Jardin de las ni–as
Katie Coppoletta, Holiday Dalgleish
& All the chicas at the asilo!
We spent the summer of 2005 in a beautiful desert oasis, Parras, located in Northern Mexico in the state of Coahuila. Nestled in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range, it is a small town of about 43,300 people. We came as a group of 23 students primarily from Humboldt State University, a small college in Northern California. We all came to study in Parras with similar interests in Apropriate Technology (AT) and Spanish. With a plethora of sun and water, a friendly population, and the widespread use of such natural building as adobe and cob, this place is filled with possibilities.
In one of our Appropriate Technology classes, we brainstormed and defined AT, and from this definition we broke off and designed projects within the community, demonstrating these concepts.
ÒAT encompasses thoughts, tools, implementations and observations dependant on cultural, political, economic and geographic context that work with and mimic the flow of nature to improve over existing impact. Additionally, AT includes adaptability, durability, and life cycle analysis while facilitating nonviolence and empowerment through community identified locally maintainable/operable holistic approaches to meeting needs for present and future generations.Ó
We (Katie and Holiday) both shared the similar interest of gardening as well as working with children in the community. So, with the help of our professor Fransisco De La Cabada, we found an asilo (asylum) where we could create our garden. The asilo, located at a nunnery, acts as a foster home, taking in young girls from broken families, and providing them with a positive environment. Upon arriving at the asilo, the nuns in charge were very welcoming and facilitating to our ideas. We explained our motives for developing relationships with the girls and constructing a garden with them. They were very open to our ideas, yet they warned us not to specifically focus our attention on any one girl because they tend to get attached. With this in mind, we started our journey.
When we first arrived, the children were standoffish and unsure of our motives. So, we began by gaining their trust. We played silly games like duck duck goose, ring around the rosie, and other childrenÕs games. We also brought fun art supplies including paints, colored pencils, stickers, and fun paper, and let the creativity flow! We wanted to make sure that the girls thought of us as peers, not just gringos imposing our ideas on them. Establishing these relationships was the basis of our project and it was the most essential process for the success of our garden.
Planning the garden:
After we were provided with the plot of land in their grass-covered yard, we started to plan out the future garden. We sat down with the girls and asked them what kind of herbs and vegetables they were interested in growing and which were their favorites to eat. We comprised a list of these vegetables. Then, based on the amount of sun and water in each area of the garden at different times of the day, we decided where to plant each type of vegetable.
Digging up the plot:
Once we established what we were growing and where, we started to dig up the grass-infested area. The girls and us used shovels and hoes and encountered numerous rocks and roots. Mucho trabajo!
Making the perimeter:
Once we finished digging and turning the soil, we measured the polygonal perimeter, and we found logs (vigas) that fit those specific measurements. We searched different places in town, but ended up stumbling upon some perfect logs at a local casa close to the school. The family was kind enough to let us use them for our garden, so with the help of a friend with a truck, we transported them to the asilo. Once we laid them out, they werenÕt exactly lined up, so we used a handsaw and cut them to form the perfect border. Que Bonita! We made sure not to let the girls use the hand-saw because it is a dangerous tool for children.
Mixing in the topsoil:
Once we had the earth turned and prepped, and the logs were in place, we laid down some rich topsoil. Through much investigation, we found a local grower who was located on the outskirts of town. We purchased some rich soil from him and brought it to the asilo. The girls and us laid the soil on the earth and mixed it thoroughly.
We went to a local tienda and purchased the seeds. We went and picked out the seeds from big bags in bulk. We found this to be appropriate because the seeds were not in little packets, therefore resulting in less embedded energy.
Planting the seeds:
Once we had all of the seeds, we started to plant them. We looked at our illustration of our future garden and started the careful planting process. We explained the process to the girls beforehand and then led them through it, making sure that they we all got our hands dirty.
While the seeds were germinating, we explained the importance of watering and sun exposure. We made a watering can out of an old tin coffee can by punching holes in the bottom, which allowed a generous, but not overwhelming amount of water to filter through and water the earth. The girls learned how to use it and watered with it daily.
Once the seedlings started to appear, we taught the girls what it meant to weed and itÕs importance. We showed them the difference between the seedlings we wanted to keep, and the weedlings that we wanted to pull out. We taught them about the optimal frequency of weeding a garden, and showed them the process so that they could grasp the concepts involved.
The herb garden:
While planning out the garden, the girls showed an interest for herbs, so we decided to plant some in a planter nearby the garden. We planted several herbs including basil, spearmint, peppermint, marjoram, and cilantro. We then explained the potential uses of each. The girls were amazed by the many ways to utilize this beautiful garden.
We explained to the girls the importance of compost and why it is so appropriate and effective in gardening. The asilo has a small compost pile with which the girls donÕt participate directly. So we took them out back to it and showed them a living example of compost. Then we brought some of the compost to our garden and used it to add more nutrients to the soil.
Our organic gardening experience with the girls of the asilo was a form of appropriate technology not only because everything was produced/purchased locally, but also because it gave the girls a sense of empowerment. From the knowledge they gained in this experience, they are now more self-reliant and understand the importance of growing their own food. Because the girls are without a family support system, it is important for them to have something of their own, and we feel like this garden is just that.
All said and done, gardens are fun and relatively easy in comparison to how rewarding they can be. The more love, time and energy you put into your garden, the more luscious fruits and vegetables it will reward you with. We put a lot of good time into preparing this garden. We double-dug; we added topsoil until our soil was optimally rich; we added stepping stone walkways to make planting and harvesting easier, we thinned and weeded and watered away.
But now we have to leave. We are leaving beautiful Mexico, we are leaving our beautiful garden and we are leaving our girls, and leaving them in charge of what is now fully their garden. Most of all for the success and continuation of this garden it is not so much what we put into the garden itself. The love, time, and energy that we put into becoming friends with the girls, becoming part of their lives, building trust, and gaining their confidence, are the most important things we did to ensure a flourishing garden and a flourishing future generation.