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.

Diaz Farms Donates a Ton of Pinto Beans!

foklift raises beans

Border Partners’ Peter Edmunds watches the foklift raise a ton of beans, donated to Puerto Palomas.

beans distribution

Promotora Aidé (l) delivers beans donated by Diaz Farms to the home of a home bound senior in Palomas.

On February 23, Peter Edmunds borrowed a utility trailer to pick up 2,000 pounds of pinto beans donated by Diaz Farms in Deming, NM. As you can see in the photo (above), the huge bag had to be loaded with a fork lift.  That’s a lot of beans!

Peter drove the beans to Palomas the next day.  Since the Mexican border guards had advance notice, the procedure to cross them was relatively uncomplicated. A crew of five public works employees helped distribute the beans into 40 fifty-pound bags.

Our Palomas team then distributed portions to three elementary schools, a secondary school and the special education school. We also gave bags of beans to the Comedor, a free government lunch program that primarily feeds low income seniors. The health promotoras delivered smaller bags to homebound seniors.

The gift of pinto beans is an especially appreciated gift in Mexico. They’re a very nutritious food, and everyone loves them! This large and generous donation is helping to feed many needy children and families.

Diaz Farms

Ruben Diaz established Diaz Farms in Deming 50 years ago. But, it is now a family business operated by three his sons, Carlos, Eddie and Sam along with his son-in-law, Art and all of their families. Like many family operations, the business started small. Over the years, Diaz Farms has grown to be a national supplier of New Mexico chile and onions.

Border Partners is grateful for the Diaz family’s generosity!  ¡Muchisimas gracias, Amigos!

To view photos of processing and distributing this pinto bean donation, visit our Flickr album

Health promotoras educate Palomas residents about nutrition

nutrition class

Nutrition classes offer participants meals that highlight nutrition basics. This class ends with a healthy meal that participants make and share.

For several years, the gardeners and health promotoras in Palomas saw a need to offer nutrition classes to educate residents in Palomas. Understanding why it’s important to eat certain foods provides reason and motivation to eat them. This educational component became even more important as the gardens in Palomas flourished. We noticed that people didn’t always know how to use the new foods they had available.

Now a grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation has made it possible for our health promotoras to offer nutrition classes for 40 families this year. They use a curriculum called  Eating Smart Being Active developed by faculty in the Extension Divisions at Colorado State University at Fort Collins and the University of California, Davis.  The curriculum includes eight lessons, seven of which the promotoras use. (One lesson, developed specifically for people who shop in regular supermarkets with sales, doesn’t apply to our situation.)

The curriculum provides a teacher’s handbook in Spanish and participant handouts.  Our six promotoras have divided the lessons among themselves. Teams of two each teach two lessons.

esba logoCurriculum topics include lessons centered on:

  • eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy,
  • the importance of choosing lean protein, and
  • limiting sugar and fat in the diet.

Each lesson includes an exercise break and teaches people about the importance of getting regular exercise.  Students also get a chance to taste different foods and in some lessons to make a healthy dish.

The curriculum is designed to encourage student participation with the hope that will give people ideas about how to incorporate the changes into their lives. When classes are interactive and directly relevant, it makes the learning practical.

In addition to offering the Eating Smart Being Active curriculum, the promotoras teach many other classes on health topics. Besides offering other nutrition classes, they offer instruction on other topics, covering subjects ranging from self-esteem and stress management to family planning, personal hygiene, and accident prevention. Promotoras implement this curriculum, developed by the Mexican government, in conjunction with the government health clinic in Palomas. Low income families who receive a bimonthly food allotment are required to complete the classes in that series.

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!

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

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.


Making life better for Palomas tweens and teens

by Peter Edmunds, Border Partners cofounder and board member

some Palomas secondaria students

Palomas students will have a secure place to eat now.

I’m forming the impression that the Mexican government’s vision of running a school system is at best rather strange. They build the buildings and pay the teachers (poorly, at that). But then they contribute little else.  And certainly they don’t provide much money for supplies (like paper) or any other learning necessities. Nevertheless, a visit to the secundaria (middle school), Technica 25, in Palomas always inspires and informs me.

Better yet, Border Partners was able to provide them some little helps recently:

  • For $30 each we added RAM to about half of the school’s computers, and
  • for $4.60 each we’re ordering bulbs for their overhead projectors. Again: The government provided the machines, but the school has no budget for projector repairs. And the bulbs aren’t even sold in Mexico. Now that the projectors will function again, the Silver City schools are giving us eight more overhead projectors to pass along to the secondaria.

I saved the best help for last …… the new school lunch room!

This formerly one-walled structure was once a garage for the school’s collection of dead buses. But the 40′ by 60’ building has three new walls now as well as a repaired and insulated roof. New windows will be installed soon.

The secret component in all this accomplishment is the teachers. They’re doing the construction work– building the walls, repairing the roof, installing the roof–in addition to their regular teaching duties.

The community raised the money for the construction themselves: by hosting bake sales and contests, as well as collecting, baling, hauling and selling about 15 tons of cardboard.

They’d like to add a plywood ceiling in the building. That would cost $1,000.00. And they’d also like to paint the walls. I hope they do a nice mural using some of the miss-mixed paint local paint stores often donate to us.

Peter Edmunds

Peter Edmunds

In this season of celebration and decoration, we give thanks for these four walls and roof in Palomas.

And we are grateful for our supporters whose contributions allow us to help the secondaria teachers build a lunchroom for their students.