February 6, 2012
Nicaragua is a land of impressions: physical, emotional, and spiritual. It is a land encompassing rich jungle soil and the coffee that flourishes on it; to an un-paralled shoreline, Atlantic and Pacific; to the sparsely populated and dusty highlands. Nicaragua is rich in history and possible new markets but encumbered by poverty only the most unfortunate Americans know. Yet it is a country comprised of villages, towns, and cities of people who desire the education to better their circumstances and Nicaragua’s future. To put it succinctly, Nicaragua is a stark reality converging with unlimited potential.
As you can tell, Nicaragua, her people, land, culture, and agriculture overwhelmed me. This was not my first visit to a third world country, nor my first time in Central America, but it was my first trip designed solely around agriculture. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I was extremely apprehensive. I was still trying to learn about PGL and their mission in Leon and Talolinga, and I was nervous/ intrigued about Javier and his progress thus far. We know how difficult it can be to achieve multiple goals in a year here, despite our modern conveniences, but we cannot truly understand how many obstacles Javier could encounter in a day attempting to communicate, travel, or obtain materials for his education and projects.
To better illustrate my trip, I will briefly outline each day’s activities and exploits in three blogs. It is too much information for one blog so I think this will work better. I am not attempting to do anything other than inform you of my experiences so take from it what you will. I wrote in a rather haphazard manner, as sights or people struck me, so please bear with me.
Thursday January 19, 10:15pm
In the hotel in Alexandria before our 6am flight tomorrow to Nicaragua. Lord guide us safely there and back again without harm or illness.
Friday January 20, noon
Left Managua airport in a bus with Greg from PGL and headed to volcano lagoon in Masaya for lunch before hiking in the national volcano park. Land is very similar to El Salvador, perhaps a tad greener.
I saw volcanos while flying in and crater lakes of gorgeous blue hues. It’s very warm, slightly humid from the early morning rain.
Random cows pop up in fields, lanes, and back yards. Also, chickens- everywhere.
Much like San Miguel (town in El Salvador), there is corrugated tin for homes, roves, latrines, and much more.
Trash. So much trash. Lining the road, in lots, being burned constantly in areas that would have our fire departments sweating in anxiety.
Peanut plantations appear to go on endlessly with gleaners dotting the fields. They harvest by hand, plow with tractors if the plantation can afford it. Small farms use mules, horses, and/or oxen. Horses are tied by string to signs.
We had lunch at a crater lagoon-phenomenal-probably 2 miles long and 1 mile wide. It was a beautiful open air restaurant built right up to the edge of a high cliff. The restaurant is popular with tourists, national and foreign. It was pretty packed but we managed to get the closest table to the edge and enjoyed a spectacular view and meal. I ate ceviche and tostones con res.
After lunch we drove up to the park and parked near the lip of the volcano-which is still active, like the majority of Nicaraguan volcanos. Sulfur smoke lazily made its way from the chasm before spreading in all directions in the wind gusts. It was quite windy up on the volcano and was pleasantly comfortable due to the cloudy sky, elevation, and breeze. We walked up to a scenic view area marked by a 30 ft. wooden cross. It overlooked the whole crater, which appears to be more than a mile long and the same wide. The sediment layers are amazing, I could only identify 4 by color but I am sure that there are more that are covered up. The high altitude grass reminded me of Rocky Mountain Park vegetation in Colorado. It looked like the stiff heather colored grass on the alpine slopes.
I can’t get over the view. We could see most of Lake Managua, Managua, and part of Lake Nicaragua. The entire view was actually a crater formed by an explosion several million years ago. Scientists acknowledge the activity of the volcanos and say that it is liable to erupt on a large scale in the near future, i.e. several thousand years. Kinda scary to think too intensely about, eh?
We then walked up a steeper part of the crater where it was much breezier and it began to spit rain. Quite nice, actually as it was so much hotter here. I could see the crater lagoon from lunch and more of Lake Nicaragua, which is like an inland sea it is so large, thus making it one of the coolest views ever.
We left the park and drove for 2 hours to Leon. We arrived at the Hostal Mariposa, a hostel owned by a young French couple, and were relieved and elated by its simple elegance. It has beautiful bungalows, and enclosed outdoor showers for each cabin. You could literally shower under the stars. The couple is fluent in French and Spanish, with some limited English. After we quickly unpacked and cat-washed, we drove to Café Rosita in Leon for dinner. It is a small restaurant and gelateria and boasts some of the most delicious coffee in Leon according to Greg. The group discussed tomorrow’s visit to Nuevas Ezperanzas, our agenda and goals for Javier. Realized we need to earmark funds for a zip drive and memory stick for his documents, possibly computer classes as well since he has only recently been exposed to one.
It’s been a long day. Bed now. Early morning tomorrow.
