Last month I spent a week living and working with farming communities in the Santa Bárbara department of Honduras. Unlike my trip back in October to the same region, this time around I was not the lone American. Other veterans of the
Trinidad Conservation Project (TCP), Bill, Mary, and Ryan, flew down from DC and joined me in San Pedro Sula, where I arrived from Nicaragua. Together working with our partner organization Vecinos Honduras (VH), we set out to listen, learn, document, and help promote sustainable agricultural practices in Trinidad’s surrounding farming communities in the mountains.
When I said “document”, what I actually meant was “take an incessant amount of photos”. Indeed, I took over 3,000 (!) in seven days. Here I will publish some of my favorites.
Read on to see and learn more about our experience and findings, which, despite coming from a small corner of the globe, can be extrapolated to cover much of the plights of third-world agriculture across the world.
Our benevolent leader, Roy Lara, teaching a class on how to make healthier chicken feed at our first community stop, Cablotal. Roy is the founder of TCP and spends his days between Trinidad and the surrounding mountain communities, spreading knowledge of new developments in sustainable agriculture, community health, and otherwise.
Blanca is a leader in Cablotal and regular attendee at Roy’s seminars. She and others have put the sustainable agro-forestry practices promoted by TCP into action; those papayas look pretty healthy!
Blanca also cooks incredibly delicious food. This was our first of many amazing meals enjoyed in the mountains. Sustainable agriculture provides for more efficient cultivation plus delectable product!
Mary and Bill led art workshops in community schools centered around trees and their importance to the environment. Here they are leading a lesson in Cablotal, which is the smallest of the communities we would visit consisting of only 27 families. A one room school services all the children.
Working with limited resources, early childhood education is so important in these poor mountain communities. Giving the children a lesson on the importance of trees, and having them channel their learnings into works of art, will ideally help instill them with a lifelong respect and admiration for the environment.
We provided the art supplies and the kids delivered with remarkable creativity. They drew trees as well as other aspects of a healthy environment like rivers, flowers, the sun, and animals (Henry even snuck in a turtle!)
Once completed we slid their drawings into plastic sleeves to protect them from the elements and hopefully serve as enduring memories for years to come.
These young ones are the future of Cablotal. Living in such a sparsely populated village, it is imperative that they have every opportunity to study and learn so that they might one day serve as community leaders. The work of TCP and VH promotes sustainable agricultural development to help children grow strong and have the nutrients they need to live happy, healthy lives.
It was wonderful seeing the children proudly display their efforts around the community to their friends and family.
That evening I met my host, Don Virgilio, who lives in the community of Tule, pictured here with his daughter. Virgilio has been working with Roy and TCP for years. Over my days with Virgilio, I learned a lot about the progress he has made as a farmer as well as his vision for a community that collectively applies the sustainable practices of TCP.
In addition to five children, Virgilio cares for an abundance of animals. All told there are many mouths to feed on his parcel!
Tule is a beautiful community. With 80 families, it is the largest community we would work in, and served as our home base that we would return to each night.
Sweeping views of the Zapotal mountains are commonplace in Tule.
Children are often out and about, heading to and from school, playing, or helping their parents gather and transport supplies
We ate most of our breakfasts and dinners in Tule at Doña Marta’s house. Pictured from left to right: Reynaldo (a farmer from a different Honduran region in the south), Don Jesus (a Tule resident and TCP participant), the ever silly Bill, Mary, Edwin (not visible), Ryan, and Olvin (another farmer from southern Honduras).
We were joined by Edwin Escoto, Director of Vecinos Honduras, seen here biting into a spicy chile.
That morning we participated in a workshop designed to educate Tule residents about how to create “Microorganismo de Montaña activada” (MMA), an effective and easy-to-make alternative to chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The workshop had great attendance, including some new faces as the morning went on.
Bienvenida, one of the amazing hosts I had for my trip back in October, also joined the workshop. She is a leader among the people of Tule.
A seasoned user of MMA, Reynaldo led most of the workshop, offering detailed, step-by-step advice while highlighting his own success using the product on his farm.
Olvin explained to the farmers in attendance that he makes and sells MMA to his fellow farmers in southern Honduras. It is a nice source of cash flow for him, plus it contributes to the overall health of his community.
A core pillar of TCP and Vecinos Honduras is the farmer-to-farmer technique. By hearing from someone in their field (no pun intended), the workshop attendees could question and learn from a person who has similar expertise and day-to-day challenges as they do.
Overall the workshop was a rousing success, with many expressing interest in making and using MMA in the near future.
That afternoon in Tule, we led another art class, this time with an older group than the one in Cablotal.
Once again the students were creative and diligent workers. They also had no problem sharing colors with each other when necessary.
The older group in Tule proved to be adept artists and willing learners. I can’t wait to return in a few years and see everything this group will accomplish, in and outside the community.
The next day we made our way to a small community higher up the mountainside called El Chol.
Upon arrival, Ryan, Edwin and I helped this woman pick some star fruit. Later on, she served them to us for lunch in the form of a delicious juice.
That morning we had a great turnout for the MMA workshop.
The farmers of El Chol took to the task with enthusiasm, eager to get their hands dirty and understand the process.
Many brought along paper and pen to copy down the recipe and add their own observations.
