With the support of the local non-governmental organization Red MACRENA (Network for Community Natural Resource Management) and CEMOPLAF (Medical Center for Orientation and Family Planning), three MESA Alumni have undertaken a community garden project to educate 50 farmers from communities in Imbabura, Ecuador. Their Escuela de Campo (Farm School) began in June 2005 as a series of workshops when the group gained access to two plots of land (totaling about three-quarters of an acre) owned by a local farmer and hostel owner and the field became their classroom.
Beginning in the Spring of 2005, José Guzmán, Ronnie Lizano, and Franklin Sanchez , all originally from Ecuador, began internships in sustainable agriculture through the MESA program. While José and Franklin served as stewards on California farms Hidden Villa Farm and Knoll Organics, respectively, Ronnie Lizano completed his training at Nuyaka Natural Farms in Bristow, Oklahoma. After their term with MESA ended, José, Ronnie, and Franklin hoped to share some of the knowledge they had gained about sustainable agriculture with folks back home.
José, Ronnie, and Franklin believe that if Ecuadorian farmers learn by doing, as MESA stewards do during their training in the U.S., they will fully grasp the benefits and challenges of sustainable farming. On one plot of land the participants, who are largely indigenous Ecuadorians, use conventional farming methods (which include the use of chemicals). On the other plot of land, they employ organic farming methods such as an innovative soil block technique that eliminates the need for plastic seed flats during propagation. One of the stewards learned the technique during his internship. The organic plot also serves as the Farm Classroom where farmers learn how to compost, use cover crops, and rotate crops to cultivate improved soil quality.
During the nine months of the Escuela de Campo, participants from different communities in the area come together and work in the two gardens during the morning. At midday, they share a communal lunch and return home afterward. The Escuela de Campo’s gardens produce legumes, vegetables (spinach, lettuce, beets, radishes, tomatoes, and peppers), and also herbs (mint, basil, and parsley). They sell their produce at a local market and use the profits to maintain the program. These stewards’ modest project, on less than an acre of land, has made great waves. The influx of their organic vegetables into the nearby city of Otavalo, Ecuador has sparked consumer interest in food free from pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The Farmer graduates of their school are pursuing the formation of committees in their perspective regions for local agricultural research.
Ronnie has since returned to the U.S. to participate in MESA’s Professional Networking Program. He is currently working in Miami for the all-organic cut flower supplier Organic Bouquet.
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