Don Luis, Don Miguel, Sarah, and I at the Norwalk Nagarote sister city office.

Don Luis, Don Miguel, Sarah, and I at the Norwalk Nagarote sister city office.

The first meeting of the recipients of SosteNica and CEPRODEL´s reforestation project was this morning in Nagarote. The project hopes to reforest between two and three manzanas of land on each farm, with trees that have dual purposes of soil conservation, forage for cattle, and sources of food and firewood. The project also intends to provide the farmers with organic fertilizers and the training to apply them correctly. 20 of the 30 farmers came, which is a good turnout considering that many farmers live far from the center of town, and bus service is very limited.

After a powerpoint presentation outlining the goals and stages of our project, the floor was opened up to questions and concerns. One of the eldest farmers stood up and began talking.

“This is a good project but we can´t grow things organically here. There is no market. When you cultivate organically and let things grow like they do in nature, it´s good for the water and soil but the fruit is smaller and worse quality, and no one will buy it. And it doesn´t matter that we save the chemicals from going into the river, because upstream from me there is sewage that goes into the river. And so few platanos trees aren´t any good because people steal the fruit, and I have to pay a guard, so it´s not worth it to me if it is less than 3 manzanas….”

As he continued ripping our project apart I felt my throat tighten. I have a very hard time listening to people here tell me with great authority that all organic produce is smaller and poorer quality. I know that´s not true. The notion that organic means not using any fertilizers or pesticides and inevitably results in low yields and small fruit runs as deep as the love of gallo pinto here. I had been pleased with the presentation that Don Carlos gave, I felt he explained our goals well and convincingly. I was under the impression that the farmers selected already understood the terms of the project and we in agreement. But it isn´t that simple. The presence of men in suits and powerpoint presentations don´t – and shouldn´t – instantly convert the minds of farmers who have been working their whole lives in the field into believing whatever they say.

The next farmers stood to say that not everyone has the same problems, that he has never had fruit stolen and he would greatly appreciate one manzana of bananas. I started breathing a little deeper.

Sarah, who is from the states and works for the Nagarote / Norwalk CT sister city project, stood to speak next. One of the many impressive projects she is doing here is working in a nursery with city youth, growing organic seedlings to sell in the community. Her nursery project will be supplying more than a third of the tree saplings. She told me earlier she was nervous about giving the trees to farmers who maybe wouldn´t take care of them properly.

“Rachel and I come from a country where  a lot of people are fighting to take care of our world´s resources,” she said. “We care about the future of your water and your families, and I care that the kids I work with here in the city learn to appreciate your work in countryside. It´s a struggle but we are here to support you. This is the most important work we can do.”

This project is a pilot project. We will see how it goes, what we should change, find new alianzas and participants. Hopefully it will grow along with the trees. The good thing is that I have confidence in CEPRODEL´s ability to follow through with personal contact with all of the clients, in addition to the workshops we will be offering them these next two months. The struggle is – these people are used to thinking about HERE and NOW. We are asking them to think about TOMORROW and beyond. That is a change of culture, and mindset, that no one powerpoint is going to be able to change.