Tierra en movimiento― Farmer to Farmer Support
Posted: December 11, 2012
Extensionist Javier Espinoza gives the women’s group a lesson on pest management for their squash plants. The women have learned organic soil improvement techniques, pest identification and management, and seedling preparation and spacing.
Since 1990 Gettysburg has had official Sister City status with Leon, Nicaragua, a relationship promoting people to people exchanges and cultural and municipal activities. Some of us, like me at first, wonder what does a community in faraway Nicaragua have in common with little, old Gettysburg to bond us as Sister Cities?
Besides fascinating histories, establishments of higher education and the important link of farming, Gettysburg and Leon are both home to energetically kind people that enjoy learning about one another.
Project Gettysburg Leon (PGL) sponsors a number of projects in the region of Leon through efforts of local Adams County residents and an in-country director, Aaron Banas. I traveled to Nicaragua in November to further support the Talolinga Ag Extension project and local farmer Javier Espinoza, who has built up a community-based agricultural extension system.
Talolinga is located approximately 10 miles from Santa Rosa del Penon which is a municipality of Leon. Within Santa Rosa there are 33 communities with 10,000 residents, approximately 350 of which live in Talolinga. The residents of Talolinga are primarily subsistence farmers of corn, beans, wheat and sorghum. Denisioso, a local farmer and husband of Angela, regarded that since corn and beans are the only steady markets he has and are the staples of his family’s diet he can’t take the risk of planting other things, leading to a diet low in vitamins.
Angela, a vibrant and friendly woman, welcomed me into her home while I stayed in Talolinga. She has hosted over 20 PGL group delegations and is involved with the Ag Extension program that is currently in its second year. This project began about a year and a half ago when Javier expressed an interest in continuing his education in agriculture and helping Talolinga become more crop diversified.
Since then, Javier has been attending university as well as other workshops in the region about sustainable agriculture. He began a demonstration plot in Talolinga on which a women’s group is working daily to grow tomatoes, peppers, carrots, squash, sorghum, manioc, pineapples, papayas, basil and a little bit of corn.
Along with improving family nutrition, the idea of vegetable production was established as an income generating activity for community members. After a year of working with Javier, the women have learned organic soil improvement techniques, pest identification and management, seedling preparation and spacing and feel confident that they could continue their work on their own and produce enough for their families and to sell.
Javier’s work is much like the work of Penn State Extension Educators in Adams County. Both experts in their field they use credible information to educate those around them― another similarity in our Sister City relationship. Javier’s extension work is improving nutrition, increasing vegetable yields and building a capacity for growing vegetables in community members that did not exist before.
As support of the project continues, Javier plans on expanding his teaching with a men’s group as well as a school garden. INTA, a governmental group, recently choose Talolinga as a spot for their farm school due to Javier’s hard work. They will build three plots to showcase to local farmers the difference between organic, traditional and chemical farming.
If those projects weren’t enough, Javier is also beginning to expand the project to nearby communities. Much like how many Adams County producers are visited by extension agents to help with problem solving and research initiatives, Javier will begin to visit a tomato producer in Tierra Blanca, a nearby community, about a 20 minute walk from Talolinga.
Since the inception of the Talolinga Ag Extension program, Penn State Extension and YGA have been working to support Javier through information sharing and operational support such as soil testing, yet for the sustainability and longevity of the program a local contact has been made. The University of Managua has graciously offered their lab services as well as professor expertise in aiding in Javier’s work. Although the university has a limited budget for extension services they are eager to further be involved with the project and will be visiting Talolinga in December. The University of Managua and Penn State Extension hope to build a stronger relationship in together establishing an extension system in Nicaragua.
This January another YGA delegation will be travelling to Nicaragua to offer their advice and knowledge as well as learn from the sustainable practices being used in Talolinga. Tara Baugher, local tree fruit specialist, remarked after her first visit that “we had to wonder at the possibilities if problem-solving resources and simple crop monitoring tools were to be made available.”
As this project continues to evolve and grow, more and more community members are learning about vegetable production in a sustainable manner and more Adams County residents are experiencing this as they travel to Nicaragua and meet face to face with community members.
This type of travel for most people is unusual and tough yet continues to draw newcomers because it is extremely gratifying. Working alongside Nicaraguans, tilling the same fields and eating the same produce it is easy to see how cultural and language barriers are broken, sometimes with a simple smile. Volunteers begin to experience life as it is in rural Nicaragua, leaving behind everyday comforts, and realizing that they are welcomed with open arms into a culture that does not discriminate and will always share food, even if it is just rice and beans.
PGL continues to sponsor and support efforts in Nicaragua as well as in Adams County with events such as ‘Salsa on the Square’, Nicaraguan artists visiting local schools and the popular annual ‘Nicaragua Night’ at the College. Nicaragua Night is a festive evening to be held January 26, 2013 at the Gettysburg College Hauser Field House at 5 pm, and if travelling 1,925 miles to Leon is not an option this is a great way to learn more and contribute to our Sister City relationship.
Sladjana Prozo is the Ag Innovations Program Manager at Penn State Extension serving Adams County. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workplace. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 334-6271 or (888) 427-0261, email AdamsExt@psu.edu.