Honduras Garden Project

 

The program incorporates simple materials to teach families basic nutritional benefits of adding vegetables and proteins to their family diets. In addition, families learn how to easily establish and care for a small family garden.

By starting small, the families gain success in producing healthy and nutritious vegetables at very low costs that improve their dietary needs. Initially the gardens meet the family needs while excess production can be sold as a micro-business to provide a source of income. As they gain knowledge, they find it easier to repeat their successes and find that other families then want to join in the process. Once successful, the model can be expanded to include family chicken production that improves family protein needs.

Photo: Honduras Garden Planting

Vegetable Garden Nutrition

Mission: Solving Hunger, One Family at a Time

Studies have identified that many developing areas of the world have a need to improve basic nutrition. Diets in these nations typically are short of key nutrients such as iron, proteins, and vitamins, including Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Cereals like rice can help provide protein and basic sustenance but lack much of a balanced diet. Iron (from meats) for healthy blood, heart, muscle, and bone development is not always available or affordable to general populations.

In 2008, Southwood Lutheran's Mission Pediatrician completed a blood screening of the children in our sister village in Honduras. We identified that over a third of the children were anemic, lacking minimal iron levels. Further research found that many people in Central American rural communities suffered from low iron, protein, and vitamins in their diets. Poverty and limited resource infrastructure preclude the ability to bring meats and other nutrition supplements to these families.

In 2009, Southwood Lutheran developed, an educational program to teach village families how to grow simple vegetable gardens that could fullfill the nutritional shortfalls in the family diets. Since vegetables were expensive to purchase, most families could not afford them and consequently had very little knowledge of their benefits. The approach included both education on the nutritional value of vegetables along with how to incorporate vegetables into the existing family meal preparation.

photo: planting of vegetablesObjective:

Vegetables were selected within each vegetable group for their flexibility in meal preparation. Key criteria were vegetables that could be eaten fresh or prepared by steaming, boiling, baking, or frying. This allowed for easy preparation in any existing meal plan. The easier the vegetables are to prepare, the higher the likelihood that they will be eaten regularly.

Note: Not all vegetables are included in this chart (English | Spanish) that we use in central Honduras. Each geography dictates what vegetables will grow well and which do not. For example, potatoes are a rich source of protein and key vitamins, but do not perform well in the tropical washed soils. Modifying the list to include vegetables that best fit a given environment and region may be required. The vegetables listed on this chart are generally most adaptable to a wide regional diversity.

Objective:

The chart (English | Spanish) provides a pictorial listing of the key benefits that vegetables can provide in a typical family diet. Pictures are used to ease confusion and literacy challenges. Body functions are used instead of nutrient or vitamin lists. Parents rarely want to know if they are getting iron in their diet, but want to know that their children are getting proper nutrition to build strong bones, muscles, heart and healthy blood supply. A key objective of a balanced diet is to have multiple sources of key nutrients. Most vegetables include nutrients providing multiple benefits. Mixing different vegetables provides the body with several opportunities to improve overall health balance.

photo: harvested radishesCarrots:

Many people are familiar with the benefits carrots provide to good eye sight (carotene), but they also include several vitamins that help with the heart, blood, teeth, and healing from infections.

Beets/Radishes:

Are well known for their iron content as a supplement for red meats.

Note: Not all vegetables are included in this chart that we use in central Honduras. Each geography dictates what vegetables will grow well and which do not. For example, potatoes are a rich source of protein and key vitamins, but do not perform well in the tropical washed soils. Modifying the list to include vegetables that best fit a given environment and region may be required. The vegetables listed on this chart are generally most adaptable to a wide regional diversity.

 

Composting

Composting is the process by which critical soil nutrients that are consumed to build plant material are conditioned and returned to the soil for subsequent crop cycles. In many developing areas, there are not resources to purchase or even local access to commercial fertilizers. Soils in tropical or rainy environments have limited nutrient holding ability. Removing plant materials or burning can quickly deplete soils of plant nutrients. Composting is a simple way to help recycle plant nutrients back to the soils while reducing costs.

Three visuals have been effective in telling the story.

The composting visual (found under Downloadable Resources) explains that basic nutrient building blocks are combined together to create the magnificence of life. All plants use these nutrients to create plant life and ultimately the fruits and vegetables. Following harvest, green or dead plant materials can be composted rather than removed, discarded, or burned. Composting is a critical process required to convert the complex plant material back to the basic nutrients. Without composting the nutrients are lost. The graphics use pictures to tell the story since not all family members may have the ability to read.

graphic: composting illustrationMost waste products and plant material can be composted. There are a few key guidelines that will improve the quality of your compost:

  1. For the best results, a good compost mixture includes equal amounts of both green and brown (dead) materials. Compost can include more green materials, but not more than 50% dead materials.
  2. Do not include dairy or meat wastes in compost. These materials can create a bacterial growth that may be toxic to humans. Vegetables grown in these environments can pick up the bacteria.
  3. Animal wastes can be mixed into the composting process, but do not include human waste and precaution should be used when adding swine waste. These carry bacteria that can be toxic.
  4. Leaves, stems and small twigs can be included. While larger sticks can be successfully composted, they will require a longer timeframe to break down.

photo: composting resultsBuilding a successful compost pile includes a few simple guidelines. How long it will take for the compost cycle to complete depends on how often you "mix" the materials and maintain the moisture levels. Yet, there are 5 simple steps that can speed up the process and assure a well decomposed material when completed:

  1. Collect the material from the ingredient lists above. Smaller pieces will help keep the pile condensed and working properly. Once you have developed a good mix and have the pile packed together, add sufficient water to thoroughly saturate the pile. Avoid water running through and out of the pile. This is more critical during later stages since the "run off" water will include the plant nutrients washing out. Daily add water to maintain moist conditions. The pile should be "warm" to the touch which means that good bacteria are beginning the process of breakdown. The pile will begin to cool down after this first phase is completed.
  2. Once the pile cools back to ambient temperatures, use a fork and remix the pile bringing the bottom materials to the top. Maintain the pile moisture. The pile should warm back up to a higher temperature that eventually eliminates some bacteria and exchanges for other bacteria that continue the tissue breakdown.
  3. Once the pile cools back down, mix the pile up and repeat the process. Temperatures within the pile may reach up to 40-70 degrees C or around 140-160 degrees F. When these temps are reached, the bacteria have run their course and much of the contents are beginning to breakdown into smaller material. Step 3 may need to repeated if larger pieces or more airspaces were created in the pile, reducing the speed of breakdown.
    Note: Once the pile cools down, mix again thoroughly. If the pile heats back up, the temps did not reach high enough to kill off the bacteria, so allow it to warm up. Maintain moisture levels. Do not allow water to wash through and out of the pile.
  4. After mixing the pile the temperature should remain warm to the touch. When this happens, insects will move into the materials. Centipedes, millepedes, pillbugs, etc. will be present. These insects are important during this phase. They feed on the organic materials, resulting in breaking down the pile to the basic ingredients. The pile may look ready to use, but it is important to allow the insects to feed for 2-4 weeks to gain the greatest benefits. Maintain moist but not wet conditions. You do not want to drown the insects.
  5. The compost pile is ready to use when the crawling insects, millipedes and centipedes, stop feeding and earth worms begin to show up. Earth worms are feeding on organic matter indicating that the compost is ready to be used in a garden.

The total time for these 5 steps can be from 6 weeks to 6 months. Maintaining good moisture and eliminating air pockets can greatly speed up the time required.