Thursday, November 20, 2008


This week the Social Action Ministry of the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán held a three day workshop on agricultural practices on the small farm of Moises Rodriguez, in the village of Mejocote, just outside of Gracias, Lempira.

The group was small – 13 of us in all – and I could only stay two days. But the site was fantastic. About ten years ago, Moises and his family moved to a rocky hillside and began farming there.

Through his practices, which include intensive farming, terraces, use of “frijol de abono” (fertilizer beans- also known as velvet beans, Mucuna spp.), composting, and planting of fruit trees, he has created an incredible agricultural miracle. Gary Guthrie, when he visited Moises’ farm a year ago, noted that it is more rock than soil – but Moises has done wonders, as Gary has in Nevada, Iowa, on his community supported agriculture farm, Growing Harmony Farm.

Moises has a small conference center on his land, with bunk beds for up to 20 people. And there we learned.
The first day which included a presentation on “La finca humana” (the human farm), a concept developed by an Honduran educator, that emphasizes the importance of nourishing the human person and working through one’s mind, heart, and hands to develop one self and the world around one.

One idea that Moises repeated several times struck me: “If the mind of a campesino [a small farmer’ is a desert, the world around him will be a desert.” In a society where campesinos are looked down upon, the call for integral development and nurturing of the spirit of the campesinos is a truly important labor. In a society where there is so little self-esteem among the poor, this can be quite a revolutionary method.

After this very fruitful discussion, Moises talked about soil in a most fascinating way. I’ve just read Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Both Moises and Pollen emphasize, in totally different ways, that soil is alive – it’s not simply a chemical composition. And therefore it needs to be nourished.

Besides all this theory, Moises showed us around his farm and gave us an idea of all that he does.

Tuesday was the day for practice.

In the morning we started by making bocachi, an organic fertilizer. The process is fascinating and after all is done it is only 21 days until it is transformed into fertilizer. It does cost a bit – about 48 lempiras ($2.55) if you count the materials and work hours, but you can sell it for about 100 lempiras ($5.30) a 100 pound bag . Of course, if you have some of the products on your farm, the costs go down.

After that we made a liquid fertilizer that can be added to water and sprayed on the crops.

These and other processes of producing fertilizer may be very important in the near future. One participant recalled that a government agricultural worker had said in a workshop that in three years campesinos may not be able to buy chemical fertilizer, because of the cost.

All this was very fascinating for me – non-farmer that I am, but more was to come.

In the afternoon, we worked on grafting. We grafted a branch of a productive orange tree onto another citrus that produces fruit faster. In this way it may be possible to have fruit in three years, rather than having to wait five or six. I got into it, but couldn’t quite get it right. I did get to take home the plant I worked on – but I have to wait twenty days to see if it really worked.

The last day was teaching home to make ecological ovens. Moises has an oven on his farm, the first ecological oven in Honduras! But it is five years old and he thought it would be good to take it down and rebuild it. I didn’t stay for this since I’ve seen some of this in the parish of Dulce Nombre (and I had to get back to Santa Rosa to prepare for some visitors from St. Thomas.)

I was very impressed by the workshop but sad there were so few people. The cost was a little high for people here (500 lempiras - $26.46) which is about week’s wage for some folks. Some folks had support from their parishes, but this also meant time away from their work.

The participants were also a little disappointed. One complaint from them was that there are too few people who see the importance of this type of agricultural development. They also lamented that in the church there are some who are very big on protesting government and business policies and can get people out to protest the mining policies, but there is so little support for real development efforts.

But for me it was a very fruitful two days. Not only did I get to meet some really great people but we had any number of good conversations, ranging from church issues to agricultural practices. One young man talked about his efforts to go to the US and how he never got past Nuevo Laredo in Mexico.

I also spent quite some time Tuesday night kicking around a soccer ball with them and some of Moises’ sons. I even did a few “headers.”

In the future I hope that I can find ways to support and encourage these types of educational and formation experiences.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Water, water
Water, water everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink.
Water, water everywhere
Nor any drop to drink.

This morning I recalled these verses from a poem I learned as a child - Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

It’s not exactly true that there’s water everywhere in Santa Rosa, but the local situation must have pulled this quote from the recesses of my memory.

Until about a week ago it had rained everyday for more than two weeks. The effects throughout the country have been disastrous – 35 or more dead, thousands left homeless, crops lost. In this are there have been about 80 families who lost their homes and hundreds had to leave their villagers because of the dangers.

The people have responded very generously, bringing food and clothing for those who are now staying in shelters. I was moved about a week ago when I saw all that the people in the poor parish of Dulce Nombre had brought to send to the victims.

This past week it has been sunny most days without rain which has provided a breather for those affected by the torrential rains.

But despite all the rain, we haven’t had water delivery for two weeks here in Santa Rosa.

In Santa Rosa most houses have tanks for water on their roofs. Water flows in neighborhoods about two or three times a week, enough usually to fill up the tanks. But my neighborhood hasn’t had water for two weeks. The tank in my house ran out last week, but I had water in the pila, the water basin but it’s almost out.

So I have been saving water from washing myself and clothes to flush the toilet and hoping that the water will soon arrive. Last week a city water truck delivered water up the street but it stopped delivery about 8 houses up and hasn’t returned, though they said they’d be back.

This afternoon, a little is coming but I don’t know if it will be enough. If enough water doesn’t arrive soon, I may have to try to buy some water which will cost about 250 lempiras ($13.20)for a small tanker of water.

Yet I do have water to drink, since I buy purified water for 16 lempiras (85¢) for a large container. Many people don’t trust the purity of the water supply enough to drink.

At least some of the water for Santa Rosa comes from a river, Rio Higuito. As a result of the rains and the landslides the contraption used to extract the water from the river was filled with sediment (mud and sand) about 3 meters (10 feet) deep. It had to be dug out by hand! According to the mayor it was finished last Thursday or so and he hoped that water would arrive soon in the neighborhoods of Santa Rosa.

All this has helped remind me of the importance of water. I take it for granted, even when visiting the rural villages in the parish of Dulce Nombre, since most of them have water, though I’m not sure of the water quality.

But there are many places in Honduras where the people have to carry water from springs or streams.

Water – so significant for life – but so precarious a gift. Above all, it must be considered, at Catholic Social Teaching notes, a public good, and a right of all peoples. (Confer The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, ¶485). But, as with so much here and throughout the world, water often arrives last at the poor.

To conclude, I want to share these paragraphs on “A ‘culture of water’” from the 2006 document, Water, an Essential Element for Life, prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:
Water is central to life. However all too often water is not perceived as the luxury it really is, but is paradoxically wasted. This action of wasting water is morally unsustainable. Citizens in some countries are used to taking advantage of a privileged situation without thinking of the consequences of their wasting water on the lives of their brothers and sisters in the rest of the world. In other situations, water is lost or wasted due to an infrastructure that is old, badly or improperly constructed or inadequately maintained.

There is an urgent need to regain a "culture of water," to educate society to a new attitude toward water. In many ways our esteem for water has fallen. Traditionally water was revered and protected, even celebrated. Today it runs the risk of becoming a mere consumer product. In the face of waste, water cannot be treated as a mere product of consumption among others since it has an inestimable and irreplaceable value. Cultural traditions and societal values determine how people perceive and manage water. Using solely pricing mechanisms as a response to the wasting of water will not foster a culture of water and ignores the factor of the poor who also need water to live.

It is necessary to recall that all human beings are united by a common origin and the same supreme destiny. Water must therefore be considered a public good, which all citizens should enjoy, but within the context of the duties, rights and responsibilities which accrue to each person.