July 23, 2011

Vara Blanca's First Strawberry Fair

By Leigh Anne Coble
Vara Blanca hosted it’s first feria de fresa (strawberry fair) this past Saturday and Sunday and everyone in this community and surrounding communities came out to participate, in two days full of music, activities, and – of course – strawberries.  The steady rain over the weekend did nothing but churn up the dirt and, in the greyness of the day, make the strawberries seem even more fresh and red.  The local folks meandered around, a father holding his daughter and a bag of strawberries, a young boy with his face painted like a tiger running through the mud.  If you walked past the mouth of the gym, you could hear shouts of children playing soccer and reggaeton blaring from the stereo.  Both days of the  feria de fresa were full of noise, laughter, ripe strawberries, and the bustle of people coming together as a community.

The feria was set up on the hill outside the gym, a central place in Vara Blanca.  To the left side of the gym under a large white tarp, people were crowded together eating at tables or packed in lines for strawberry chocolate cake, hot soup, chicharrones, steaming fajitas, tamales, and hand-ground tortillas to mention a few.  To the right side of the gym, local artisans set up tables packed with colorful scarves, hand-painted glass earrings, woven baskets, and more.  An older couple had set up a stand in the middle of it all, their faces as smooth as the hand-carved wooden bowls around them. Another table held wallets, purses, vases, and baskets made with recycled wrappers and the woman who made them offered to teach us her method.  We watched as her fingers expertly folded a silvery wrapper several times.  As my own fingers clumsily repeated her steps to complete a tiny section of a purse, I gained a great appreciation for the time-consuming, hand-made art around me.

The ADE high school also had its own booth, by the fajitas and the leather purses, where they hosted a dessert-making contest and an eating competition.  For the contest, a man made a dish resembling strawberry cobbler, with Jell-O in the center and took home $60 prize money.  In the eating competition, contestants had to slurp from a bowl of strawberry Jell-o on the table with their hands behind their backs.  In the championship round,  Tomás Dozier battled a stocky man and two other women, but ended up winning nothing more than a sticky face.  (The other man walked away with his prize of $40.) 

Following the eating contest, was one of Sunday’s most popular events, the guerra de fresa (strawberry war) put on by the ADE high school.   Nearly half of the crowd came down to the field to watch the two teams chucking strawberries, just soft enough to be considered rotten, at one another while hiding behind wooden barriers.  Almost all ages were represented in the guerra, from young boys wrapped in plastic bags and wearing goggles, to several high school students, to older adults.  It lasted for nearly half an hour, and no one seemed to mind that in the middle of it, the sky opened and soaked everyone.  A man from Channel 7 News came out on the field when it ended to interview two women from the guerra, both of whom still had clumps of strawberry in their hair.  Just as he began asking questions, a misaimed strawberry came flying and squished onto the side of his expensive camera.  He yelled at the boys responsible, but it seemed no one could get enough of the war; within five minutes, another guerra began.

Although many people left the feria with fewer colones in their pockets, rain in their shoes, and strawberry stains on their clothes, a good time was had by all.  The town’s first feria de fresa gave local businesses a chance to showcase their products and gave the people an event to remember. 

July 13, 2011

Organic Garden and Fruit Co-op

By LeighAnne and Chelsea Dozier

Summer intern Lauren Nickell has been working with Tomás Dozier on an organic garden and a fruit co-op, projects that are healthy and sustainable, and also have the potential to provide income for future teachers at the ADE bilingual high school and community members. Noone on ADE's staff is financially supported but work to support themselves by living in the community, offering services and working together with the community. Since the nearest grocery store is a 20 minute drive and most families are without cars, vegetables are not easily accessible.  

The potential fruit co-op has met twice with about 5 community members and are experimenting with organic blackberries after having seen successful farms in other similar regions. Strawberries and milk farms are more common in San Rafael and Vara Blanca with heavy pesticides on the strawberries so blackberries that grow naturally and organically because they ward off bugs on their own, can be an excellent alternative. Already the sample blackberries from different lands have proven to be delicious and organic and Tomas shared his  killer blackberry jam to whet the appetite for future co-op members.

