Alt Breakers: Organic Farming

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The group before shabbat

It seems like spring break was so far away, so we have to make the memories last.  Documenting her trip, here is Mia Shapiro, BC’14, who headed down to Nicaragua.

Where did you go, who with, and for how long?

This spring break, I went to Nicaragua with 15 other Columbia/Barnard students through an organization called American Jewish World Service (AJWS). We travelled to San Ramon in the Matagulpa region of the country and stayed on an organic farm for 7 days.

What were you doing in Nicaragua?

AJWS sent us to work with a local NGO called the Fundación de Denis Ernesto Gonzalez Lopez (FDEGL). The foundation works with local farmers, teaching them how to cultivate organic products without the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides; they create seed banks for farmers to borrow at the beginning of their first harvest; they lobby for political change and succeeded in banning the importation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) that can create competition and harm the land. The foundation also plays a large role in helping women learn to cultivate products to grow for their own families, as well as feel empowered and learn how to respond to domestic violence and abuse. Throughout the week, we learned from the staff all about the work they do and were able to see families who benefit directly from FUDEGL’s work.

Each day looked about the same: wake up at 630am, eat breakfast, work in the field (digging meter deep wholes and building a trellis to teach the local farmers), break for lunch at 12pm, work till 3pm, have an education session led by our AJWS staff, eat dinner, and have another discussion or activity after lunch. It was exhausting, but incredibly fulfilling.

Why did you decide to go on the trip?

My initial decision to go on the trip was encouraged by my sister, who is the Engagement Coordinator at the Hillel. But I also applied because I wanted to experience something new, practice my spanish, create new relationships, learn to value of hard manual work. Along the way, I accomplished all these things, but I also learned about myself and struggled to grapple with the issues surrounding giving, service and the global south.

What was the highlight?

After an incredibly exhausting week, both physically and mentally, we got to spend our final say, Saturday, observing Shabbat. On Friday, we made our own challah bread, had a Friday night service to welcome in the Sabbath, ate dinner, and played games after the meal. In the middle of our service, during the silent meditation, we lost power and had to finish our service under the moonlight and stars. It sounds cliche, but it was actually incredibly moving. Celebrating Shabbat is something that many of us do every week, but it felt especially meaningful to end our trip on a day or rest and reflection and think about how we can bring our experience back to the States.

Do you miss the food?

Ha. The rices and beans at every meal were delicious, but by the end of the week, I think we would all be pleased if we never have to eat rice and beans again.

Any traveling disasters?

Transportation was a little rough.  Our bus from the airport to San Ramon took two hours longer than expected because they kept having to stop to cool down the engine, or something like that.  I don’t know about mechanics, but they kept pulling over by water and pouring water into the back of the bus.  We weren’t quite sure we would make it.

More or less fun than a “traditional” spring break?

More fun than I ever could have imagined.  People think of these service trips as great, but not very relaxing.  But the trip was distracting in a different way.  And we had the most fun.  One night, we laughed for about twenty minutes straight.  About nothing.  We just couldn’t stop.

While you were in Miami via Wikimedia Commons

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