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.  

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