The vegetable garden project in El Pino, Las Mercedes is an incredible testament to the effectiveness of organizing in women's empowerment. Before this project, there was not a women's committee in El Pino. According to the women themselves, the communal vegetable garden has motivated and encouraged women's organization greatly. Women in this community are working together in synch, old and young, side by side, and are seeing the fruits of their labor. There are twenty-three people in total working this plot of land, including five young men. The work is done as collectively as possible, and there is certainly no shortage.
Their seeds are sown on the side of a steep hill, that ends, hundreds of meters below, on the banks of the Suchitlan reservoir. Aside from agriculture, which puts the beans and tortillas on many families' plates, many in El Pino scrape by with fishing.
Because it is not possible for all of the members of the committee put in the same amount of work, when the crops are harvested, people will receive an amount relative to the time they contributed. Because of the size of the group, and with larger families in this community, the women believe that the harvest will go towards mostly towards family consumption.
Here's a snipet of our conversation:
Is this your first time planting fruits and vegetables?
Yes, its our first time.
How do you like it so far?
It's a lot of work, but its definitely worth it.
And how do you feel working?
GOOD! It's hard work, but we have fun, and we laugh a lot.
It's better to work together, united, because you don't notice the work so much!
It's our first time using a corbo, too!
And they erupt into laughter, each woman immediately aware of the machete in her hands, the all-purpose tool traditionally carried by campesinos. A man's tool, off-limits to these campesinas. Suddenly, the women realize that they are doing something out of the box, something bold and daring. And not only do they like it, but they're good at it, too!
Scaling the sides of the hill, the women use these weapon-tools to dig holes, to whittle the ends of sticks and poles to put into the ground, to cut weeds and clear land. The simple act of using this tool gives them a sense of power and independence, and the sucess of their vegetable garden has enabled them to see that they have many abilities and skills beyond tortilla-making, sweeping and child-rearing.
As the dark rain clouds collect overhead, and the thunder rumbles among the Chalate mountains, we are proudly shown the seedbed, where tomato seedlings are protected from the big rain drops that could damage them by a mosquito net, and then the retaining wall, built with large rocks, to protect from mudslides. The women plan to build a number of these along the hill; after the most recent national emergency, they fear losing this labor of love in the next storm.
What do you hope to acheive with this project?
We hope to continue, to continue planting and harvesting, and working. And we hope you keep visiting us! And keep supporting us, especially with seeds, and especially in our organization.