Throughout the summer, our Agriculture Team spent a lot of time visiting the greenhouses we built last year in Poques and Pampacorral. Our ongoing goal is to understand how our alternative curriculum manifests itself outside of the designated greenhouse workdays. It has been interesting to learn about the innovative ways the information is transferred to younger students who do not work directly with Ruben.
In Pampacorral I was fortunate enough to experience one such approach. While working with Ruben and the 6th graders in the greenhouse, one of the teachers of a much younger group utilized the plants to teach an interactive, basic math lesson on the greenhouse whiteboard. Her approach highlighted the importance of familiarizing all the school’s students with at least the names of vegetables from a young age. Just pointing out the names of the vegetables and applying them in a lesson plan unrelated to basic cultivation and nutrition struck me as odd at first. Initially, I dismissed the lesson approach as insignificant.
In hindsight I see the genius in this approach: even a basic introduction at such a young age will make vegetable cultivation and consumption an accepted norm, something the younger students will expect to have at school in the coming years. This generation of students is growing up with a privilege that many of their parents and even the older greenhouse participants never had. I realized that the greenhouse is more than a vegetable growing structure. It is a tool to be used in innovative ways from a basic math tool to a laboratory for teaching technical growing techniques.
Basic project introduction like this lesson is the key to changing mindsets by instilling an early awareness of the importance of vegetable cultivation and consumption. It helps to speed up acceptance and buy in from a younger age than many of us had initially envisioned. In the coming years these younger students will begin to learn the technical skills that may ultimately be utilized for community and regional expansion. Hopefully as this next generation of students grows up greenhouses will become a norm rather than an exciting and foreign concept at schools. ~Kat
The nutrition and cooking classes have come to an end. I feel proud that we were able to start the conversation about nutrition in specific connection to the greenhouse. I see this as the beginning and hope to see more partnership with other organizations and schools to further the knowledge of nutrition and cooking of vegetables from the greenhouses.
The “Quick-fire” challenge didn’t go exactly as we expected but after two months in the Sacred Valley, if we have learned anything it is flexibility. The kids really made tasty food. Their memory of the specific nutrition associated with each vegetable varied, however they knew where to find the information in their books. Only one of the four teams made their own recipe and the others used recipes that we already made in class. We made every team a winner of a different category: Best Knowledge of Nutrition, Most Creative, Most Nutritious, and Best Rendition of a Recipe. All the kids earned a certificate signed by yours truly (Executive Chef) and Tina. They were really happy, especially with their prizes: knives, wooden spoons, pots, pans, and spatulas.
The director of the school asked when we would come back. Hopefully we can come back next summer and teach with more MIIS students. This program has so much potential and so much room to grow and demonstrates the sustainability of our model. I am going to miss these kids but hope to see them on Top Chef, the Peru version. ~ Jeanne
The Agriculture Team has been out and about working hard. Last Tuesday was our first day of “biointensive training” with Yesica, a local woman who trained in biointensive cultivation methods in the United States. We are working with Yesica to train Ruben, our technician. Ruben will then train his students and incorporate best practices from the biointensive method into our projects. Yesica and Ruben spent a very productive two hours discussing ideas and needs in the greenhouse. This was followed by a brief introduction of Yesica to Tuesday’s groups of students in the greenhouse. Overall, Yesica demonstrated a very promising and interactive teaching method. The main points she honed in on were the Eight Principles of Biointensive Growing, which you can read all about the on site of the founding organization, Ecology In Action.
Personally, I am really excited about the potential these principles hold for helping resource restrained, subsistence based communities. This growing method utilizes the locally available resources and promotes organic growing to reach high yields on small plots of land. The approach holds the potential to increase the amount of high nutrient vegetables grown in the relatively limited greenhouse space. Most importantly, by utilizing locally available resources to build soil quality above its current level and reach sustained high levels of growth, this closed system method helps remote, resource poor communities move towards greater self-sufficiency and food security.
