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Rotarians Hit The Ground Running

Over the past three years, Rotary International has played a key role in the success of Semilla Nueva. In 2013 Semilla Nueva became a recipient of a Rotary Global Grant thanks to the collaboration of more than 13 clubs in Guatemala and the United States. This grant provided us with $60,000 to support sustainable agriculture and food security groups in five communities in the coastal Department of Retalhuleu. In 2014 the grant was renewed for the same five communities and programs for an additional year.

On November 4th, six adventurous Rotarians hopped on a plane and flew down to Guatemala to get a real understanding of the impact the Global Grant is having on the five communities it supports. And what they saw was more than what they imagined. Over the course of six days they harvested sesame with farmers, cooked with women from Semilla Nueva’s Food Security Groups and came away with a deeper understanding of the many challenges facing the small farmer in Guatemala and how Semilla Nueva is working to improve them.

The photo blog below will give you a small taste of our Rotarians’ experience, enjoy!


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Left to Right: Bill Fogg, Cheryl Fogg, George Weissbeck, Lee Stroman, Curt Bowen, Janice Fulkerson, David Fulkerson, Frank Lara and Haley Kirk.

 Bill and Cheryl Fogg, from Spokane, WA, came down with a depth of knowledge in agriculture and provided the answers to many questions on long, bumpy car rides. Janice and David Fulkerson had heard of Semilla Nueva through various Boise Rotary Clubs and the Idaho Non-Profit Center and decided to forgo their diving trip this year to get their hands dirty harvesting sesame. Frank Lara, an experienced traveller and Spanish speaker had seen Curt present multiple times and wanted to see where all of his support to the Rotary Global Grant was going. And George Weissbeck, or as we called him “Curious George”, wanted to immerse himself in the Guatemalan culture, hang out with the locals, and learn about the bigger issues that perpetuate the cycle of poverty in rural Guatemala.

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Frank Lara, Cheryl and Bill Fogg, George Weissbeck and Haley Kirk stand in Antigua Central Park.

We started off the trip with a visit to Antigua, one of Guatemala’s oldest cities famous for it’s cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings. We walked through the lush Central Park, stopped in to visit Chocomuseo to see the production process of cacao and strolled through Casa Santo Domingo, a restored convent from the 1500’s. We ended the walking tour with a delicious lunch at Luna de Miel to talk about the week ahead.

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Research Coordinator, Lisa Eash, explains the various tests happening on Semilla Nueva’s Experimental Farm – a learning ground for farmers and researchers alike.

After a relaxing day exploring Antigua, it was time to hit the road and start the real adventure. At 7am everyone piled into the pick-up truck and we started our descent into the sultry, humid climate of Guatemala’s Pacific Coastal region. We were welcomed to the Semilla Nueva Experimental Farm — a 6 acre research farm in the center of our region of Guatemala — by Research Coordinator, Lisa Eash, and Experimental Farmer Director, Noe Estrada. Lisa gave everyone a tour of the various experimental plots ranging from 21 test plots of conservation agriculture technologies, to the biggest pigeonpea trial in Latin America with 26 varieties from the US, Africa and India.

The following days, the Rotarians woke up early to meet up with Programs Director, Trini Recinos, and Field Technician Juan Manuel in the community of La Montaña to help out with sesame harvesting! With November being the heart of sesame harvest season, donors got a chance to get their hands dirty, meet participating farmers and learn about the different experiments farmers are testing on their sesame crops. The farmers greatly appreciated the extra hands and were sad to see the Rotarians leave.

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Israel Gutierrez explains his test plots on his sesame harvest.

Before each sesame harvest, farmers took their time explaining the different experiments they are running on their land. Israel Ochoa explained his three different growing techniques: no-till, strip tillage and mounds tillage. Trinidad Recinos explained that while no-till is extremely beneficial for the soil, farmers are running into problems with sesame seed germination. The crop residue on top of the soil created with no-till provides a moist blanket providing the perfect breeding ground for a nasty fungal pathogen; hence reducing yields greatly. Israel was testing different techniques to see which worked best for his sesame and his soil. 

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Janice Fulkerson makes QPM and chaya tortillas with the women from La Montana.

 After a sweaty morning harvest session Rotarians got a chance to attend a Food Security Cooking Group, one of the many programs supported through the Rotary Global Grant. After downing some water and washing the dirt off, we dug our hands into maza (tortilla dough) and gave tortilla making a shot.

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Food is served!

 As we all sat down for the delicious meal while the women took a moment to describe how they made each portion of the meal: pigeonpea horchata, (a beverage made with cinnamon, peanuts, pigeonpea, and rice water) a pumpkin, potato and chaya soup, and green tortillas! Each part of the meal incorporated one of the four nutritious foods Semilla Nueva is working to promote throughout the communities. Everyone was happy to eat!

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Bill Fogg and George Weissbeck enjoy the sunset on Champerico Beach.

 The last day we finished off the trip by going out to lunch at Champerico Beach. A late lunch of fresh shrimp, ceviche and cold beverages ended a long workday just right. As the sun began to set, Trini gave donors a look into his life and why he truly believes in the work of Semilla Nueva. As the evening wrapped up, we took the opportunity to dip our feet into the warm ocean water before we headed back to Retaluheu.

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The next day we parted into two groups — one returned to Antigua for sightseeing and the second took a boat tour around the picturesque Lake Atitlan. After a week filled with adventures it is safe to say that these 6 Rotarians got a ground-level view of Semilla Nueva’s impactful work in Guatemala thanks to the ongoing support of the Rotary Global Grant. We truly look forward to hosting another trip next year!

Interested in signing up for a trip? Please stay in touch with us as we plan the trip dates for 2015! Check our website for more information, or email haleykirk@semillanueva.org for inquiries. We look forward to another year of trips!

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