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This diary was written by Mrs, side pocket but published under side pocket's name.
Comments will be by her.

Most people who recognize the name Heifer International think of it as “that group that gives animals.”  Those who know a bit more are probably familiar with Heifer’s policy of “passing on the gift.” When a family receives a gift of livestock from Heifer, it is always with the understanding that the first offspring of that animal will be passed on to another family. When side pocket and I visited Heifer projects in Honduras in 2008, we learned that passing on the gift may take many forms. In one case it was putting the first profits from one’s honey sales back in a revolving loan fund so that the next family could borrow to buy hives.  But, it was the passing on of learning that seemed to please people the most. You may not have thought about this, but before a person can receive an animal, she must provide shelter for it, know what it needs nutritionally, maybe even plant a new crop. She must know how to provide medical care if it becomes ill and how to assist it in birthing if necessary. This training may take up to a year before Heifer actually brings in animals. Then, when the offspring are passed on, all the learning is passed on as well. