Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SFG Humanitarian Efforts in Ecuador & Peru

It first started with a trip I took to the Self-sufficiency conference at Brigham Young University. During the Networking trip, I was able to connect to several important organizations that have an understanding of Square Foot Gardening (have either worked with us in the past or know of what we do) One of the contacts I was able to make was with the Institute for Self Reliance in Agriculture (SRA).

Over the next few weeks and months, I have kept in contact with these company and provided them some feedback on some of the projects they have been trying to put together. During my conversations with Mel, he has been talking about expanding my role to more marketing and getting the word out of what we do. Working with these types of organizations has been pivotal in helping us truly reach our ultimate goal of helping to end world hunger.

SRA called me about a month ago and told me that they are starting operation of two major projects. One in Ecuador where they have been working for several years and one in Peru where they are just starting. They told me that through their conversations with me, they have become more and more convinced that the Square Foot Gardening Model needs to be incorporated in what they do. They asked me if I would come to Ecuador to teach their staff how to do our system. They offered to cover my trip costs so that the foundation would not have to pay for my travel costs. I agreed. I flew down on the 9th of august and spent a week in Ibarra and surrounding villages.

(Traveling through Ecuador)

They took me on tour to the projects they have been putting together and asked me to show them how to improve the model they have. They have a combination Garden/Livestock model that has as it’s ultimate goal, first and foremost the Nutrition of the family, and then the commercialization of the surplus food. I really like their philosophy because it’s the same as ours. Take care of your family first, then worry about the rest. They use standard row gardens using a multi-crop system to increase the variety of crops raised. They include crops for the family and crops for growing small animals (including Guinea pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits).

They are currently working with about 50 families that live in rural regions and teaching them how to be self-sufficient. I taught the staff in Ecuador how to do Square Foot Gardening properly. I also took them out to a lot of land that had been given to them by the local university and showed them how to set up their gardens in a much more efficient manner than they had been doing.

(Me Teaching at the Ministry of Agriculture)

They loved the system so much that they asked me to come speak to the Local regional government, whom they were meeting the next day. I agreed and we went and met with the regional governor. After a very good meeting, he asked me us (SRA and myself) to speak at a town meeting they would be speaking at that evening.

They had been given $185,000 from the federal government to start a nutrition-based program in the area. They had put together some ideas and were going to teach it at this town meeting.

(teaching families the SFG system)

So we went to it and the governor allows us to take over the meeting. SRA talked about their program and then they turned the time over to me to show them how to set up SFG’s. The meeting went great. After the meeting, the governor came to us and said this: “This is exactly what we should be doing. We are going to stop our program and restart it using SRA’s and SFG’s systems!”

So SRA is going to teach the SFG system to their government employees and they will take it 70 families they are going to be working with. That whole meeting went so well (especially that I was able to teach everything in Spanish) that next, they wanted me to meet with the Department of Agriculture. They made an appointment and I went down to speak at the Department. It was supposed to be just me and the department head, but he got wind of what we were doing and brought in all his nutritionists, agronomists, etc and had me teach them all the principles of Square Foot Gardening. The meeting went so well, that they would like SRA (who is implementing our method) to come back and teach the whole Department how to do this. They want us part of a pilot program they are starting for the whole country!

If that wasn’t enough, we then met with the regional representative of the United Nations that has several programs going on in the area as well. After talking with them and showing our success, they are interested in us teaching their agronomists how to do this so they can take it across the country with their programs. After that, we went and toured many villages and met with many families in which I showed the family (and helped the staff teach them the SFG method). This whole experience happened in the space of a little over a week. August 9-18th.

An interesting footnote here. We got a chance to tour some ancient pyramids while we were here. What was interesting was that the people taking care of them have learned how these ancient people lived and have strived to live the same way. One of the things they learned is that these ancient people did a lot of gardening. The method they used is what is being used now and it is interesting because it is a raised bed, intensive method that very closely resembles something we have seen before. Yep, SFG!

(Doesn’t this look familiar?)

SRA was so excited, that they asked me
to stay for another week and go to Peru and teach their staff with the new program they have as well. So the next week (Aug 19th-25th) I went to Peru. We went to Piura and I spend the next week doing much the same. We toured many villages and met with officials of the 2nd Largest University in Peru, where we signed a contract to get a plot of land to create a demonstration garden, showing off what SRA can do. I outlined a designed several SFG’s for the demonstration garden as well.

The staff in this office was much more used to doing office work than field work, so I had them build SFG’s all over the place. We built SFG’s at many homes and showed the staff how simple and efficient it was. The great thing is that we built all these gardens and total cost of building the SFG’s was ZERO! We used the local materials at hand to create the boxes, local materials to create compost piles and improve the soil (here we teach using compost since peat most and Vermiculite are impossible to come by) By this time, SRA decided that instead of just being a part of their program, Square Foot Gardens needed to be lesson 1. So now they have altered their lessons and have made our gardening technique their number one lesson!

(Making a Difference in people’s lives with SFG!)

I came back from this trip with a renewed appreciation for the beautiful country we have and the tremendous opportunities that we have here. This trip has helped to continue to fulfill Mel’s ultimate vision of helping to end world hunger. The square Foot Gardening method will be taught across two large countries by various organizations that have learned directly from us. I cannot even begin to imagine the impact we will have on the lives of so many people here. So in total, I spent two weeks creating programs across two countries and taught probably 500 people.
-Alan Silva,SFG Business Manager