*I will post the second blog this coming Friday*
Hi, my name is Alana Anderson and I have been working for Three Springs Fruit Farm fulltime since August 2011. My story of how I came to be at Three Springs is rather unusual; I studied Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. I graduated early thinking I had the jump in a stumbling economy but found that I had joined the ranks of the young and unemployed. (Band name anyone?) I searched for several months within my field unsuccessfully and became increasingly frustrated and scared as May
graduation approached and my competition field would explode in possible candidates. However, in an odd twist of fate a family friend advised me to get into farmer markets with local growers. Growing up in Adams County has its definite advantages folks-fresh produce and seasonal work. Said friend told me to contact Ben first because he felt that we would hit it off as young musicians. I will always be grateful to Ben for answering an unknown number and letting me work a market. Needless to say, I took to markets like a duck takes to water. I loved it. Meeting lovely people like you, becoming more acquainted with the growing techniques and varieties of my county’s produce, and feeling distinct accomplishment at the end of the day gave me purpose.
I worked through the summer into fall. I then chose to pursue an opportunity abroad with an international flight carrier. I flew for 8 months but longed for fresh air, polite customers, and a product that I could care about and sell with integrity. Ben, again, graciously accepted my plea to return to the farm. Every day I thank God for the opportunity to revel in the outdoors, learn more about the agricultural industry, see sustainable practices put to the test, and educate customers about what we do to provide them with quality fruits and vegetables. It is safe to say that I found my passion, which brings me to the reason behind this blog post.
Tomrrow I will travel to Leon, Nicaragua with a delegation of growers and educators from Adams County through Project Gettysburg-Leon (PGL). PGL has maintained a sister city relationship with the city and district of Leon for over twenty-five years. While Leon is the country’s second largest city, the district is comprised of hundreds of rural communities. Taolinga is one of the more remote locations; the town is nestled in the mountains above Leon and is in the process of acquiring electricity and building a road.
I was first informed of PGL and Taolinga through Dr. Tara A. Baugher, a family friend and well known tree fruit researcher for Penn State University Extension Office in Adams County. She talked to me before her first trip to Taolinga a year ago with a Master Gardener and two growers from Adams County. It was the first group of growers and educators to participate in the partnership between the Young Grower Alliance (YGA) and PGL. Tara’s enthusiasm before, and especially after the trip was infectious. The group was able to see firsthand the obstacles that Nicaraguan farmers encounter daily. They offered firsthand knowledge of fruit diseases and possible insect damage. They were amazed by the tenacity of the native farmers and eager to assist with greater sustainability and diversification of crops.
Perhaps the most enlightening experience for the group was the introduction to Javier Espinoza Gutierrez, a young farmer who had successfully grafted a papaya cutting to a dwarf root stock in an attempt to grow more manageable trees. His innovation and eagerness to learn inspired the visitors to write a proposal for the creation of an in-county extension program that would be sustained by the farmers and families within Taolinga. Javier would receive training and mentoring from educators in Leon and work with farmers who are practicing more technologically and sustainably advanced agriculture. He would then return to Taolinga and share this knowledge. The emphasis is on passing the acquired information to achieve true native sustainability.
This was a program that exactly suited what I believe in and hope to do later in life. It wasn’t a program that endorsed a traditional top-down approach through funding and education, but a grassroots effort working to educate entire communities on self-reliance. I was asked to go to share my experiences on the farm and in direct marketing, and also because I speak some Spanish. That is to say, I speak a dialect of Spanish that Spaniards find perplexing and my Mexican locals find amusing. Apparently, I mix accents at will. Imagine if you will, an American varying between a New Jersey and Georgian accent. Odd, I suppose. But I digress.
The trip is exciting and a tad nerve-wracking. I have been fortunate enough to travel to El Salvador on a college mission trip and loved the experience. I worked with orphans in San Miguel and was floored by their tenacity and perseverance in the face of poverty. It was a humbling and empowering experience. But it makes me wary of this experience. I have been told of the warm hearted people and their desire to learn, but I worry about the land itself. How do you take innovations in our land and apply it to a mountainous, semi-volcanic terrain? The highlands are significantly less populated and developed than the lowlands, and receive intense rains that make erosion and flash floodsa very real problem for farmers.
So I worry and wait. But I balance this nervousness with the hope that you, dear readers, will share my excitement in learning more about sustainable ag abroad. You already have done a great thing: pursue information on what you eat, the facts behind the spray movements, and how to support local farms and families. This is the attitude that will change America-believing in ourselves and working to make everything we do more efficient, green, and focused on long term goals. Yay for us!
I will keep a journal while in Nicaragua and post it when I return! Until then, keep reading Ben’s blog to stay abreast of our farm’s activities!
PS - to contribute to PGL's work in Nicaragua, follow this link to Nicaragua Night 2012 to view information on this terrific fundraiser - including a few items from Three Springs Fruit Farm up for bidding this year.