A key focus for Friends of Cozumel is to engage in projects that have “sustainability”. We’ve all heard the phrase “Buy a man a fish and feed him for a day – teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” We’re all about teaching people to fish. The garden project we initiated with six families in February fits beautifully with this concept.
Antonia’s latest harvest . . . fully grown carrots. The entire family is very proud of the produce they’ve been able to grow since the raised bed garden was constructed three months ago.
Antonia is pictured here checking her compost container. She and her husband are patriarchs of “Jose’s family”, a multi-generational extended family of 10 children and 6 adults living together in a modest settlement several miles from town. They are now in their late 50’s. Antonia’s husband worked for years as a laborer clearing trees from jungle land for development, hand stripping the branches and carrying logs on his shoulders. He’s been out of work for months because he isn’t physically able to continue carrying heavy loads and machinery now replaces some manual labor.
Antonia mentioned she wanted to put in another garden “some day” if she could get her husband to help clear a place. Her success in selling cilantro, chili peppers, lettuce and flower starters to people who pass by their place has resulted in a huge change. Antonia is earning money for the first time in her life to buy tortillas and beans for the family to eat AND her husband is now working with her to expand their gardens. She told us it IS his work.
Lack of resources is a consistent challenge for them. We assumed that if/when they were ready to expand their garden, assistance would be needed with materials for garden beds, purchasing soil, seeds, etc. Yesterday we visited them and were completely blown away to discover in the past four weeks they tripled the size of their garden entirely on their own by adding two more raised beds.
They replicated the approximate size and depth of the initial garden bed by piling large stones and using other reclaimed materials to contain the soil without the need for cement. Antonia’s husband and other family members walked deep into the jungle to scrape good soil into buckets and mix it with organic materials, then hauled it all by hand back to their home area. They used earnings from selling produce to purchase more seeds in the market and she also dried seeds from chilis and vegetables to use for planting. The two new gardens are planted with radishes and cilantro with an incredible “order” of straight rows and staggered stages of growth to ensure a continuous harvest.
You can see and feel Antonia’s excitement as she discusses their garden. Several months ago when she first started selling a couple of things for a few pesos, she made it clear this was not a business . . . she was just “growing things”. Now she’s thinking ahead, making decisions and “investments” for her small home based business. For example, she’s decided to plant more cilantro because that’s what people want and she can sell it for 5 pesos (about 40 cents) per handful. She “invested” in buying small plastic bags to fill with dirt to start flowering plants to sell. She’s changed her mind and now would like a sign or two listing items for sell. And she has ideas for future expansion.
Wow! What fun to read about the ways gardening is helping the families of Cozumel. It is especially satisfying to see folks really taking ownership and making their gardens their own. I am grateful for your photos and articles, allowing all of us to feel a part of the excitement. Thank you!