Hi, my name is Otto Pierce, and I am down here in Guatemala helping Semilla Nueva with their urban rooftop gardening project. I am a native Vermonter, a sophomore at Middlebury College, and I just so happen to love playing in the dirt, especially if it happens to reside in a garden. With a little bit of effort, I was able to come down here for the mini-semester at Middlebury called J-term, and even get credit for doing so (liberal arts schools are great).
Essentially, I have been gardening for my entire life, raised amidst the vegetables, herbs and flowers of both my mother´s and father´s gardens. In the last few years though, gardening has taken on an increasingly larger role in my life. Not only have I embarked upon a mission to grow a market garden and sell my produce (one summer down!), I have also started broadening my scope beyond the vegetable beds, looking at sustainable agriculture and its place in the global system. Not too surprisingly, I have found agriculture to be at the base of it all, the root (no pun intended) of many problems; and the key to solutions as well. It is a powerful force, turning seeds into full bellies, and it has me hooked.
My specific task here has been to research, plan, and build a rooftop garden on the building next to Semilla Nueva’s office here in Xela. The idea behind the project is to construct a garden for educational purposes: so others may observe, learn from, and eventually construct their own. Boiled down, the plan is to keep it as simple, inexpensive, and generally as replicable as possible.
But why urban agriculture you ask? Well the full answer is nearly as long-winded as Charles Dickens, but to keep it short, it provides potential food and income for families, cleans the air, cools the heat of a city at the same time that it insulates against the cold, and gives homeowners a sense of ownership over a part of their diet. Ultimately though, the most important aspect of the types of gardens that we are building is that they do all of this at extremely low to zero cost depending on how creative one is with getting the materials. This makes this project accessible to almost anyone, not least of all the poorest rung of the urban socioeconomic ladder, those that normally have the most limited access to nutritious and healthy food.
I have been at it for just over two weeks now and things are really starting to take shape. The first week was mainly planning and researching, figuring out how much it would weigh, what materials we would need, what plants should we plant and how should we plant them, and a little bit of heading out into the streets of Xela tracking down the goods. Since then I have been working on getting all of the supplies, starting the construction, starting a pile compost as well as brewing some compost tea, filling up the beds, and even planting the first seeds (the first few radish seedlings just poked up out of the soil today)!
Over these past few weeks, every time I pause for a moment and survey the surrounding city from my third floor perch, I cannot help but notice that there are literally thousands of flat concrete roofs in this city, each with the potential for a rooftop garden all of its own. That being said, I believe the potential is huge, I think the desire is there, and all that is needed is an example and a bit of education about the whole process. This is fabulously exciting, potentially incredibly important, and I am just glad that Semilla Nueva could take me on and allow me to share, and add to, their vision. To many rooftop gardens to come!!
Otto's garden will serve as a platform for educating countless Guatemalans about the benefits of urban agriculture, and the ease of growing small, productive gardens with local materials. His expertise in organic gardening, soil health, and methods for increasing the yields from a small area will be passed along and expanded upon in the continuance of Semilla Nueva's urban agriculture program. Thanks Otto!!!