Ups and Downs of the Model Farm's First Year
To get a harvest, you first have to plant the seeds, and 2017 can be defined by the seeds that we planted, both in a metaphorical and actual sense. JustHope’s Model Farm weathered the ups and downs that so often define the agricultural experience in Nicaragua. When planting, you generally put two or more seeds in each hole knowing that some will sprout and some will not. On the Model Farm, we applied the same logic to our endeavors; some ideas flourished, some did not, and some were half-way on the right track. Yet with each harvest, yielding crops or not, knowledge and lessons learned were bountiful.
In 2017, we had our first sale of sesame and cucumber, our first community training on soil restoration at the new learning center, our first group of microcredit women working on the Model Farm, our first rainwater harvesting system, our first floods, fires, and plagues, our first training manual printed, our first loss of passion fruit crop, and numerous other first-year-farmer experiences. Some moments were discouraging while others were uplifting, but all were moments that produced relevant knowledge for the program and the farming community we serve.
JustHope committed to working in agriculture to live out our mission of nurturing resilient, sustainable communities free of poverty. With each effort on the Model Farm, we too become more resilient and able to adapt to challenges and adversity. For example, on our first attempt to use a cutting-edge hydrogel to serve as a water reserve for our pepper plants, all our plants died because our ratio of hydrogel to seedling wasn’t correct. We adapted our practices on our second attempt for our cucumbers and saw exponentially better results. That is what the Model Farm is about: taking risks and trying something new but then fine-tuning it until the desired outcomes are reached and can be shared with the community. Had we pushed ahead with distributing this innovative product to local farmers with no real base for recommending it, the farmers, whose livelihoods depend on positive results, would have been worse off.
Similarly, the rainwater harvesting system serves as a secondary irrigation source after the rains dissipate. Our system worked so well that our cistern overflowed with water harvested off the roof of the learning center. Under the immense pressure, the base of the cistern cracked and flooded our newly planted field. It was devastating at first but allowed us to adapt the design of the cistern into something more practical for the conditions on the farm. Each hardship the Model Farm endures is one less setback a farmer has to face.
All the information, the positive and the negative, is put in the hands of farmers, so that they can observe the outcomes on the farm and then decide which practices are best for their businesses. One example of this is a small cucumber nursery our new Agricultural Coordinator, Danilo, has started. Because the soil in Chacraseca has been so depleted over the years, farmers are currently forced to spend hundreds of dollars each year on fertilizers for their small corn, bean, or yuca crops. And then those fertilizers add to the problem. Danilo has planted cucumber seeds in six different types of soil combinations, including some using organic fertilizing methods such as coffee bean hulls and rice kernel hulls, in an effort to find less expensive, more natural means of adding nutrients back into the soil. It’s just one of many ways Danilo and our Model Farm program are working to change the future for our partners!