Monday, December 14, 2009

Integrated Pest Management

IPM is an important step to take in agriculture extension work. It does not necessarily (in my view) mean eliminating all use of chemical pesticides and fertilizing products, but it certainly encourages reduced and pragmatic use of such products. For example, preventative maintenance of land and strict control of when and how much pesticides to apply (perhaps ensuring that a pest is indeed present before application). IPM should also promote the use of bio-control or natural products such as fungi and certain insects/parasites that control harmful pests. This is not a new topic, it is discussed in the well known food security book FOOD FIRST, and it is key to achieving sustainable agriculture (agriculture that is cost effective and not destructive to the environment).

Today I was given an article that comes from USAID and Fintrac, both of which aim to create sustainable agricultural progress in the developing world. This brief article speaks of using salicylic acid to boost plant resistance to disease. Essentially I understand it as promoting a healthy immune system in a plant just like consumers looking for antioxidant rich foods are trying to do in their body.

Neat concept, ¿no?

Read for yourself! Download the article "El Uso del Ácido Salicílico ..."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Plastic bottle bank experiment

As mentioned in my previous update, the local niños and I made some "piggy" banks out of used plastic bottles. Here are a few shots of the fun!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving Nicaragua

After a great All Volunteer Conference in Managua with the topic of Food Security, I was able to celebrate Thanksgiving with new friends at a U.S. Embassy house.  A friend who works for USAID graciously invited a group of Peace Corps volunteers to his place for a wonderful dinner.  Vegetarian delights but also a turkey, which I was commissioned to carve.
Quick updates:  Two small sucesses! 
1.  In Jiguina we have initiated a great new English class...very hands on.  So hands on that we made hand turkeys to explain what the Thanksgiving holiday is about (we learned the verbs: to trace, to draw, to write).
2.  In an effort to teach SAVING MONEY, some local kids and I made piggy banks with used plastic bottles.  The kids had a blast painting and decorating the bottles, which they will hopefully fill with coins.  When the bottle is full, they can save it for the long run or cut open the bottle and use the money.  This group of children will hopefully form a Life Skills group that I am working on for 2010.

As we enter December I am charged to explore soya processing and marango leaf production, both of which may be able to help with nutrition and food security in my community...
Other than that...It is CAFÉ HARVEST TIME!

Machete, the national tool

A man's machete is certainly a key possession here in rural Nicaragua.  It is one detail of machismo that I had to adopt; although I don't use my machete daily, I felt it was a very necessary purchase to express my manhood.  The Nicaragua man (or woman for that matter) can do amazing things with the machete...cutting saw grass, cutting bricks, chopping fire wood, planting seeds, chiseling out a pretty exact cut from a piece of wood, et cetera, et cetera.
I suppose the frequency of machete use makes it a frequent instrument of injury as well.  Since moving to my community in Jinotega, Nicaragua I have seen three pretty bad machete inflicted wounds.  First, a special needs child limped to my house one evening looking for a band-aid for a stitch worthy gash on his knee.  Recently a girl came by my house with a patch over here eye...I later discovered that the patch is over the spot where her eye used to be.  While someone was chopping firewood, this poor girl took the blade to the eye.  I feel for her and I wish her the best, but accidents like this do happen--all over the world--and when little kids are playing around machetes, they happen more frequently.  I just hope that this girl doesn't stop going to school because of her unfortunate accident; however, I fear that school might be put off for a long while because of embarrassment.  Then we will have another uneducated woman in the town, only this one with one eye.  We can hope for the best!
Lastly, this morning I day dreamed about medical school after having to patch up a finger that had been sliced by a machete.  Pardon the mental image, but this man sliced off a good chunk, taking half a finger nail with it.  He is lucky, gracias a Dios, that he did not lose the appendage.  We cleaned it with alcohol before covering with gauze and antibiotic cream.  I of course had to explain that I am NOT a doctor and that I recommend he sees a doctor.  But, since I have a first aid kit, I feel that anything I can do to prevent infection is worth doing.  (I don't have much confidence that a visit to the doc will be made...).
So, please tenga cuidado con sus machetes!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Current reading, reflecting

