Agency seeking funds for a group of women she has formed to start a business building papercrete blocks (with the help of Border Partners).  These funds will help them start a business where they can make money in order to fix their houses that are badly in need of repair.  Of course, they can also use the blocks they make for some of their repairs! If successful, this grant will effect much positive change.

cold frame garden in Palomas

Gardening promoter Juana Lazoya reveals fresh greens growing in one of many new cold frame garden plots in Palomas.

And Juana Lazoya, Border Partners’ Palomas gardening promoter is “greening” the town. We toured not only her own extensive vegetable garden, orchard and greenhouse but also several other vegetable gardens at family homes in Palomas that are now producing bountifully with her support. Juana is making change happen right this minute as she empowers families to grow healthy food by reviving and implementing forgotten agricultural practices.

We the people can make a difference. Our collective power is transformative.

Never doubt it:  the people of Palomas will transform their town.

It is already happening.

 

New papercrete greenhouse helps Palomas gardens grow

new seedlings ready to plant

Juana presents a flat of new seedlings ready to plant in a family garden.

By Helena Myers, U.S. Garden Coordinator for Border Partners

Well, it’s happening! Juana’s greenhouse made of papercrete is finished, and plants are sprouting in Palomas.

Our Palomas garden coordinator Juana Lozoya Ortega and her husband Fernando, along with Peter Edmunds and his crew built a papercrete greenhouse to support our Palomas home-gardening efforts. Now buckets and large pots hold plants sprouting in the greenhouse’s warm, sunny environment.

Juana recently took a flat of seedlings the greenhouse has already yielded to a beginning gardening family (see photo atop post). Now those seedlings are all nestled in a new family plot that’s surrounded by cement blocks and covered with plastic.

Our gardening program now counts 16 serious, active gardeners who have plastic-protected beds of at least 4×4’ dimension. They’re already harvesting greens and radishes.

Juana & new papercrete greenhouse

Juana stands proudly in the new papercrete greenhouse.

Juana supports the Palomas gardeners with materials: seeds, compost, wire and plastic. And she continually searches out new gardeners, finding two more in the past two weeks. The enthusiastic gardeners are so proud of the plants they’ve grown from seeds sown in December that they hesitate to cut them. We encourage them to harvest them for salads because, if they leave an inch or more, the plant will grow back.

Palomas residents are familiar with tomatoes, chilies or vegetables that thrive in summer heat. But we plan to gather all the gardeners at Juana’s and make a big leafy green salad to demonstrate how to use winter greens because they are not familiar with fresh uncooked winter vegetable usage. Our plan is to keep gardens producing all year, so eventually people can eat nutritious food without going to the store, where they can only find wilted vegetables.

Last month an expert gardener from Columbus brought soil samples to demonstrate soil improvement methods to our Palomas gardeners. She explained the process of mixing biochar with manure to prepare it to serve as a soil amendment. Fernando is presently now watering and weekly turning a large compost pile, using manure from the stock yards mixed with biochar.

Palomas gardeners

Palomas gardeners help Mother Nature grow their food.

Our future plans are to attempt to propagate fig tree cuttings for all the gardeners and to begin to establish peach tree cuttings. We’re also looking forward to implementing the grey water systems that will result from the new environmental grant Border Partners received. Two gardeners already use water from their washing machines to trees in their yards, so this will extend the water conservation efforts we’ve already begun.

It is an exciting time of new growth in the gardening sector of Palomas!

Square-foot garden workshop launches new Palomas program

class with water buckers

Workshop members each received a water bucket to reuse household gray water.

Seven new gardeners attended our gardening workshop yesterday where they built raised bed frames and talked about the principals and advantages of year round intensive gardening with plants in square foot areas. Our goal is to set each of them with a garden that will have freeze and shade protection for year round vegetable growing.

The Foxworth Galbraith Lumber Company in Deming, NM gave us the wood for the 4′ x 4′ boxes. Proper Food Company gave us buckets so that the gardeners could recycle water from their in house use. Several workshop participants already did that by using wash water to flush their toilets.

Water use is always a problem due to its high cost. Border Partner has agreed to pay for any increase in the square foot gardeners’ water bills for the next six months caused by the garden usage of water. Tests of the square foot gardening system show that, if managed correctly, they use only 25% of the water used by row type gardens. We did a quick survery and found that water bills averaged about $15.00 per month, a significant cost in a town that suffers over 70% unemployment. Even those who have a job generally earn only $50 to $60 per week.

Our chief gardener Juana and her husband Fernando hosted the meeting and gave tours of their full yard garden and orchard and their new greenhouse built of Papercrete blocks. It is always fun to see people learn a new skill even if it is just learning to drive a screw with a electric drill.

woman uses tool

Learning to use new tools is an additional benefit of gardening workshops.