Proud student farmer harvesting produce
The SosteNica School Garden Program began in 2013, as a pilot experimental project. Our goal five years ago, was to test whether elementary school students and their teachers would respond to practical lessons in self-sufficiency, combined with instruction regarding nutrition, soil science and small scale horticulture. Today the program is solidly established in 6 different elementary schools, serving more than 600 students between the ages of 6 and 12. The program is supported not only by the teachers of those schools but also by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education, as well as by many of the parents of those children living in the surrounding areas.
For the first time this year, each of the six schools have begun competing with one another to see which school could produce the greatest amount of vegetables. Plants evaluated in the competition include: cucumber, tomato, green pepper, string beans and sweet corn. To everyone’s surprise, Candelaria -- the most recent school to join the network of SosteNica School Gardens -- won this year’s prize for sweetest and largest quantity of tomatoes harvested. By the end of the growing season, the Candelaria students had picked 105 pounds of tomatoes. The Candelaria students were led to victory by their teacher Erwin, who had himself received training from the SosteNica staff while working at a different elementary school five years earlier. At the beginning of the growing season, Professor Erwin had motivated his students by challenging them to lead the region in tomato production. “It was an ambitious goal, but by motivating everyone to work together, after five months we can see the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor. Mission accomplished!”
Parents of the Candelaria school children are also pleased to see their children having their diets improved by consuming a wider variety of foods than they have available at home. The children produce a wide variety of organic vegetables which they then eat with enthusiasm as part of their daily school lunch. Teacher Aurora added that when there are more vegetables harvested than can be consumed, the school offers the surplus produce for sale to parents at the end of the school day. Those vegetables go home to feed a school family, while the proceeds of the sale can be used to buy glasses, plates and silverware for the school. “Our goal for next year is to enlarge the garden by adding more beds, as well as to plant 100 hardwood trees. We plan to win first prize in the region as the best school garden!”
Another success from the past three months came from the village school of San Antonio, now in its second year participating in the School Garden Program. This year, the school inaugurated a new drip irrigation system, complete with pump and gravity fed water tower. Representatives from the Nagarote Mayor’s office, from the Regional Government, and from the Ministry of Education attended the ceremony, showering praise on SosteNica, the teachers and students of San Antonio for their dedication to sustainable food production practices. “This school garden is very large and is succeeding in producing not only nutritious garden vegetables, but also students who know how to grow crops other than the regional standards of corn and sorgum,” proclaimed Mario A., the regional Delegate for the Ministry of Education attending the ceremony.
At the same event, SosteNica’s Nicaragua Director observed “The great triumph of this School Garden Program is the extent to which communities have embraced the project and supported it with their volunteer labor. At the same time, two schools have been able to improve their school facility such that plants AND children have clean healthy water to drink. It is rewarding to observe students harvesting the crops they have produced themselves, then drinking water from a tap whose water is not drawn up from a well in a bucket but is hygenically delivered through a modern system of pump, gravity storage tank and pipes. This is an achievement made possible by the collaboration between donors, SosteNica staff, teachers, parents and students. Thanks to the friendship and hard work on all sides, we see concrete results” he added.
Kevin and Edwin, two students at San Antonio school, prove that the program is on the right track. Both boys always smile whenever they work in the garden. They work hard, and express curiosity, asking about the scientific names of plants, and enquiring about how best to help them grow healthy.
At times superstition interferes with education, even at the level of the school garden. One little girl, Alejandra, had been told by her family that she was born with a condition known as “hot hands.” Anyone with a “hot hand,” she was told, could not succeed in farming because whatever those hands planted would wither and die. She shared that information with the SosteNica staff, who immediately put Alejandra in charge of planting the school’s row of cucumber seeds. She beamed, two months later, as she showed off her row of healthy cucumber plants that were now producing cucumbers for the school lunch.
Pump Inauguration Ceremony
String beans anyone?
Elevated tank powers drip irrigation by gravity