Pin It
NY Growing Project

Beautiful view, fresh, local cuisine, doing a good deed. All crowned by a double rainbow.  It was a perfect blend last Friday as about 75 people gathered at the Bright Leaf Winery to celebrate their participation in the NY Growing Project.  That project works with Growing Hope Globally to support Guatemalan farmers with training and resources.  Growing Hope Globally Associate Regional Director of Latin American and Caribbean Overseas Programs Alex Morse says it is working.

"In the western highlands of Guatemala 56% of children were malnourished," he says. "After five years of our program we didn't have a single child suffering from malnutrition."

NY Growing Project organizer Beth Chapin says the program is a way for local farmers to 'give back' while supporting fellow farmers.  She and her husband Keith are partner/owners of Walnut Ridge Dairy.  Local agriculture businesses such as Eldridge Farms, Willet Dairy, Aurora Ridge Dairy, Bright Leaf Vineyard, Scipio Springs Dairy, Fessenden Dairy, Cayuga Milk Ingredients, and individuals such as Diane Conneman, among others, have supported the NY Growing Project initiative that has raised $34,000 dollars since 2013. The money has provided tools and training for approximately 600 Guatemalan families.

"It's been a way we've all come together. We take the profits that we have and we all give every year. Cayuga Milk Ingredients (Auburn) has been a big supporter, and several other sponsors have been highly supportive.  Several of our employees are from Guatemala.  I think we felt compelled to give back to the people who have helped us succeed in our own industries.  What intrigued me was that it's about teaching and training and helping with growing crops native to their own region."

The program is based on the old saying "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."  Guatemala, which boasts the biggest economy in Central America, has the highest level of land inequality in the western hemisphere, one of the worst in the world.  Families live on half acre plots.  While husbands walks to work in a wealthy landowner's field, earning about $3 to $5 per day,  wives stay home to cook, clean, get the children off to school, and then farm their small piece of land.  Morse says that families' inability to address basic needs like feeding their children is part of what drives their migration to the United States.

"When we started these programs a lot of the families were husband and wife.  At this point we've seen a lot of the men have migrated.  A lot of the women report that the one to two dollars a day that they earn in income from the program is the only income that they have for their family.  It's really heartbreaking. A young girl died in one of the detention facilities, and she was 20 miles up the road from one of our programs. She was in a village I had driven past earlier in the year. It hits home when you think about what could we have done, or would that situation have been preventable if her family had different opportunities."

The program teaches strategies to get the most out of that half acre, teaching basic vegetable growing skills, and providing materials for local small farmers to build greenhouses.  For example, placing a pig pen uphill from crops allows the manure to run down, fertilizing the crops.  Programs to learn the basics of vegetable gardening and small livestock management (such as poultry farming) are aimed at getting families to the point where they can not only feed themselves, but generate a surplus thaat will generate additional income.

"When you get income, healthy food, and clean water so bodies are healthy enough to absorb the nutrients, you're able to help families move toward food security where they have enough to eat throughout the year, and hopefully their kids are able to go to school and be able to learn the lessons and not just hear the sound of their stomachs grumbling," Morse says.

The strategies have been paying off.  Morse notes that the women have organized a cooperative to market their tomatoes and have a permanent stand in the community market.  That means they have a permanent place to sell their goods that yields decent prices.  And they use what they have learned to develop strategies to grow specific crops when they will yield higher prices.  Conneman was part of a small group that traveled to Guatemala in February with Morse to see how the programs are doing.

"Some of these families have been doing this for about five years," Conneman says. "They have figured out that if we space our crops and keep some of them over we'll put a cycle of hot peppers. They'll have that in a season when there is not as many peppers in the market, so they get the best price for them.  They have income, then, to use for other things.  They're using some of that income to purchase chickens and turkeys.  A couple had hogs -- the main purpose is for fertilizer."

Buffet at Bright Leaf winery

The dinner is one of the events sponsored by NY Growing Project.  The group has quietly made its presence known, such as having local produce stand at Cortland's Porch Fest.  Chapin says support for the project has been overwhelming, and last year's dinner was so successful that it prompted last weekend's second annual dinner.  In keeping with its theme the food and wine came from local sources -- the wine from a very local source as it was made at Bright Leaf Vineyard where the dinner was held.

"I love the excitement that everybody has about our growing project," Chapin says. "I always feel rejuvenated after an event where everyone comes together in in supporting something like this.  It feels great.  I see our wonderful families and employees and I think how hard it must be to be away from your home and country, and this is a wonderful way for all of us to give back."

Pin It