I am currently finishing up the Coelho book A Orillas del Río Piedra Me Senté y Lloré.
(but, I seem to be spending more time composting than reading...earthworm blog post coming soon).
I feel inclined to reflect on something I just read, especially after my ride to town this morning with a Dutch friend of mine who also works in development.  We discussed how we are both quite pessimistic as development workers, but we both still put a lot into the job.  Social changes are key, yet slow to come by; but small progress, reaching one young student or educating one young mother is a success.  It is always important to keep on working, despite the slow progress and the seemingly endless challenges that face developing communities (social change, economic change, increased education, health improvement, population growth...and the list goes on and on).
"Nacemos, sufrimos, morimos, y las montñas siguen ahí"
Coelho writes in his story that mountains must always sit still, looking at the same view.  A river however is moving, and over time {a long time} it transforms the land that it runs through...
I am happy to be acting as a river at this point in my life instead of a mountain...a mountain which would probably be squeezed into an office cubicle :-p

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nica life moment

While visiting my first Peace Corps host family in Carazo this weekend, I asked my Nicaraguan mother how she was and if anything new was happening in her life.  She laughed and said, "Jodido pero contento."
Not your typical response for "How ya doing?"  But, this expression cracks me up and I would love to put it on a t-shirt.  It does say something more as well: I frequently meet people here in Nicaragua who do not have many resources, yet they seem so generous and happy; perhaps content.  Of course, there are all types of people in this world, everywhere you go...

Friday, October 2, 2009

News blurb

Thanks to my IFT newsletter I stay somewhat connected to food industry news.

"According to a discussion paper published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), producing 70% more food for an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050 while at the same time combating poverty and hunger, using scarce natural resources more efficiently, and adapting to climate change are the main challenges world agriculture will face in the coming decades."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Receta del Dia (kind of)

If I were in the States and I had a small, unique (quaint perhaps) eatery, today's special might be...

Fried Green Corn (Maiz verde o dulce) Tamal served with fresh Avocado guac and some fresh cheese.

Nica inspired food for the friends and family reading the blog.  I obviously miss my foodie life style in the States.
But, I will have so many new tastes to share when I return to the U.S. in a couple of years.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Nica Nutrition

My nutrition education goals in brief.
Living in Nicaragua presents an extra challenge to someone who studied nutrition and food science.  Nutrition education, just like in countries all over the world, is needed here to help public health...especially with increasing access to highly processed, less traditional foods.  It seems that the often poor dietary habits are deeply rooted in the socioeconomic situation (as we certainly also observe in the United States).  UNICEF reports that "one of every three children has some degree of chronic malnutrition and nine percent suffer from severe malnutrition."  In addition, daily rural life includes very few precautions taken with regards to food and water safety.  Food access / food security appear far more of a concern than sanitation and variety.  On the bright side, unlike the U.S., in rural Nicaragua there is an abundance of tropical fruits and a high tendency to cook at home; two strong dietary advantages in my opinion.

As I begin my service here I have set a goal to encourage some simple adjustments to the diet.  I´m optimistic!  In the first two weeks I have had positive feedback from some soy meat I have prepared.  My host family has also observed how I cook my dinner with much less oil (for frying an egg for example).  And just last night two young girls were excited to learn a quick salsa recipe--tomato, onion, green mango, chicoria/cilantro, salt--a healthful addition to their diet with ingredients that are often available in the area (chicoria typically grows right around the house).  I try to pass the message that fruits and veggies have vitamins!  It is more economical to buy fruits and veggies from the family than to buy some questionable vitamin tablet.  And frying with less oil also saves a bit of dinero.

I have observed that a lack of health and nutrition education allows food superstitions to continue, hindering the ability of families to make healthy dietary choices.  I respect the traditions here and the beliefs that often seem strange to me, but opening up to some new health beliefs may be a positive change for some individuals.  I have observed (and tried to gently dissuade) sippy cup feeding of cola followed by a bon-bon lollipop given to a child not yet old enough to walk OR ask for said lollypop (seemingly used as a pacifier...).  Not only do such empty calories not provide recommended nutrition, such practices may prime the child´s preference for abundant processed sweets.  More processed food, less traditional products, and inevitably more dental problems often result.

