María Helena Parrales, 51, and her daughter María Judith Barrera, 28, leave their home located in the community of El Barro in the department of León, walking a few meters before crossing a fence and disappearing in the middle of the corn plantation. A few minutes later, one of them reappears with a huge smile and a container full of fresh squash, which she starts to wash immediately before cooking them and preparing lunch for the eight family members. “We planted 10 squash seeds in between the corn and we produced 500 squash. It has been an excellent experience and a great support to our diet,” says María Helena. She and her daughter are in charge of the family, the garden, and they are also part of the El Barro mixed cooperative.
Maria Helena loves agriculture and if it were up to her, she would spend the whole day in the field. She is currently the president of the El Barro’s Cooperative; a mixed group made up of 14 people. During the pandemic, they managed to come together to work with the Nourishing the Future Project, a Cargill-CARE Corporate Social Responsibility initiative implemented in Nicaragua by Fabretto Foundation. The initiative focuses on gender, economic empowerment, and support with agricultural production. The project has also established 131 school and family gardens in 28 communities and schools. El Barro is a community located in Nicaragua’s dry corridor, where the sun hits hard and access to water is inconstant.
To date, the cooperative has received tools and seeds and has begun establishing family gardens such as that of Maria Helena and Judith. As soon as they received the inputs, they set aside three plots of land, two to grow corn and one for sorghum. In between the corn, they planted squash.
They also allocated space behind the house to set up the family garden. They now have different types of squash, chilis, peppermint, papaya, garlic, corn, aloe, avocado, peppers, tomatoes, and spinach to feed their family. In the garden, they also planted herbs supplied by Cargill volunteers who, as part of their volunteer work, have helped to diversify family and school gardens with potted plants that they bring from their own homes.
“We plan to make the garden bigger so that we can sell the extra food that we won’t eat ourselves,” says Maria Judith. They also hope to be better prepared to combat the impact of climate change and natural disasters like hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020, which in the most recent harvest caused damage to the corn and sorghum plantations. “I cried when I saw that the sorghum was turning black, but with the advice and training we received through the project, we know that it will not happen again and we will have better opportunities,” says Maria Helena.