By Lauren Hollon Sturdy
MEXICO — The Pan de Vida foster group home in Mexico City recently harvested more than 1,000 pounds of tomatoes, but they’re not exactly digging in or getting their hands dirty.
The project grew from a seed planted in the mind of Juan Carlos Millán, Buckner Mexico program director, at the suggestion of his wife. When he first heard about hydroponic gardening, Millán wasn’t sure how it could be applied to Buckner Mexico’s ministries.
“My wife personally knew a hydroponics expert and invited him to dinner so that he could further explain how he was able to harvest enough habanero chilies to make an enormous profit,” Millán said. “It changed my mind about hydroponic gardening.”
His staff attended a training program, and the possibilities bloomed.
The project began in Mexico City. With no fertile ground available for cultivation in the sprawling city of nearly 20 million people, Buckner planted its first greenhouse garden on the flat roof of the Pan de Vida group home in March 2010.
“We began to use that greenhouse as an educational piece to teach families in the community to grow vegetables for their families as a food source and later, for ones who got better at it, to sell surplus produce to the market and generate income for their families,” said Dexton Shores, regional director of Buckner in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Peru. “The big greenhouse on the roof is also used to provide food for children at the foster group home and the community feeding program.”
In the first growing cycle of the project, Buckner Mexico staff planted 150 cucumber plants and 150 tomato plants. They produced 661 pounds of cucumbers and 1,404 pounds of tomatoes.
In the second cycle, the greenhouse was only planted with tomatoes and finished the cycle with a production total of 1,774 pounds. Of that, 358 pounds were consumed at the foster group home and in the feeding program, and more than 1,300 pounds were sold at the market, helping the home become more sustainable.
Buckner Mexico employees have experimented with several methods of hydroponic gardening. They have grown heads of lettuce atop a sheet of Styrofoam floated on water. They have also had success with a tiered planter—a good solution for city dwellers without space for a large garden.
With a grant from the Mexican government, Buckner Mexico has been able to help 20 families begin their own small gardening operations in Oaxaca, about a six hour drive southeast of Mexico City. The government grant provided funding to build 20 small greenhouses, purchase seeds and install extra water tanks where hydroponic solution could be stored separately from water for daily household use.
These greenhouses were built in July 2010, and families are growing spinach, carrots, tomatoes, chilies, radishes, lettuce and cucumbers for their own consumption. Shores said the method is very affordable, with the initial investment for a smaller greenhouse at $200 to $250.
“Once the greenhouses are started, the families are responsible to keep it going,” Shores said. “With any profits they make selling the surplus from their first crop, they have to buy seeds for the next crop.”
In February 2011, Buckner also built a greenhouse at the Arcelia Community Transformation Center, about 170 miles southwest of Mexico City. Millán said the staff recently started working on a new project to help alleviate the problem of infertile soil in the area: worm composting.
“So far, we have built brick beds for composting where we will develop fertile soil from biodegradable organic material, using worms for rapid decomposition,” Millán said. “This produces the proper amounts of carbon and nitrogen in six months. Two tons of fertilizer will be produced at the end of the six month period. The beds have been built, but we are waiting for the shipment of worms to begin the project.”
This year will also see the beginning of a program to help families start raising hens for eggs and meat.
“The overall goal of these projects is to provide job training, to teach people to provide food for themselves and their families and to help people generate extra income to move toward self-sufficiency,” Shores said. “We want to empower families.”
To help families in Mexico with sustainable food solutions, please contact Buckner Foundation at 214-758-8000.
To learn more about Buckner ministries in Mexico, click here. You can also visit the Buckner Mexico website at http://bucknermexico.org/, or find them on Facebook.
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