After four months observing and eating in Nicaragua, I have decided to encourage four changes in the kitchen.  I would argue that these goals are simple and also relevant for healthy eating in any culture.

1. Diversify by adding fresh (not always over cooked) color to the plate (this means fruits and vegetables)
2. Reduce sugar intake, especially in liquid Calories.  Perhaps replace the cola with H2O; make a fruit juice fresco with out--or with less--added sugar!  (Another quick anecdote:  there is a popular cola here named Kola Shaler, which some people believe to be different from soda (gaseosa).  It is believed to be somewhat medicinal and a source of vitamins; however, reality and ingredient label tell me it is a cola with a slightly different flavoring recipe.)
3. Reduce consumption of fried foods and fry in less fat.  Not only would this save money (aceite, oil, is expensive), it may add color to the golden brown plate.  *The same child who loves cola and lollipops is typically fed mostly fried solid foods.  One day at the table, as I ate a healthy avocado, I suggested trying to feed a bit to the child.  The response was bewilderment--apparently the belief is that the avocado does a young person harm (at least in this family).  To them, fried rice and fried cheese are easier to digest than a bit of avocado.*
4. Lastly, a reduction in cross contamination during food prep and water collection could benefit everyone! 

I am just getting started encouraging these four ideas and I am planning some cooking demonstrations in my community.  The community and I are also beginning some small scale patio garden plots that may increase food security and diversify diets (Peace Corps objectives!), even if only by a small amount.

Opportunities in Jigüina are abundant!

I would like to note that I do not intend to be judgmental about the diet here.  I indulge in sweets and fried foods as well.  But, I like to think I do so in moderation and I live a somewhat active lifestyle.  With out some critical observation, it is hard to accomplish dietary improvement.  I respect the hard working people here that often struggle to put food on the table and I also respect the continued use of traditional recipes (with maíz for example).

Peace and Progress

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A relaxing morning

Peace Corps Volunteers know how to have fun...and enjoy all the LITTLE things. It is a benefit of the job; something mundane in my old lifestyle now brings unusual joy to my day.

This morning I enjoyed English conversation about projects, life, and pastries in a small bakery cafe shop in Jinotega City. This was after a night of some junk food, board games, and a silly attempt at karaoke. All agreed that the night felt a bit too much like freshman year of college...oddly nostalgic. Now I am thrilled that I have found a very high speed and fachenta ( a pseudo snobby way) cyber spot. And they have free cafe.

It is a small world and an even smaller country. I just ran into a woman from my community, dressed in Saturday best for some city shopping. She of course invited me for chilote around lunch time (baby corn...I´m a bit too into the chilote at the moment as it is very good). It is the first corn cob to grow on the stalk, then, perhaps seeking more sun (reaching for the Nica sky), the corn stalk continues on and produces a larger corn cob, la madre. The plant hormones seem to head on up to the madre and the chilote stays tender and underdeveloped.


As my projects move forth, this month will also involve settling into my new home. I will be renting a room in an unoccupied farm cottage in my village with unusually nice conditions. I am spoiled. I look forward to having my own little lab again, kitchen I mean. I hope to cook a lot since my community seems very open to learning new recipes.

Friday, September 4, 2009

un día típico

some have been curious about what my typical day looks like. this is not an easy thing to describe, as Peace Corps Nicaragua often does not include typical days...

i shall brief.

Around 4 AM I wake up with the roosters, which often sleep on the other side of the wood plank wall of my bedroom (quite close to my head). I sleep again.

Around 6:30 AM I wake up to the sound of Doña Leonarda patting out the day´s corn tortillas by hand...into perfect circles. Pah, pah, pah. PAUSE. -she shuffles over to the wood burning stove to flip one tortilla, put another on the metal disc/skillet, and then she returns to the counter to pat out some more masa (corn dough).

After Leonarda realizes I am awake (you can hear EVERYTHING through the wood walls), she screams, ¨Miguel! ¿Ya va a comer?,¨calling me to breakfast.

