I have been working a lot recently with individual families in my community to introduce organic methods into household gardening as a means of creating sustainability, increasing production, and helping household nutrition. So far I have worked with about eight families, doing things from bed preparation to companion planting to homemade, organic insecticides and fertilizers. This week, I had my first great success story that really made me realize how small ideas can sometimes change how people think and work.
Last week, I was showing some families how to double-dig garden beds and add organic matter to the soil in the process to help with soil recuperation and nutrient availability. After working with one family, I proceeded to demonstrate how to make a homemade insecticide using garlic, onions, and leaves from a local tree called paraiso gigante. These ingredients are mixed together, steeped in water for about 2 days, and then applied to the plants. The smelly garlic and onions deter pests; the paraiso leaves have a strong odor as well as other natural insecticidal properties.
A few days later when I revisited the garden, the mother of the family proudly told me of her newest horticultural conquest: As she double-dug a new raised bed in her garden, she found if full of ants. Using leaves from the paraiso gigante tree as her organic matter, she mixed the material into the soil. The next day when she returned to plant the bed, the ants had all left and the soil was ready for planting.
As she told me this story, I couldn’t help but smile. Here was a local mother who not only learned well enough to be able to repeat the whole process on her own, but she was also willing to experiment and try new things. Such willingness is rare for people who usually have little room for error. Without much financial backing, with little capital, and often faced with the problem of providing enough food to survive, impoverished farmers often hesitate to try new things, lest they jeopardize their ability to provide for their families.
Working with farmers in this capacity means that I must be understanding and cautious and always remain cognizant of this fact. It is important to impart knowledge in a way that manages and minimizes risk and optimizes benefit. This is not always perfectly possible and there are always unknown variables, but hopefully (if this situation is any indication) the work I am doing will have a tangible impact both in the gardens and in the thought processes of my Paraguayan neighbors. —Mario Machado