Visit to Tapacarí: Greenhouses & Workshops to Improve Nutrition (March 7-8, 2017)

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Lindsay Emi. Lindsay is a writer and student from Los Angeles, California. She is eighteen years old and a volunteer from Princeton University’s Bridge Year Program in Bolivia. She will spend six months in Cochabamba volunteering with Mano a Mano, and then attend Princeton beginning in the fall of 2017, where she hopes to study English and creative writing.

This is Lindsay’s 7th post; below are her first four posts:

  1. Mano a Mano’s Second Large-Scale Distribution Event in October: Ceremony and More Behind-the-Scenes
  2. My First Week at the CEA – Lindsay Emi
  3. An In-Depth Look at CEA’s On-Site Agricultural Training Workshops
  4. November 28-December 4: Two Kinds of Visits to the CEA
  5. When the Rain Won’t Come: Farmers Receive Agricultural Training and Workshops in Omereque
  6. February 13-19, 2017: Departures at the CEA

Visit to Tapacarí: Greenhouses & Workshops to Improve Nutrition (March 7-8, 2017)

by Lindsay Emi

I’ve been lucky to see a lot of different, varied geography in my time in Bolivia–desert-like Omereque and Pasorapa, a lot of pastoral greenery in the mountains near Sucre, and some much more stark views in the higher places like Potosí and La Paz–but seeing Tapacarí in our most recent trip to the province was my favorite. Situated up at about 14,000 feet, the region was extremely cold but stunningly beautiful. The landscape featured mountainsides covered with patchworks of crops and houses, lots of clouds and mist overhead and below in the valleys, and small, bright yellow dots scattered throughout the mountains and valleys–the yellow roofs of Mano a Mano greenhouses.

Mano a Mano greenhouses (yellow-topped buildings) now dot the landscape.

Mano a Mano greenhouses (yellow-topped buildings) now dot the landscape.

Nearly 150 Greenhouses Constructed in the Area

Mano a Mano Internacional’s recent trip to Tapacarí was a really special one, marking the conclusion of the 2016 project in the province–the construction of over forty new greenhouses in the communities of Jarocullpa, Chojllara, Nunumayani, Rodeo, and Wajrawayuni. The greenhouses were built and completed in August of 2016 with the support of Oxford Development Abroad (ODA) volunteers, and bring the total number of Mano a Mano greenhouses in the region to nearly one hundred and fifty. Since the completion of the construction, our Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA) staff has held a series of on-site and in-community workshops, designed to teach optimal practices for management of the new greenhouses, with the farmers who own and maintain the greenhouses.

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, CEA staff traveled to the centrally-located community of Cajonani to accomplish several tasks relating to the project’s end: deliver the fifth and last workshop in the series, take several anthropometric measurements and conduct interviews with families for impact assessment research, and check on the functioning of several greenhouses in different communities around the province.

Greenhouses are in Full Use & Benefiting Dozens of Families

For me, it was exciting to see a Mano a Mano project already in full use and benefiting dozens of families, with whom we had the chance to meet and talk in person. Though I water the model greenhouses at the CEA nearly every day I’m there, this was my first time actually visiting and seeing a working Mano a Mano greenhouse outside of the CEA. Because at CEA we’re located in Sacaba at a “relatively low” altitude of about 8,000 feet, our greenhouses–designed to show visiting farmers examples of the most optimal greenhouses for the geography of their communities–are usually very carefully maintained so that the plants inside don’t overheat too much; the adobe walls of the greenhouses are meant to keep the greenhouse interior warm at high altitudes, though they can be too warm to function at their best in somewhere like Cochabamba (watch the video below to learn more about Mano a Mano’s CEA in Cochabamba).

In an extremely high and cold area like Tapacarí, the greenhouses made perfect sense. As soon as I entered one, the difference in temperature was drastically different from that of the cold air outside, and the plants inside were thriving in a way that would have otherwise been totally impossible without the greenhouse environment.

Greenhouses Help Farmers Supplement Their Diets with More Vegetables

Through seeing the greenhouses and completing interviews with some of the farmers of Rodeo and Jarocullpa, I had the chance to see just how effective the greenhouses were in augmenting and supplementing the farmers’ diets with a steady supply of nutritious vegetables. Outside of their greenhouses, the farmers were planting crops like potatoes, haba beans, corn, wheat, barley, oats, and oca. Before they had their greenhouses, the farmers said, they were consuming traditional starches like potatoes and chuno every day, and supplementing that with meat and vegetables purchased from markets maybe once or twice a month. But with their new greenhouses, the farmers have successfully grown or are growing an impressive variety of vegetables: tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, chard, lettuce, achojcha, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, and several others. In one farmer’s greenhouse that we visited, there were thirteen different kinds of vegetables, most of them ready or nearly ready for harvest.

I had the chance to see just how effective the greenhouses were in augmenting and supplementing the farmers’ diets with a steady supply of nutritious vegetables…In one farmer’s greenhouse that we visited, there were thirteen different kinds of vegetables, most of them ready or nearly ready for harvest.

Another first for me was seeing the nutrition workshop in Cajonani, the last workshop in the series. Over thirty farmers were in attendance, all owners of individual greenhouses. I’ve seen several workshops on soil management, agroecological principles, and other topics both in and out of CEA, but this was the first time I’ve seen this particular workshop on alimentacion and nutrition. I caught the last part of it after coming back from more anthropometric data collection in a different community, and like all of our workshops, it was interactive and collaborative, with different games and group activities.

