For Isabel Quiroz, gardens grow more than fruits, vegetables, medicine and herbs. They also grow social change and empower community members to positively shift the direction of their lives.
Isabel is from Aguascalientes, Mexico and a 2013 MESA Steward. Following her steward training at Ecology Action in Willits, California, Isabel returned home with new tools and networks to continue building the community’s gardens. In addition to providing increased access to healthy food, the gardens promote social change and food justice, host trainings that focus on reducing gender inequality, drug addiction, and domestic violence, and offer a peaceful sanctuary for women and children.
We caught up to hear more about her reflections on MESA an her continued vision for the gardens.
What brought you to MESA?
It was appealing to me to be part of such a broad community of people with a shared interest in feeding their communities in a responsible and inclusive way, in way that values their cultural background and stays open to new possibilities. MESA encourages diversity and their many years of experience ensure the best possible learning scenario.
I studied Environmental Sciences so it was really clear for me to see the damages of conventional agriculture on nature. But it was not until I started farming and interacting with local producers that I saw how complex food production is, both in my country and in the world. I now believe the best way to make a positive impact is through education.
What do you see as your role as an educator and gardener?
I facilitate as much as I can, bringing educational tools and operational resources for my community to improve their food sovereignty and reduce social injustice. The problems are big and deep. It is important to contribute as much as we can.
We build community gardens in marginalized neighborhoods, not only to improve their diets but to strengthen social bonds and reduce violence. Gardening is a social activity where leadership, mediation and dialogue are needed regardless the culture, gender or age. That’s why I believe gardening is one of the best tools to create a culture of peace.
Making a community garden can be challenging. The difficult part is not growing the garden itself, but ensuring the community is willing to adopt a long-term project. We can say these kinds of projects are life changers. They give examples of empowerment and an understanding of health that includes the environment and the community.
What keeps you inspired in this work?
On one hand, my job doing community development can be really challenging. When you work with vulnerable groups, there are a lot of variables that may adversely affect the project – in this case, the community garden. It takes patience.
I find it rewarding to be part of these projects because in the process I become part of their community, too, while experiencing nature. I’ve seen how as we support community-led solutions we closely impact the lifestyle of a family.
Stay tuned! Our next post will share a profile story from the women Isabel works alongside in their community gardens.