Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.
One of my first friends in Antigua, Pedro Julio Ramirez Paz, is yet another example of someone who is not a traditional environmental studies student. Pedro studied engineering at university in Guatemala, and his thesis brought him to Finca Los Laureles (Bay Leaves Farm), where he worked for nearly two years.
While at the farm, Pedro learned how to make his own compost out of horse manure (a readily available source of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, among other important nutrients) for the nearly 3,500 avocado trees and 6,000 peach trees. One of his goals working at the farm was to figure out how best to run the farm as a complete system instead of running it as individual factories. Considering that the farm has contracts with major corporations, it was challenging work to meet both their deadlines as well as to create a farm that operated in a holistic manner.
Pedro also helped the farm to become certified under the USAID’s Global Gap Program. A good article from one of my favorite newspapers from my travels (the VietNam News) talks about the positive impact that a Global Gap grant has had with a lemongrass co-operative in Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. While Pedro and his coffee farm are on a completely different continent, the Global Gap program is just as relevant here in Guatemala as it is in Vietnam. The program provides global standards for agricultural producers, and according to their website, “is primarily designed to reassure consumers about how food is produced on the farm by minimizing detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations, reducing the use of chemical inputs and ensuring a responsible approach to worker health and safety as well as animal welfare.” In a country where historically organic agriculture initiatives have been from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), not the government itself, a program such as Global Gap seems to fill some of the gaps between the NGOs and government. The fact that large farms such as Finca Los Laureles are seeking this certification is a reflection that organic agriculture is highly desirable on the global market. (For more information on creating organic market standards in Central America, please check out this website)
After Pedro’s stint at the farm, he has been inspired to build a hydroponic system in his backyard. He’s also one of the community’s largest compost tea (courtesy of his vermicomposting Red Wigglers) producers. I’ll hopefully be helping Pedro with his backyard hydroponic endeavors, and will be sure to keep you updated.