Ask Antonia about her plants and she immediately beams. Antonia is Jose’s grandmother and the matriarch of her extended family including 10 children living outside of town in very modest conditions. She’s always had an interest in growing flowers from cuttings neighbors give her. She has the most amazing collection of tropical plants and beautiful roses potted in broken reclaimed containers most of us would consider garbage.
Jose’s family has lots of needs. Frequently they do not have enough food for the 10 children and 6 adults that live together. This past year has been especially difficult because only one or two adults have had steady work. Medical bills for Jose’s mother’s operation and a new baby have taken their toll on the family’s resources. During our mission project week last February we asked Antonia why she didn’t grow food to help supplement the family’s basic needs. She responded that she would love to but she didn’t have seeds and couldn’t afford to buy them. We took her two tomato plants and “herba buena” (local herb used for cooking) from a local nursery. She was thrilled. See Antonia’s first tomatoes (green ones at lower center of photo) next to a beautiful tropical plant (at left). She kept some of the seeds of these tomatoes to start more plants.
Since her early success with tomatoes, Antonia has received seed packets (i.e. radishes, lettuce, chili peppers) from Friends of Cozumel volunteers. Although this initial stage is just a trial and the quantities have been small, the family has enjoyed eating what Antonia has grown. They have used the herbs and chilis for flavoring in soups, pastas and beans, all staples for their meager food supply.
In June Antonia excitedly told us she had made her first “sales” . . . two chili’s for 2 pesos (about 8 cents each) and a mounding handful of chili peppers for 5 pesos (about 40 US cents) to neighbors walking by on the Transversal Road. She also sold a small rose bush grown from a cutting off her roses for 20 pesos (about $1.60 US). We did the math . . . her earnings from selling a rose cutting could buy 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) of dried black beans that would last the family of 16 for several days.
She’s a smart woman. For the first time ever this stay-at-home grandmother is able to make a small amount of money to contribute to the family’s needs by doing something she loves. We talked about how she might be able to sell more things she grows . . . perhaps Blanca, one of the older children, could paint a sign to post by the road. She commented yes, it is an idea. However, they didn’t have and couldn’t afford materials to make a sign. After all, she can just “call out” to people walking by to ask if they would like to buy something. I chuckled to myself because we were trying to help her with a simple marketing approach and she reminded us “word of mouth” works just fine. Antonia lamented she could sell more rose cuttings if she had bags or containers for them . . . a resource problem easily solved with a box full of used old plastic pots a local donor gave us.
Antonia is proud of her latest “harvest”, squash grown by the side of the road. In the past couple of weeks she’s shared that she wants to clear junk out of a central area of their homestead plot and put in a large garden bed. Antonia’s husband is slowly digging a pit by hand to make the family an outdoor latrine since they don’t have plumbing. He is saving the soil in between the limestone rocks as he digs to add to Antonia’s first very small garden area. He is also carefully piling up limestone chunks of rock to use to outline a larger garden area. Friends of Cozumel volunteers may help Jose’s family install garden beds during our February 2013 mission project week.
We’re anxiously waiting for news about a community garden project being sponsored by the Cozumel Rotary Club to help families like Antonia’s implement home gardens. It will be a terrific way to assist families in becoming self-sustaining and improve nutritional health.