In the shorter term, we envision an all encompassing approach beginning with younger students learning biointensive basics. A more technical approach will be extended to the older students such as the eight student leaders working in Poques. We hope to expose all ages to the principles and practices of the method. After our first training, it seems like we are on the road to a successful partnership. Yesica seems to be an excellent resource for both Ruben and our organization as a whole. I can’t wait to see our Andean specific spin on the biointensive method in full swing. ~Kat
Tina and I are almost through our nutrition and cooking classes in Pampacorral and nearing the end of the classes in Poques; it has been a whirlwind. One goal of ours as the Health and Wellness team was to offer nutrition and cooking classes to the two communities where we have built greenhouses: Poques and Pampacorral. Providing nutritional information and new preparation tips about the newly available greenhouse vegetables, is one aspect of the holistic and sustainable approach of the Andean Alliance.
We are offering classes once a week for four weeks before or after school. We begin by teaching the benefits of each of the ingredients then doing a hands-on cooking demonstration for two recipes. During the fourth week we will hold a “Quick-fire” type of challenge where each team will need to prepare a meal. The winner will be determined based on the most nutritious and tasty meal however the group will need to explain why the meal is nutritious. The winning team will be given an assortment of prizes that we are still trying to determine (suggestions are welcome).
The first week we made Ensalada de Repollo and Huevos Revueltos (cancer fighting coleslaw without mayonnaise and delicious veggie infused-scrambled eggs). There is so much to say about the experiences teaching these classes in each of the communities without even talking about the nutrition or the cooking. I am excited to see what the next few weeks have in store and I am sure we will be learning a lot from the students as well. ~Jeanne
Earlier this week we met with Yesica Nina Cusiyupanqui, who is a local expert on bio-intensive cultivation of vegetables in small plots of land. The meeting was attended by the great Kat Gordon, our team leader, Danny, myself and our super translator Hilda, who filled in the blanks. The meeting was very productive. Yesica is exactly what our team is missing. She is very knowledgeable about harvesting some of the vegetables that Ruben needs more training with, such as seeds of lettuce and spinach, which we so far needed to supply from the US every year. We believe Yesica’s potential addition as a resource for our team will be very valuable for our greenhouse projects. Firstly, the greenhouses will be much more productive since the locally harvested, second-generation seeds will be adapted to the climate and high altitude. And secondly, it would be much more sustainable, since Ruben won’t have to rely on our organization to provide the seeds any longer. We hope to work with Yesica in the near future to train Ruben in techniques of bio-intensive cultivation of vegetables, which will maximize the yields of the greenhouses. Yesica has limited experience working in greenhouses, but we believe that with Ruben’s guidance and with Yesica’s extensive knowledge we can successfully apply the same bio-intensive techniques and produce high yields so that school children can enjoy a nutritious meal more often. The team is very excited. The next step is to meet with Ruben and arrange a meeting with Yesica so we can start the training process asap. Go Ag Team!!! ~Marina
The other day the agriculture team visited Pampacorral where Team Peru built a greenhouse last summer. Our visit was part of this summer’s project to see our technician, Ruben’s curriculum implementation in action. The school director, Freddie, showed us a complementary project that the municipality recently undertook to augment the school’s effort to grow more vegetables. The picture above depicts a traditional growing technology. A taut black colored net stretches above the vegetables for warmth and protection. This technology is utilized to enable vegetable cultivation in areas prone to a common high altitude growing challenge, night frost.
Even with the nets, the vegetables are exposed to a fair degree of cold, lending to a much slower, smaller scale, and labor-intensive growing process compared to greenhouse cultivation. However, in tandem with the greenhouses the municipality backed project represents yet another option for increasing the quantity of nutrient rich vegetables grown and ultimately consumed by students.
Once again, the knowledge and resourcefulness demonstrated by these communities impressed me. Prior to the more recently incorporation of greenhouse technology in the region, this older method harnesses similar properties to achieve the same goal: the ability to grow a more nutritious food source.
While I was reflecting on the awesome fusion of older and newer techniques to meet Pampacorral’s need, Freddie explained to us the importance of a non-governmental run project like our greenhouse. He reiterated a sincere appreciation for the municipality backed growing assistance. But, he explained that it took months to receive the promised aid. Bureaucratic paper battles over a missed signature detained the delivery of seeds and other supplies for an extended period. Regardless of certain challenges, it was promising to see a community receiving the means to combat one of their most pressing needs from both the local municipality and a local NGO. ~Kat