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Border 2012: Tecate River Garden Project

Posted on September 09, 2013

Border 2012: Tecate River Garden Project

Southern Rain Women's Committee and Fundación La Puerta run a successful solid waste and organic matter collection program with the cultivation of two gardens on the banks of the Tecate River.

The Southern Rain Women's Committee (Comité de Mujeres Lluvia del Sur) has taken actions to restore their environment and promote sustainable community practices by conducting Tecate River cleanup campaigns and establishing a community garden run by men and women of the Colonia Luis Donaldo Colosio neighborhood, who grow fruits and vegetables for their own use.

The Colosio community gathers cardboard and PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastics commonly used for beverages (marked with recycling number code "1") and sells these materials to recyclers. Funds from the recycling are used, in part, to pay for their water supply, which has become one of their major expenses. These efforts have diverted plastic and paper items along with organic materials from landfills.  By recycling plastic and paper, new raw materials were not used, resulting in a savings of 28 Metric tons equivalent of CO2 (MTCO2E) (US EPA WARM Model, Ver. 12, Feb. 2013). By recycling 19 tons of plastic and paper and creating compost, this project mitigated the effects of climate change by eliminating 647 equivalent of CO2 (MTCO2E). Composting in effect recycles the carbon and supplements nutrients into the soil reducing or eliminating the need for artificial fertilizers and is an important alternative to dumping the food scraps in a landfill or worse, a dump, where the organics are under anaerobic conditions that generate methane which is 26 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. The community is currently awaiting a response from the State Public Services Commission of Tecate (CESPTE) about an application for a new grant to be awarded by the agency to Civil Society Organizations (CSO).

The committee chair, Carmen Rodriguez Herrera, explained that the group collects landscape cuttings and food scraps to prepare compost for use in their community and school gardens and continues to organize and implement voluntary trash clean up events.

Guillermo Romero Ibarrola, Director of Fundación La Puerta (FLP), said that he met the women from Colonia Colosio at a Tecate River cleanup campaign event; they asked what they could do to help care for the environment and obtain funds and he proposed establishing a community garden using the low-input, high-yield bio-intensive organic farming method and receiving training from the Ecología y Población Association (ECOPOL) headed by Juan Manuel Martinez Valdez.

Six years ago, FLP and the Southern Rain Women's Committee established a partnership that has only become stronger with time. Through this grant and with the work of the Southern Rain Women's Committee, the community has strengthen and broaden community and environmental activities in recycling, composting, and educational outreach, especially to young adults and children.  

During the project's first phase, the foundation contracted with ECOPOL and Juan Manuel Martinez trained the community women on how to create their garden. Their efforts produced a harvest of lettuce, garlic, squash, strawberries, chard, corn, radishes and rosemary available to committee members who work jointly in the garden's care and maintenance.

 Through leadership support from FLP, the group collected 6839 kg of plastic, 9765 kg of cardboard paper, created a garden adjacent to the flood plain of the river that produced 472 kg of vegetables, and they composted 63,200 kg of food scraps and municipal landscape cuttings. A community of 1350 volunteers collected 23,701 trash and 7293 kg tires (total 30,995 kg trash) from the banks of the Tecate River which in turn did not pollute segments downstream. Without these cleanup efforts the trash could have ended up in the Tijuana River and in San Diego. 

 "The first garden, more than the crop itself, yielded confidence, as the group started to take ownership of it as a collective project," said Guillermo Romero.

Salvador Tinajero, the master gardener at Rancho La Puerta, advised the Colonia Colosio ladies in his spare time and taught them how to practice high-quality agriculture. They also received assistance from environmental engineers throughout the process. 

The second phase of this project is part of the binational Border 2012 Program, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and administered by the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC). This second phase was developed by the Southern Rain Women's Committee and Fundación La Puerta.

The second phase includes the expansion of the garden to a quarter of an acre plot and implementation of school-based orchards that included training workshops on the proper handling of solid waste and composting at five schools that reaches a total of 680 preschool, elementary and special education students. These workshops continue to be taught by Carmen Rodriguez and help teach students about zero waste practices and the role they play in keeping the environment trash free. 

The schools have their own student-grown gardens which are overseen by the Southern Rain Women's Committee chair. "When its harvest time, students have a get-together and eat the vegetables," said Carmen.

A year ago, funding from FLP, BECC and Border 2012 was used in the second garden to plant beans, cauliflower, broccoli, parsley, carrot, onion, tomato, chili, cilantro, radish and squash, and these crops have already been harvested.

For Carmen Rodriguez, organic gardening "is a great satisfaction, we like what we are doing and we get to relax, even if we don't make any money."

Guillermo Romero believes that organic gardening has become an outreach project, as basic gardening courses and guided tours are provided to the public.

 "We try to help people become self-sufficient so they can fend for themselves, so that they become agents of change," the FLP Director said. Romero added "Doña Carmen and her group have all my appreciation; they have come a long way."




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