Edwin is a tour-de-force of agroforestry knowledge, among many other things. He has an uncanny ability to connect with people and rally them to his side. I told him he could work in politics, he said his work with Vecinos Honduras is much more important. I couldn’t agree more.
The same can be said for Roy, who likewise has an innate ability to inspire confidence in people. Over the years, Roy and TCP have made lives measurably better for a great many people via sharing knowledge, resources, and community building. Every time he comes around, you can see peoples’ faces light up.
The people of El Chol approached the workshop with a bubbly enthusiasm.
…and the finished product drew attention from adults and kids alike.
Beyond disseminating knowledge and leaving a community with their first barrel of MMA, the workshops are all about bringing people together.
This includes our own cultural diffusion just by being there. Our presence is important to show our support, and that their community extends beyond their borders.
Mary, a talented artists, took down the names of folks and drew some of their pictures, much to their delight. Though we can’t hope to effectively help them with our two hands on the farm, by visiting them we can connect, listen, and show our interest in their progression as a farming community.
Indeed, as I said, our mission was always to listen and learn. In this regard, Ryan was an important asset for our group. A former Peace Corp member who served in Nicaragua for three years, Ryan had the strongest command of Spanish plus a background in sustainable systems. He conducted a series of interviews with farmers, the contents of which will be shared online and at future fundraising events.
That evening Ryan, Edwin and I played football with some of the kids in Tule.
Needless to say they ran circles around us.
The next day we went to a community I had yet to visit, El Puente, named for the bridge that leads to it.
Here Ryan led a bread baking class. Having led such classes in Nicaragua, he was able to give the attendees effective direction drawing on his prior experiences.
The attendees learned how to bake several types of bread, from a simple loaf to sweet bread to pineapple torta.
Ryan passed out paper directions, which the attendees could refer to throughout the process and take home with them when we finished.
Topping off the pineapple torta!
Ryan, Edwin, and Roy each spoke to the potential of bread to be used as source of cash flow. El Puente has a community oven, which we used that day, thus there is an opportunity to bake bread en masse and sell it to other communities via established sales channels.
Once the baking was done, we diced up the final products and handed out pieces for everyone to try.
Don’t be fooled by the crispy exterior, the inside of this loaf was soft and delicious!
Workshops are one of the many ways TCP helps these communities use their own resources to better their lives. Pictured here is Natividad, who attended the workshop and invited us onto his parcel after it was finished. Some time ago, Natividad had nothing to his name and seemingly no opportunities after many failed attempts to cultivate land. His five children and wife did not have adequate food or shelter.
After TCP helped Natividad find a suitable piece of land to grow on, Natividad and his family are back on their feet. His oldest son Miguel even has a bicycle to call his own.
Though a core tenant of TCP is community growth, occasionally it is necessary to reach out a single, struggling family. “Gracias a dios, gracias a Don Roy!” Natividad is endlessly grateful for the efforts of Roy and TCP.
On our penultimate day we returned to El Chol for our final art project.
Per usual, Bill and Mary led the class, providing knowledge and encouragement, and eliciting laughter.
Once again the kids showed tremendous pride in their creations, and rightfully so!
We ended our final art class with a silly pic!
During and after our art class, Roy led a small group in building an efficient stove for the school.
Bienvenida and Don Jesus from Tule also pitched in, as they both had experience in crafting stoves with Roy before.
Roy oversaw the whole process, from gathering clay to cutting up metal wires for support.
Placing the chimney, which would allow ventilation to the exterior.
The finished product!
Roy has helped build numerous efficient stoves across the communities he works in. This one will allow for cooking at the school during lunchtime. As many students live far away, this will help them avoid having to walk to and from the school during the day just to get their lunch.
On our final day in the mountains, we visited La Majada, I community I first spent time in almost 10 years ago.
First we visited Candida, whom I wrote about in this post. Here her son is watering her nursery, which features Maya nuts, among other plants. Maya nuts are being promoted by TCP due to being high in fiber and calcium, suitable to be eaten by humans or as nutritious feed for animals.
We also met with Don Rene, pictured here with some Maya nuts.
We did some hiking to check out Don Rene’s nursery.
We also checked in with Noe, whom I wrote about in this post.
Further up the mountainside of Noe’s property, I took some pictures of an area in desperate need of reforestation. In 2017, together with American Forests, TCP will be planting 15,000 trees in sites like these across the communities we work with. Climate change and slash-and-burn farming have contributed to difficult farming conditions for many of these communities. In many ways, planting an abundance of trees will be of upmost importance going forward.
Speaking of trees, after a week in the mountains we returned to Trinidad, where I planted trees as part of a volunteer trip in 2006. That morning we returned to the school in Barrio Lempira, one of our signature reforestation projects a decade ago.
For reference, here are some of my fellow volunteers planting with Honduran students outside the school in 2006.
Those same trees in 2008.
And here they are now, yours truly for scale. Seeing these trees now towering over me, filling the air in my lungs, nurturing the ground beneath them, and providing shade to the schoolyard, was both humbling and empowering. A fitting end to an inspiring trip. Thank you for reading! If you would like to support our efforts, please consider donating to the Trinidad Conservation Project
99% of donations go toward programming, like the important farmer-to-farmer workshops you saw here, plus much more in the realms of reforestation, water quality improvement, sustainable agriculture, youth and gender empowerment! “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”
— Kahlil Gibran