I am writing to clarify a point made by Margy Robertson in a letter to the editor dated August 14, 2013 with regard to the land currently being farmed by Guatemalan families at the Polston property.
Last year there were eight families involved, feeding about 100 people. This year there are 11 families farming, raising foods of their traditional diet. This has been the result of their hard work and a generous and caring community collaboration - a little known piece of the Mayan farm project.
Early in 2012 the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition determined there were some Guatemalan families who wanted to raise their own food. Several had been laid off at the Rakhra mushroom farm and were facing issues of food insecurity. They were experienced farmers/gardeners, but needed land, equipment, and technical assistance in adapting to the unique growing conditions of the valley, since they had little experience growing food here.
The Local Foods Coalition, a non-profit group that began from grassroots interest in 2009, facilitated an arrangement with the Alamosa School District that owned the land to allow the families to farm there. A local agronomist volunteered his time and expertise, taking soil samples, making recommendations for fertility and soil health, helping them find the amendments he recommended. What he couldn’t get donated he paid for himself, then continued to assist them on a regular basis throughout the growing season with everything from rowing out to scouting for late blight.
The soil analysis lab work was paid for by a local agricultural consulting company. Donations of the seed and $1,500 worth of compost - 40,000 lbs. - were made by the Local Foods Coalition and its donor base. A rancher who runs cattle on the neighboring Alamosa City Ranch donated the equipment for field work and set up infrastructure for flood irrigation. Like the agronomist, he also continued to assist the farmers throughout the growing season.
The families have worked hard and are feeding themselves, their friends, and neighbors healthy, highly nutritious food they have raised. The Mayan farm project is a shining example of what can happen when magnanimous community members pitch in, work together, learn together, and creatively use public resources to address a problem. Far beyond what is known as “community gardening”, its participants, all the people who contributed time, money, knowledge, sweat, and shovels, understood that poverty is bad for all of us and we can grow ourselves out of the very worst part of it - hunger. A person may be poor, but if she can nourish herself and her family with food she has grown herself, she is wealthy beyond measure.