Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Nutrition in Nicaragua: A Community Takes Charge
In Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, fresh produce is a luxury that many families cannot afford. Strikingly, in this lush tropical nation whose climate facilitates agriculture of all kinds, people eat vegetables on average no more than five times per week.
In the communities surrounding Ciudad Sandino, the prohibitive price of vegetables has contributed to widespread malnutrition that can lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Silvia Elena, Director of Los Cumiches Pre-school in Ciudad Sandino, explains, “The children don’t have a healthy level of nutrition because of the economic conditions of the families. Sometimes they are unemployed, or their families are so big that it complicates their abilities to offer food and basic necessities to all members of the family."
Ironically, families in Ciudad Sandino have one unlikely resource with the power to improve nutrition: their trash. Biodegradable food waste and empty containers—common household byproducts—are presently being utilized for container gardens to grow nutritious vegetables and fruits. This spring, FSD interns Caroline White-Nockleby and Jamie Wozniak are working with NGOs MASINFA and Cantera to implement urban vegetable gardens to improve community nutrition. They, in conjunction with our community partner, MASINFA, are training 20 women in farming techniques to provide them with the skills to start their own agricultural collective.
Caroline describes the project as a collaborative effort and a genuine community investment. “I think of this project as not the forming of something from scratch, but simply the coming together of different resources that already existed: food waste, empty containers, knowledge, enthusiasm, need, labor, space. But when they are brought together, they create a whole greater than the sum of the parts. And so the project belongs to the communities involved; everyone feels ownership and personal connection.” MASINFA will soon begin conducting workshops that highlight the importance of home gardening as a means of food security, as well as show the community how to incorporate homegrown produce into traditional recipes.
Jamie is developing an urban garden project with Ciudad Sandino-based NGO, Centro de Comunicación y Educación Popular (Cantera). Her project, Vegetables for Children, will construct a demonstration garden at Los Cumiches Pre-school to provide an immediate source of nutrition for the students as well as serve as a model to parents for urban gardening at home. As neighbors come together to build home gardens, these techniques will be tranferred thoughout the community. “The children will gain the knowledge and ability to make their own vegetable gardens when they move out into their own houses. This will continue to cycle down through the generations, which will result in a healthier community with a higher level of food security here in Ciudad Sandino,” Jamie explains. These sustainable vegetable gardening projects will impact Ciudad Sandino for generations to come.
Both Jamie and Caroline understand the importance of inter-generational training for sustainable growth. To this end, they are both engaging students in the building of their demonstration gardens, involving youth in organic gardening methods that include natural pest control and composting. A local organization and longtime expert in agricultural training, Fundación Fénix, has been instrumental in educating FSD program participants and MASINFA in the agricultural techniques that have been implemented throughout Ciudad Sandino. By providing youth, their families, and community leaders with these urban garden trainings, MASAYA and Cantera ensure sustainable projects that lead to long-term outcomes—in this case, gardens that help feed a community and ensure its nutritional health.
Caroline has been working with members of two different communities in Ciudad Sandino—Transatlantico, a middle class neighborhood where the demonstration farm is located, and San Fernando, an underserved urban community. Her favorite moment of collaboration: …was when the technical expert tried to flip a tire inside out, which gives a better shape to plant in. The rubber was very stiff, and he was struggling a lot. A man from Transatlantico stepped in to help, and then a woman from San Fernando did the same. Everyone else was watching, calling out advice. After a few long minutes, the three of them shoulder-to-shoulder with hands, feet, and elbows pushing the tire, finally got it to flip. The entire group of 20 people started to clap and cheer. For me it was symbolic of the entire project so far, bringing many people together to make something constructive out of materials that are seen as trash.
Ciudad Sandino’s community effort to mobilize good nutrition through urban gardening methods is an encouraging example of what can be done with limited resources, exemplary knowledge sharing practices, and collective effort at the grass roots level—and how FSD’s asset-based approach can advance an entire community.