By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
A small public school in the Sierra Norte region of Puebla, Mexico, recently won a prestigious state award for its organic garden, which has produced much more than fruits and vegetables: It has also brought new outlooks on nutrition, agricultural practices and even entrepreneurship in the community.
Supported by ChildFund, the school’s garden helps students learn about not only nutrition and agriculture, but also their indigenous heritage. Here in Mexico’s northern highlands, much of the population is indigenous, and the program encourages students to talk about gardening, recipes and nutrition with their grandparents and parents in their native language, Nahuatl.
Maria Isabel, 15, took us on a tour of the garden this spring. She’s been heavily involved in the project since day one and was chosen to represent her school at the state ceremony in the capital, where the principal, teachers and students were recognized for their innovative garden.
“With programs like this school garden, a new hope is growing in this community, because we want to learn,” she said.
She pointed out each plant, telling us its nutritional value, recipes it can be used in and how much shade, water and care it needs. Maria Isabel also gave us the scientific names, as well as the plants’ names in Spanish and in Nahuatl. The garden has medicinal plants, fruits, vegetables, trees and herbs.
Students’ families come to the garden to learn advanced agricultural techniques, composting methods and plants’ nutritional value and levels of resistance to extreme weather. They also learn about how to use old soccer balls, plastic soda bottles and truck tires for planting, to save space.
The garden yields vegetables and fruit that also can become healthy dishes like pancakes made with bananas or carrots, complementing families’ usual diets and improving nutrition for children. Maria Isabel says she likes nopal cactus leaves steamed with onions, a dish that’s rich in vitamin A. She’d never eaten it before the school garden. Family members can take home some of the produce, and they’re also diversifying their own gardens, where they typically grew only rice and oranges. They’re beginning to sell surplus produce in roadside stands, supplementing their incomes, as well as sharing with relatives and neighbors.
The school has also started selling baked goods made with ingredients from the garden, even taking bakery orders for products like their increasingly popular carrot bread. In the future, students hope to create soaps and shampoo to sell at markets — next steps to look forward to.