Category Archives: Team Peru (Cusco, Peru)

Lessons In The Greenhouse


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

Food For Thought

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

Growing The Agriculture Program With Biointensive

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

Coordinating Our Efforts with Local Governments

Throughout the years it has always been a priority to coordinate our efforts with the local governments in the areas we work. In previous years this undertaking has been difficult, but fortunately a new administration was elected in January and we have a serious working relationship with the Lares government. This administration headed by Mayor Urbano Yupanki has put a lot of effort into assisting us and making sure we have the resources we need. In May the mayor dedicated two of his vehicles to help The Becky Fund distribute school supplies throughout the Lares region. During greenhouse construction our group enjoyed the availability of trucks to transport thousands of rocks and even the occasional motorcycle to help me get to remote communities. The mayor of Lares oversees a vast territory with approximately 40,000 people. By road it takes him round trip around 13 hours to reach the furthest communities. The Lares district is the third poorest district in the whole country; there are hundreds of districts in the country. They are under funded, under resourced, under staffed, under educated, and lack capacity. What they lack in resources they make up for in their commitment to improve the lives of the indigenous people who populate the district. They have witnessed the organized, responsible activities carried out by our group of graduate students and they value what we bring to the table. The Andean Alliance and Mayor Urbano signed their first two formal agreements in January of 2011. These two agreements committed both sides to working together to establish two agriculture projects including construction for four greenhouses and the distribution of school supplies to thousands of children. Team Peru’s relationship with the local government is crucial to the success of the projects. Our graduate students have a lot to offer and we can maximize our impact by working together with local leaders. We are only 6 months into our relationship but I envision many years ahead filled with challenges, opportunities and shared success. ~Aaron

Now We’re Cookin’

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

Prepare zee tool!

Current status: Fully in the mix.

Danielle and I have been workin’ the brain muscles lots and lots these past weeks.  Our vague-ish idea of designing a Community Savings program for some of the local women’s textile associations is really starting to take shape.

For a bit of background: Traditional textiles play a very important role in Peruvian culture and history, and they contribute significantly to the country’s economy.  Such textile making, done almost exclusively by women, brings in household income to many of the indigenous communities of Peru, providing a source of both money and stability.

We’ve been very lucky to partner with Rufada Peru, a local NGO that hosts monthly workshops with three different women’s textile associations.  In these workshops, women learn how to improve their dyeing, threading, weaving, and other skills while strengthening the group’s “ayni“, or spirit of cooperation and solidarity.  Participating in the workshops allows the women to create products that are of the highest quality (aka will bring in a greater return) and preserve a tradition that is being threatened by machine-made, synthetic substitutes.  Rufada has been hoping to make these workshops even better by incorporating basic business training for the ladies… and that’s where we come in.

Our plan: to host several facilitations with the textile association ladies, then conduct a readiness assessment gauging their interest and capacity to begin a group savings program.  The readiness assessment will be part of a tool suite that we’re developing based on coursework, interviews with key stakeholders, and models from other successful community savings programs around the globe (check out Pact’s WORTH program, for example).

So, what’s the point of starting a savings program in the first place?  Well, we decided to pursue this project based on our belief that saving and financial literacy are effective, sustainable means to self-sufficiency and economic empowerment- no dependency on aid from NGO’s or paying back loan interest to microfinance institutions.  It has been demonstrated that even in the most impoverished communities, women who trust each other and establish (as a group) ways of saving money can create long-term economic security. Savings programs can also lead to lending opportunities, providing women the chance to begin or strengthen a business venture.  The best part is, the programs are designed entirely by the members themselves, each program unique to a group’s culture, economic status, and short and long-term goals.

Coupled with other services like literacy and business training, community savings programs can really kick start economic vitality for impoverished women and families … and we wanna make this happen for the ladies of these three rural, Andean communities who are (quite literally) off the map… BUT only if they want it too!

Oh- and back to the readiness assessment tool; Our ultimate goal is to create something that can be used in any community or situation, most especially for Tina and Team Peru’s Health & Wellness group who have been working with three additional groups of women in the Pampacoral and Chocakoncha communities in the Sacred Valley.

Fingers crossed (and lots of practice runs) for our three facilitations next week!

A Promising Meeting for the Agriculture Team

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