Nurturing Relationships and Better Nutrition Through Gardening

Date posted: Tuesday 07 January 2020

I was honored to have been asked by the women of Cimiento to help them set up a garden in their village; I have been working on the project for the past five years. Two years ago, I realized that in order to improve the success of the project, I needed the help of an expert in tropical gardening. I was very lucky to know Randee Edmundson, a member of Grace University Lutheran Church in Minneapolis and a former Peace Corps member who worked on gardening in Tanzania.


In 2018, Randee accompanied St. Michael’s on their trip and she led very well received workshops on composting, biointensive gardens and permaculture at the women’s retreat and in Cimiento. As a result, we were invited to return in October of 2019 to continue our work.


Randee and I were happy to have the opportunity to spend extended time with the students in Milagro school and in the village of Cimiento to continue gardening and nutrition projects begun on earlier visits. At both locations, compost had been produced in enough quantity to significantly improve the gardens. On this trip, we were able to visit the Peace Corps office to get information on local food crops, gardening techniques and nutrition. We visited the central market in Guatemala City to learn about native fruits and vegetables that might be better adapted to growing in the local environments.


During the whole trip I was constantly grateful for all the relationship building that had been going on between Minnesota congregations and ILAG. Because of the trust that had been built over many years, women were comfortable expressing an interest in gardening, and know we will continue to work with them as questions and problems arise.


At Milagro Girls School, the girls had continued to produce compost, and although the soil had improved, it became evident that the beds did not receive enough sun. Shade tolerant plants were planted in the original beds. New beds were moved to the terrace on top of the school where there is plenty of sun. Students learned the importance of nutrition, developed and cooked a meal rich in vitamin A, one of the vitamins most likely to be deficient in diets.


In Cimiento, each of the participating women contributed compost they had made—so we felt rich in compost! Our thanks to Victoriano and Marcos for storing and transporting the compost to the gardens by horseback. We developed two more garden beds and seeded a larger variety of plants. Randee led a demonstration on planting trees in a permaculture garden to control erosion. Thanks to Raul, one of the church members, five trees were strategically planted for erosion control in the church yard.


Hope for the Future

We hope that the success the women of Cimiento have experienced (1500 quetzales earned last year) will motivate other communities of women to begin gardening and strive for diets rich in fruits and vegetables. We also hope the students of Milagro and the women of Cimiento will become teachers for them. Other work we hope to continue includes:

  • increasing the number of biointensive gardens and permaculture to capture water and prevent erosion
  • developing markets for the women’s crops and perhaps compost
  • showing women how to develop “living fences” to keep chickens and dogs out of their gardens (work has begun at Milagro and Cimiento)
  • developing seed banks that will store seeds and save money for the gardeners and improve the diets of all people

We will have a special focus on children and pregnant women, providing nutritious alternatives to the highly processed, readily available non-nutritious foods affecting the health of villagers, and restoring pride in their indigenous heritage, especially as related to food.


Joan Felice

St. Michael's, Roseville