I got to hear about how the farmers traditionally prepare and eat their food, and together, CEA staff and the farmers discussed the benefits of incorporating more vegetables into their diets and how the farmers might prepare and add the products of their greenhouses into their daily meals. One farmer commented, “It has been a pleasure to work with this organization, and we really thank the institution of Mano a Mano, which has given us this training and these lessons that will enable us to advance our alimentacion of our families and our children…with our greenhouses, today we can live in a region where our children can grow up well-fed and well-nourished.”

Farmers in Huputana participating in an activity listing all of the food that they know and their nutritional qualities during a Nutrition workshop with Mano a Mano agronomist Victor (center).

Farmers in Huputana participating in an activity listing all of the food that they know and their nutritional qualities during a Nutrition workshop with Mano a Mano agronomist Victor (center).

Greenhouses & Workshops are Having a Positive Impact

I enjoyed our trip because not only did I have the chance to do such hands-on work with so many of my coworkers, but because I had the opportunity to see the powerful impact of the greenhouses demonstrated in several different ways. I talked with fathers and mothers who’d noticed that their children were more energetic and became sick less often since they’d begun harvesting and consuming vegetables from their greenhouses.

We have yet to fully analyze all the anthropometric data we collected, but of the 50+ children who participated, whose families own and maintain greenhouses, the majority of them are at healthy weights for their age and all of them displayed no signs of malnourishment. And finally, for the first time, I saw farmers’ functioning, successful greenhouses in rural areas, filled with thriving and well-tended vegetables.

Wirkini Water Reservoir is Full

 Wirkini Water Reservoir is Full

The Wirkini water reservoir, March 2017.

The Wirkini water reservoir, March 2017.

Mano a Mano’s water reservoir in Wirkini, Bolivia – completed in October 2016 – is completely full of water right now and almost ready to overflow. The current levels are especially impressive considering that the community has already received multiple releases of water, and that Bolivia is in the midst of a drought.

Video: Wirkini Community Talks About Their New Water Reservoir

Learn more about the project here, where Wirkini residents talk about the impact the reservoir has for them.

Shop Amazon Smile Today and Donate 5% to Mano Mano

Shop Amazon Smile Today and Donate 5% to Mano Mano

Amazon is celebrating its #1 ranking in customer satisfaction by the ACSI! Today, March 16, Amazon will donate 5% (10 times the usual donation rate) of the price of your eligible Amazon Smile purchases to Mano A Mano International Partners. Get started at smile.amazon.com/ch/41-1796971.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Lori Wedeking

Volunteer Spotlight: Lori Wedeking

During her professional career, Lori Wedeking worked for decades at the Minnesota Department of Health, and as a teacher at Winona State and Metro State’s nursing colleges. More recently she’s been a stalwart Mano a Mano volunteer, undertaking research on Bolivian health issues, but also taking up other necessary tasks, such as sorting medical supplies and staffing the inventory table when shipping containers get loaded. Here’s why she finds her volunteer work so important. 

Lori Wedeking, in the Mano a Mano Warehouse in St. Paul, MN

Lori Wedeking, in the Mano a Mano Warehouse in St. Paul, MN

How did you get started with Mano a Mano?

It was 2003 or 2004. I heard about Mano a Mano at church. For many years I helped out by sorting medical supplies on Friday afternoons.

Eventually I dropped out of that because the adults weren’t there any more. It was university students. And I thought, every day I was with students. It wasn’t that much of a change for me. After I retired I found out that Mano a Mano needed somebody to do research. I met with [Mano a Mano co-founder] Joan Velasquez and she gave me many questions to write papers about. Soil, climate change. Things like that. After the move to Pierce Butler I started to work again on Soup and Sort days. And then last year I took a 1,500 paper donor list and digitized the information for them.

Now I’m back to writing research papers again for Joan. Now I’m working on a paper about infectious diseases in the Department of Beni. It’s about leishmaniasis, malaria, yellow fever, TB, and how they effect particularly the people who live in Beni.

Why do you find the work satisfying?

When I was a public health nurse I learned you can’t change people; you have to work with what they’ll do to change themselves. Mano a Mano asks people what they need. They work on what people think they need rather than being Americans who come in and say, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do for you.’ Mano a Mano listens to what people need rather than telling them what they need. That’s important to me.

Residents of the Wirkini communty attending a meeting with Mano a Mano - which are held throughout the planning and construction process - at the site of the reservoir.

Residents of the Wirkini communty attending a meeting with Mano a Mano – which are held throughout the planning and construction process – at the site of their water reservoir.

Mano a Mano asks people what they need. They work on what people think they need rather than being Americans who come in and say, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do for you.’ Mano a Mano listens to what people need rather than telling them what they need. That’s important to me.

Plus, the work keeps me busy. I have rights to research libraries, so I can get journals without having to pay for it. I have skills and resources that help Mano a Mano that way. I understand science. Or I learn. That helps. And I can translate the information so other people can understand it. It’s good to help people who need help — to do what they need rather than me telling them what they need.

This interview and article were written by Mano a Mano volunteer Anthony Schmitz.

More Mano a Mano Volunteer Spotlights

Below are a few more interviews with Mano a Mano volunteers that are so crucial to everything that we do. Are you interested in getting involved? Please contact us!

Thanks Volunteers!

Thanks Volunteers!