I have been to Nelly Zamora’s home three times in the past year, and the changes that have occurred are striking. In my first visit a year ago, Nelly had just recently joined a group of 27 women in the community of La Yula, who despite living in a remote rural area, had no land of their own. Most of them just have a yard slightly bigger than the dimensions of their house. Typically, the men work as ranch hands while the women, in addition to managing the home, often make some extra income by picking coffee for three months of the year. A year ago Nelly never imagined having her own garden or eating vegetables on a regular basis for that matter. She, like many others in her group, perceived that one would need a lot of land to plant a garden. When our food security program arrived at La Yula through our partner Asociación Cristiana de Jóvenes, she cautiously took the challenge and joined the group.
In my second visit several months later, I could tell that Nelly was encouraged by her first harvest, but also could tell she wasn’t totally convinced. Her posture was still timid. Growing vegetables in Nicargua is hard work. Not only the gardener is in constant war insects and plant diseases, there are the additional challenges of patio chickens and the onerous task of keeping everything watered. In Nelly’s case, the family would carry eight 5 gallon pails of water from a river a half a kilometer away on the days when it would not rain.
Last week I stopped by her house for the third time. Her home is now like showcase alongside the road. There are vegetables growing in every container capable of holding soil: wooden boxes, old plastic pails and discarded tires. And the harvest of onions, tomatoes, carrots and squash were testimony of the ‘fruit’ of her hard work. Nelly enthusiastically shared her latest recipes with us and how she is incorporating vegetables into the family diet. They were rigging up a system to harvest and store rain water. And Nelly laughs how when neighbors ask if they have a vegetable she smiles and tells them “she would rather give them some seeds!”