My name is Felix. I am 24, and I live with my parents and sister. I have always enjoyed farming with the help of my dad. I work in the fields from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m. In the afternoons, I run a small barbershop from my home, offering haircuts to the men in the community. This is a way I earn an income to help with the costs in our family. About a year and a half ago, I was asked to become a member of the hands-on Farmer Field School. I had already been working with ACJ [the program’s local partner] for three years in the food security program, where I learned various new farming techniques. I’ve been mentored by another guy from the community who is a member of the field school. Now I mentor two other farmers, sharing the techniques I am learning. Before working with ACJ, I only planted beans and corn. At the field school, we’ve done experiments with different varieties of corn, applying green manures, producing bio-fertilizers, and doing vermiculture (producing compost with worms). My father had experimented with vegetables before, but I had not.
Only now that I am participating in the field school have I begun to cultivate vegetables as well. We did an experiment with green peppers in which we had three different plots: one using organic fertilizer, another with chemical fertilizer, and a third without anything at all. Although the plants with chemicals grew more quickly, I observed that the ones in the plot with organic fertilizer were hardier and lived longer, and we were able to harvest peppers of good quality and size from it. We did an experiment with corn, too. We measured out a plot and planted two seeds per hole at a distance of 16 inches between plants and 32 inches between rows. At first, I thought this experiment was a waste of seed and labor because we had always planted 4-5 seeds per hole and at further distances apart. I didn’t think this new method would work, so I was surprised to see an excellent harvest of corn using this technique.
BarWe have also done experiments with velvet bean as a cover crop or “green manure,” which I have seen help the corn crops develop well. It also improves the texture and structure of the soil. The bonus is you don’t have to spend money purchasing herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Another experiment we did was planting three different varieties of beans in order to observe the cycle of each. We exposed all three to the same variables and were able to determine which one was most productive and most resistant to rain and pests. This helped me learn which variety is best to plant during what season. I am learning much through the field school, which makes me proud. The use of organic fertilizers has impacted me the most out of all the techniques we have learned. Even when working alongside my family in the fields, I have managed to encourage them to reduce the amount of chemicals we apply due to the harmful effects they can have. Instead, I am using a foliar (leaf) application that is a mixture of manure and “worm tea” (vermicompost in water). On our land, I have planted green pepper, tomato, plantain, dragon fruit, and citrus trees. This is the first time I have experimented with fruits and vegetables, and I am enjoying learning as I go!