The first seeds.

By Wanda O'Brien

Joselyn, 15, attends a high school that focuses on agriculture and farming.

But she never really thought about how food acts as fuel for the body. Until now.

Let’s back up.

Joselyn’s school is located in the community of Los Rios in the Amazon in Ecuador. If you’re ever so lucky to visit this place that runs alongside the rushing Napo River (and you can!) there are farms aplenty. These farms are family run and are thriving plots of cacao, coffee, yucca (in the potato family) and plantain (in the banana family). The cacao and coffee are sold, and the starches are used by farmers to feed their families.

In the Amazon, agriculture is a way of life. Joselyn grew up seeing her parents farm, learning to work the farm with her six siblings, and is at a school that specializes in farming. But until the WE Villages school garden, she never formally learned about the importance of nutrition and how she can grow food with a healthy diet in mind.

The school gardens are a new initiative to ensure kids have the fuel to stay focused in class, and are a training site for agriculture techniques. WE introduced it after noting that lunches often lacked fruits and vegetables, despite the fertile landscape.

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“In class we’ve learned about always eating salads and fruits,” Joselyn shares as a key takeaway (one parents everywhere wish their kids would adopt). “Not only rice and eggs.”

Grade 6/7 teacher Sergio Narvaez leads the program. He touts teamwork and cooperation to see new possibilities sprout from the ground. “We’ve managed to grow products I didn’t know we could,” he says.

Cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, peanuts, watermelons, herbs and onions—these are some of the goods the garden produced in its first year through the efforts of the students and teachers alike.

Each student in the garden program was assigned a role to help the garden grow and to learn agriculture techniques. Joselyn weeded and watered to learn how to manage crop cycles. Her favourite part is seeing when the first shoots break through the earth, thanks to care she takes of the seedbeds. She wanted to share that with her parents.

“I took some cucumber and watermelon seeds to our farm. We planted them with my dad,” she says, and notes that her mom was particularly happy for the watermelon seeds. “My classmates take seeds to their farms too,” she adds.

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The students exchange knowledge from their family farms, and in turn, share the school’s agriculture success with their parents.

At the program’s inception, Sergio’s students began sharing with him the same piece of advice, received from their parents: “Tierra bien fertilizada con abono, da un buen producto”—it means “a land fertilized, gives a good product.” Sergio thinks one of the most useful tactics the program is implementing is composting and how to make natural insecticide (tip! chili peppers and water).

Beyond the farming techniques, the program teaches soft skills like leadership and teamwork. “I’ve seen students take leadership roles because of the experience they have with their parents,” Sergio says. “They use that knowledge to help their classmates… and then they bring their experience from here to their houses.”

Joselyn is a mentor to her younger siblings and shows her seven-year-old brother how to take care of the plants. He’s quite young to be learning, and is more interested in the flowers than the fruits or veggies. But he’s growing up with easier access to healthy eating in his life, and Joselyn is feeling more and more confident in trying to decide what to do after high school. A top choice is becoming an agriculture engineer. She’s well on her way.

Interviews by Magaly Saltos
Translations by Karloso Fiallos

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