“A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins”- Laurie Colwin
“May I a small house and large garden have; And a few friends, and many books, both true”- Abraham Cowley
Óga Ita, Paraguay
In regards to the Paraguayan food pyramid, I’d say it’s lacking. Based on what I’ve been eating for the last three months, I believe that the government must endorse a pyramid of equal parts sugar, fat/oil, starch, carbohydrates, salt, and strange animal parts, with a watermelon thrown in every now and then for good measure. Something’s missing (besides teeth and physical fitness)…. What could it be, I just can’t put my finger on it…. Ohhhh wait. Vegetables.
So, yeah I’d kill for a vegetable right now. I have hated eggplant, squash, and beets all my life, but really I’d eat them all right now and love every minute of it.
You must be thinking a lot of things right now. Some of you might be wondering about fiber and certain bodily functions. You’re right. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s correct. And it’s a problem. So what can I do about it? Well, I’m doing what any good Environmental Volunteer would do: I’m making my own organic garden.
Environmental and agricultural volunteers here in Paraguay all receive training on organic and bio intensive gardening practices so that we can garden for our own benefit and also teach Paraguayans. I will most likely do a family garden project with my women’s committee in my community, but until then, I need to make my own so as to demonstrate what a model garden should look like. And so as to save my intestines.
Now, I will admit, I had never been overly keen on vegetables in the US. Yeah, I’d enjoy a salad or some nice grilled or stir fried veggies, but I never wanted to eat only vegetables all the time.
That has changed.
And my community just watches from afar.
In front of my house, it appears that I have a full-scale nursery going on. From seeds received from you, my dear readers (thank you so much. Mil gracias), I have planted vegetables in seriously whatever I could find: old yogurt cups, juice boxes, old wine boxes, little plastic bags, plastic bottles, and even the old bottle from my used up contact solution. If I see something that relatively holds it’s shape and I can poke holes in it for drainage, give me half an hour and it will house a newly germinating seed. My host mom has slowly realized what I’m doing. She stopped asking questions and now just wordlessly hands me containers.
Meanwhile, I’ve been hoeing out a spot next to my house so that my delectable veggies can have a more permanent home. My brothers all just sit drinking terere in the afternoon as I hoe, pick up grass and dirt clods and haul them off. Hoe, haul, repeat.
Now, these things are only mildly crazy in the eyes of Paraguayans and have actually given me a decent tan from working in the sun, but yesterday I may have hit rock bottom from malnourished crazy. And unfortunately, I had an audience.
I was looking at the soil; full of clay and sand, bright red. I thought to myself, “this won’t do at all.” And what was I taught in training on how to fix bad soil? Compost of course! So I checked my schedule and saw that I was free for the next two years and decided to build a compost heap, or abonero, that afternoon. I built a box. I put the box behind my house. And then I went hunting for ingredients.
Dead leaves- good
New leaves- good
Cow patty- reallllllly good
But then I realized that I really needed more nitrogen to kick start my abono, and what better than fresh cow poop. So shovel in hand, I started the hunt around our grazing pasture. I’d find a cow patty, haul it back to my pile and then go out to search again. At one point, I think I started following cows just waiting for it to appear. And that’s when I noticed the neighbors across the street, just watching me trail along behind cows, picking up poop, carrying it back to my house. This had been going on for an hour. All I could do was wave. They waved back.
Then, I looked in my box and realized that there was mainly just poop, so I set off in search of new ingredients. What luck! Corn husks were all over our patio! And watermelon rinds! So I started collecting and just when I probably would’ve started singing out of happiness, I turn around, and there’s my mom. We look at each other, and she just hands me a sack, nods, and walks away. She gets it.
So what if I’m a little crazy? So what if I’m tired of seeing an open rib cage on a bed of rice or noodles for lunch? So what if I’d break down in tears of joy if you handed me a zucchini right now? It’ll all be worth it in the end. Good compost makes good soil. Good soil makes for a good garden. And a good garden leads to a good soul. Just keep sending me seeds, my intestinal tract will thank you.