Fireworks. Red, white and blue. Corn on the cob. If that doesn’t scream 4th of July, I don’t know what does! As Independence Day festivities were in full swing in the United States during the first week of July, we here at Semilla Nueva were busy prepping for our first Annual Community Farmer to Farmer Conference (or Gira comunitaria). So, instead of sporting stripes and stars and enjoying a backyard bbq, we donned bug repellent, floppy hats and sunscreen to prepare for the insects, heat and field visits in the community Conrado de la Cruz.
On the afternoon of July 5, over 25 Semilla Nueva participant farmers and 10 women from the nutrition group congregated outside the town hall for the Gira comunitaria. After piling in as many people as possible into the back of three different pickups, we set off to Miguel Angel Portillo’s field. Miguel has been working alongside Semilla Nueva for two years. It is his second year of no-till. After the success of a small test plot last year, he has adopted the technology on all of his land. He has seen increased moisture retention and drought resistance, improved weed control, and better corn! Sharing what he has learned with his neighboring farmers was a perfect example of the development model Semilla Nueva utilizes- campesino a campesino–farmer to farmer.
And Saul Merino Gonzalez, the second farmer’s plot we visited, was another example of true farmer to farmer activism. A natural born leader and teacher, Saul eagerly showed his test plot of mucuna pruriens or velvet bean. He is testing the cover crop’s potential to dominate nasty weeds, fix nitrogen and recuperate soil, all geared at helping his next harvest. Saul has a true spirit of experimentation and innovation that can be easily seen on his face as he explains his work. He also showed off his plot of pigeonpea, which Semilla Nueva is using as a source for seed for projects in the fall (This is our crowdrise campaign in action, so thank you all!)
The last plot visited was that of Doña Marta and her family. Although, Doña Marta was unable to attend the conference her son, Luiz Muñoz, was present to share the results of his family’s test plot. He showed their agroforestry plot with a native tree madre cacao. They are currently in the process of extending the rows, after they saw an improved harvest of corn in the small test plot last year. The Muñoz family cut back the trees last month, using the leaves as nitrogen rich mulch for their corn. They also harvested the wood for use in the family home. In addition, Luiz showed more mature mucuna his family is using to treat an especially aggressive species of grass that herbicides can’t get rid of. And its been successful, the mucuna has successfully eliminated it in their small test plot. So, they are now expanding the mucuna to control grass in other areas of the plot.
The conference culminated in an economics activity and tasty pigeonpea tamales prepared by the nutrition group. This conference was a wonderful opportunity to give leadership to our participant farmers in explaining their tests and results to other farmers in the community. Their results, presentations, and leadership are what led to numerous of their neighbors now signing on with Semilla Nueva, eager to care for their soils and their family. Semilla Nueva’s mission is to help foster local leadership and community organization and conferences like these, provide the opportunity for exactly that to take shape.