I ask how the family slept and they typically reply, ¨Thank God, pretty well.¨ These conversations do actually happen almost every day.

Typically I will eat. Rice, beans, tortilla, or I will make oatmeal. Then I will do some project planning in my room and decide whether or not to bathe before the day´s agenda.

Currently I am meeting with lots of community members and discussing possible projects, challenges they face, etc. We have two community banks with meetings twice a month. We are preparing to start a third community bank! I am beginning to do some nutritious food demonstrations (this week, three Salsa Mexicana recipes using local ingredients...mas or menos). I have started a Marango tree nursery to assist with a youth chicken feed business plan and I have worked with three local youths to start family veggie gardens!

Future projects (in discussion) include a community mill (molino) and a community/church garden (beautification!!). Also, some larger scale farming ideas like organic lettuce, an onion patch, soil conservation barriers for hill side farming, and new product ideas. I love new food products (my ideas include tomato jam and pickled baby corn...already made the pickles, and they tasted GREAT).

After treking around town talking with everyone and hearing my name, ¨Miguelito!!¨yelled from all sides, I return home often to wash up before dinner (despite Nica habit of only bathing in the morning).

Some days I practice milking cows, some days I feed my worm compost with some fresh cow pooh, and some days I take a tour of someone´s patio, in which I will usually find some neat plants such as wild orchids.

At night, I eat a hearty dinner...often some rice, beans, tortilla, cabbage or fried eggs. Sometimes I will prepare some soy protein or we will have some corn on the cob. Sometimes squash (chaya) soup.

I typically end the night reading and writing about the day in my room, listening to 80s music, sipping on warm pinolillo, and trying to ignore the itching from my flea bites.

I use my head lamp to get around at night, brushing my teeth and such. Around 9 I get in bed and read by head lamp until I decide to fall asleep...


Monday, August 24, 2009

First runs in site

Dealing with some minor stomach issues has kept me from getting into a running routine.

I took my first couple of runs last week in Jiguina. In Philadelphia I was accustomed to running trails usually just one time per week. In my Peace Corps site, every run is a trail run--it is beautiful! I see this as an opportunity to get in great shape (we have HILLS) and I´m interested to see how quickly my shoes are defeated by the tough terrain. Who knows, perhaps some Nicas will start running with me...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Swearing In Speech

I had the honor of giving a short speech at my Peace Corps swearing in ceremony. It was a nice way to begin my two years of service. This is the message that I wrote for the ocasion:

Buenos días y gracias a todos por venir a la celebración.

Quisiera dar una charla muy sencilla esta mañana que expresa los sentimientos de nuestro grupo de voluntarios nuevos. Este grupo está muy emocionado hoy, el primer día como voluntarios con Cuerpo de Paz. Esta mañana, salimos tres meses de capacitaciones con un montón de memorias de la cultura NICA. Gallo pinto, pilas, y todas las palabras poéticas de nicañol. Venir a Nicaragua es como estudiar en colegio otra vez—una cultura nueva, una lengua nueva, y los autobuses Blue Bird de los Estados Unidos.

Nuestro trabajo será una aventura importante en nuestras vidas, pero no siempre será fácil. El proceso de desarrollo es un proceso lento que depende mucho en cambios sociales. ¡Estamos aquí para compartir en este trabajo! Y entramos servicio con dos ventajas increíbles:
Primer, por dos años podemos participar en proyectos sostenibles.
Segundo, nuestra organización quiere construir capacidad en vez de solamente donar soluciones.

Además, tenemos la oportunidad para un gran intercambio de conocimientos. Con este tipo de intercambio, todo el mundo puede aprender. Y cuando el mundo está aprendiendo juntos, hay mucha esperanza para progresar. ¡Felicidades y Vaya en paz!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Of course, back logged posts

More posts are coming...I have promised myself. I intend to track my experiences on this blog for my own records in addition to an effective means of sharing with the important people in my life!

Currently I have been dealing with a minor health issue...I read this succinct definition of the condition in the book Where there is no doctor [but of course, I do have doctors].

giardia....A tiny, microscopic parasite that can infect the intestines causing frothy yellow diarrhea.