The idea of the organic garden first took root when an nutrition major who interned with ADE last summer, suggested adding variety of food in the local people’s diets.  Tomás believed this would be beneficial and would serve as an example to the community of the type of food that could grow in the area.  In a previous effort, ADE tried to make the garden more of a community garden so that people who did not own land would have a place to grow their own vegetables, but the majority already own land.  Now, several weeks into planting and with the barbed wire for the fence recently delivered, ADE has the beginnings of its own garden on a piece of the Dozier’s property. High school students at ADE have done some soil testing previously for a science class.
It is ADE’s hope that the organic garden and balckberry co-op will serve not only as income but also as a healthy, productive, and, economical (because of its large size) example for the communities of San Rafael and Vara Blanca.

Lauren explained that the ground plot was already dug out and that she makes rows in the dirt, plants the vegetables, “and the rain does the rest.”  The garden aims to grow beans, one of Costa Rica’s staple crops, as well as a specialty of plants (such as carrots, radishes, and lettuce) in high concentrations and offer more variety of food, including cilantro, artichokes, corn, basil, squash, and zucchini.  With San Rafael’s temperate climate, some vegetables thrive year round, which hotter or cooler regions could not support.  Lauren described the meticulous planting process of knowing where to plant certain vegetables in the plot and in what concentration and putting some in trays to be transplanted later.  She also has to be very intentional about the garden trenches (as to avoid flooding) and the spacing between plants.

About two weeks into planting, the plot has 17 rows of the 30-40 rows it plans to have once the garden is finished.  Once half of the rows have been planted, they will wait another two weeks to plant the second half in order to have a rotation of crops for continual growth.  When half of the garden is ready for the table, the growing half will provide food several weeks later.  By providing an abundant amount and more rare vegetables throughout the year, hopefully ADE along with the community will be able to sell or give away food to the community.  With shoots from last week already sprouting up in the garden and with backberries growing well, the organic garden and fruit co-op are well on its way.  

July 8, 2011

The Role of the Church During a Disaster

By Leigh Anne Coble
Mayra Zúñiga, a public accountant, came to Shalom Church here in Vara Blanca on June 19th to present a case study on the role of the church in the situation of a disaster like the Cinchona earthquake of 2009.  She and six others drew up a detailed 75-page proposal with research, opinions, sections from El Nación newspaper, and a proposal plan for how the church ought to play an important role in the situation of a disaster.  The document focuses on the regions of Vara Blanca and San Rafael de Vara Blanca, touching on the monetary, economic, and personal losses and the lack of support from the government.  The question in the community for those who are only too familiar with the still-destroyed road or for those still living in temporary housing is: “What has the government been doing for the last two years?”  But the case study asks, “What has the church been doing for the last two years?”  Looking to the example of Jesus, the case study explains how the church has the responsibility of serving actively, particularly to those in great need. 

She discussed how the church not only has the responsibility to reach out and offer relief, but to prepare an official plan of response.  Part of this response, she believes, should be a joint effort from all churches in surrounding areas, no matter the denomination.  The case study talks about the need for resources to be able to effectively assist a community’s needs when a disaster strikes.  It also details four specific needs for the community of Vara Blanca and San Rafael: health, infrastructure (development of houses), road, and employment.  One of the questions that is raised later in response to these needs is this: “What impedes the people from knowing the details of the resources, spending control, and the rendition of bills and should the church take a more active stand on this topic?”  One person claims that Christians ought to “serve God as much in the public sphere as in the community of faith.”  The case study raises another question, whether the “core” of the church should be responsible in taking a stand in a political topic because they are a part of the community.  But according to their poll in the area affected by the earthquake, the pastors responded that 81.25% of members from their church are not active in social organizations in the community and 93.75% are not aware of community problems.  However, 62.5% are connected with public organizations with recuperation plans in the case of a disaster and 68.75% believe that they should be involved in the control and the rendition of bills from recuperation plans before a disaster. 

The bill mentions Tomás Dozier and the active efforts of ADE as its staff works with the community and a local church on developing education and the community.  Now, the church must decide if it is their duty to become more directly involved in the community.