As portrayed in the news, Honduras is a place of economic struggle and a challenged education system. Despite the country’s strife, Lolita and I decided to visit the area and were relieved to find evidence that efforts are being made to help the country’s children. Cerro Grande (the Big Hill) is a small elementary school located in a low income neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital. Incorporating entrepreneurship and small business management into the regular academic curriculum, this school is striving to change the outcome for its students. Under the leadership of the director, Professora Irma Lopez, the school staff has taken limited resources and a lot of creativity to develop school gardens and create workshops topics ranging from food preparation and manufacturing to carpentry and handicrafts for the home. Teachers work alongside students to produce goods for the local markets to earn money for the school’s needs while teaching reading, writing, mathematics, science, health and computer skills. The organization incorporates all grade levels, from first through sixth, and all students, boys and girls, into a comprehensive program recognized as a pioneer in elementary education.
We were met by Silvia Zavala, chief agriculture officer and head of the school garden program, and given a tour of the school’s facility. She took us around the workshops, school garden and to a couple of classrooms and introduced us to many of her colleagues and the students involved in the school’s activities.
Situated on the steep hillside behind the school classrooms and assembly area are the terraces that contain the school garden. Soil is scarce atop the underlying rock base so used car tires are placed in rows and filled with soil and organic matter to serve as the substrate for the plantings of herbs and vegetables. Empty PET water and soda pop containers are trimmed and used for seedling trays or filled with water and used as boundaries for planting beds.
Drip irrigation is installed throughout the garden. It not only demonstrates a modern agriculture practice but teaches water conservation in a region subject to periods of drought. The school is able to partner with agriculture technicians supplied by iDE, an international NGO focused on establishing family gardens in Honduras. The group also built a large cistern to store water and installed mechanical pumps operated by the up-and-down action of the kids playing on a seesaw or on a modified step masters – providing both exercise and entertainment while filling an overhead container that gravity feeds water through the irrigation tubes.
The students study the soil and learn when they need to add compost or lime to fertilize the plants. They use worm bins to decompose the plant wastes and use vermicompost teas to supplement the natural fertilizers.
The lettuce, mustard, beets, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, chayotes, cilantro, parsley, squash, and beans are harvested throughout the year and sold in the local Saturday market outside the school grounds.
The School Kitchen
In this part of the school, the students learn the techniques of food preparation and food hygiene using produce from the school garden or from the local farmers market. The students learn how to elaborate products that are commonly consumed in the local households like jams made from tropical fruits such as pineapple, papaya, black berries and mango. Tortillas are eaten daily and the school produces their own value added version incorporating carrots and beets from the garden. Besides the corn base, the added vegetables enhance the nutrition and add color to the traditional staple. They taste great, too.
Silvia said that the program influences the children’s eating habits since the daily mid- morning snacks produced in the school kitchen may be the first meal for those not able to eat breakfast at home. She also went on to say that many students are now starting gardens in their homes. We were happy to see that Slow Food principles of good, clean and fair food are becoming part of the lifestyles of everybody connected to the Cerro Grande School.