Thursday, July 16, 2009


Be sure to keep an eye out for new links on the right side panel of the blog...scroll down...

I will post relevant links throughout my service in Nicaragua. There is also a link to my PHOTOS! I just added a great resource for development projects and info as well.

Miss you all!

Site assignment & sustainable development lesson of the day

Yesterday we attempted to fight white fly in our school yard garden using a natural pesticide.  White flies were beginning to cause an issue on the underside of our watermelon leaves, so one of my fellow trainees made a fermented Neem leaf tea as a pest deterrant.  It may be the neem, or perhaps dirty water, but after waiting a week to apply this foliar spray, the solution stunk to high heaven.  We were afraid we might be doing more damage than good by applying it to our plants (flys started to swarm on this putrid smelling mixture as soon as it left the bottle). We hope to make another, fresh, batch to compare odors...We literally couldn´t handle the smell and it quickly penetrated the bandana I tied over my nose.  It was just another comical lesson in S.D.  Along the way we used a plastic soda bottle for yet another use-  By poking a very small hole in the cap of a used soda bottle, we were able to create a make shift spray bottle.  We filled the bottle with the neem tea and squeezed it on to the plants.  This fun tool could also double as a third world squirt gun in my opinion.


I received my site assignment today.  Starting in August I will be serving in a small community outside of the city of Jinotega, Nicaragua.  I am excited to get started in this mountainous village.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Training, the first 6 weeks

I am in country, training my heart out.

My experiences thus far in Nicaragua have stirred up a myriad of emotions. The cultural adaptation experience is demanding, interesting, motivating, and sometimes overwhelming. Similar to a semester of full time university studies, my fellow trainees and I are engulfed in a montón of readings, presentations, and practical technical sessions. Unlike university life, many of us return home at night to a bowl of delicious rice and beans (gallo pinto) and a bucket bath. The sudden influx of new customs, social observations, and constant processing of a foreign language can quickly wear a person out.

Extracting myself from my lifestyle and planting myself in a development program in Central America means observing endless new social factors and realizing how much I have previously taken for granted. Things such as clean water, waste management, and emissions testing for vehicles...there are too many new observations to even begin a list on this blog.

The Peace Corps development approach is inspiring. International development is a lengthy process with many factors that can impede projects. The Peace Corps approach is to work with people who want assistance, find out what needs they have, find out what resources they have, and work TOGETHER to develop projects. In the end, the people involved should be trained and able to continue their projects without the presence of the Peace Corps volunteer. The inidividuals and communities hopefully feel a sense of ownership that can sustain long term, positive change. This is called capacity building!
I am very excited with my job here becuase I feel that I will have an active role in sustainable development. I feel very content because my nutrition and food science knowledge compliments my assignment goals. Some of my top priorities for my volunteer service include nutrition education, diet and garden diversification, environmental health projects, bio digestors (reducing firewood consumption by fermenting animal waste to produce natural cooking gas!)...But, ultimately my projects will be based on my community´s needs and the wishes of the local people! In Nicaragua, one must not enter a project with too many expectations...flexibility and patience are key.
I am enjoying learning how to do some farming. I am getting to see endless tropical plants that produce common (and not so common) fruits consumed in the States. My training team and I are working on a school garden, a product commercialization project with local youth, and we are all focusing on reusability! Creative use of resources--such as plastic soda bottles--is always fun to think about. Other training concepts include community banks to encourage saving and access to credit, as well as community health education. Project opportunities in agriculture are abundant!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Adios Filadelfia.

After much anticipation, planning, and many goodbyes, I am now leaving for the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. Ready or not.

Today, May 11th, is my birthday and tomorrow I will embark on this new journey. Only time will tell how this assignment affects my world view, my Spanish tongue, and my future--both personal and professional. I hope for safety, good health, learning, and a whole mess of new culture! I hope that I will have the strength, wisdom, and humility necessary to affect positive change in my new community. I will miss my friends and family; Tiffany most of all. Thank you to everyone who has supported my dream of serving abroad. Best wishes and lots of love to all! Now I will have a completely new environment in which to make my Seinfeld-esque social observations. Ciao!