This article was originally written, in a slightly different version, for the SHARE Foundation, who, thanks to sistering groups in the US, was able to support a women's organizing and leadership project for 2010, the continuation of similar projects over the years. Part of this project, to support women's organization and empowerment and respond to the ever-worsening food crisis in El Salvador, was the funding of ten women's communal vegetable gardens. Following is the story of one of these gardens.
Los Pozos, Carasque. From Chalate proper, its another two-hour drive down roads that remind you of the many corners of El Salvador long abandoned by many consecutive governments. It's almost the Honduras border, across the Río Sumpul, site of one of the largest massacres during the twelve-year civil war, taking the lives of some 600 women, children, babies and elderly as they tried to cross the river and escape from the Salvadoran army, only to find the Honduran military shooting down at them from the other bank.
We make it to Los Pozos, but only about halfway up the mountain to the vegetable garden, where the women are waiting for us. We leave the Share-mobile and, in our flimsy flip flops, hike our way up. As we emerge from the brush, we see the vegetable garden, encompassed by cyclone fence, overlooking the view that could make even a lifelong city slicker fall in love: every shade of green imaginable, with the shadows of the clouds lazily making their way over hills and through valleys. Out here, there are no telephone polls, electric wires, bus noises or pollution.
What they do have are pipianes and ayotes (two kinds of squash, pipian to the left), mora and chipilín (leafy greens), basil, jicama, cucumber, radish, and watermelon, growing like wildfire in the womens committee's vegetable garden. The land, loaned by one of the group's nine members, is the site where these women are learning to plant and care for fruits and vegetables. It is their first time planting something other than corn and beans, and their first time executing a project as a committee.
Gloria, who leads our tour of the vegetable garden, explains: “Where there is no organization, projects don't work.” She emphasizes that this project has helped them strengthen their organization as women: “This project is helping us to be more organized and responsible... we have to keep the the plants healthy. We know that if we are chosen for a project, we have to be responsible to ensure its success.”
The community has a source of water, a spring, so on days when there is no rain, the women are able to water the crops. As they harvest, the crop will be divided between all nine women for their families' consumption, and, if there is extra, will be sold. With the price of fruits and vegetables high, this garden will allow families to expand their diets of rice, beans and tortillas with lush greens and sweet fruits.
A local farmer, Chepito, led the nine women through the process. His house is a stone's throw from the vegetable garden, so with any question or concern, the women simply walk onto his patio and ask. Chepito's home also houses the nursery, where tomato and green pepper seedlings are currently gaining in size and strength to be replanted among the larger, heartier squash and beans.
Chepito also has experience in organic farming, and offered to train the nine women not only in basic planting and plant care, but also in the preparation and application of organic pesticides. Made from easily accessible inputs, including hot peppers and garlic, the organic pesticide has worked in keeping worms and other bugs off of the budding plants. In Los Pozos, they also add a plant, called ipasina, which, according to one of the women as she scrunches her nose, “smells horrible and scares away the insects” after about 10 days of fermentation. The rest of the women laugh as she offers me the plastic jug and I take a big whiff; it's no wonder the bugs stay away!
The women, who come to the vegetable garden together about once a week, depending on the need, take advantage of our visit and put us to work. The radishes look just about ready, and we all happily go to work pulling them gently out of the soft, damp earth. Some of the red bulbs still aren't very big, but we're informed that the next planting of radishes is ready to go, so out they all come. As we heap them in a pile, the two children accompanying us see the instant results of our work, and join in. They're with us this morning because, for National Teacher's Day, all schools are closed. But they are getting a valuable education in organizing, women's empowerment, organic gardening, and growing in their connection to the earth.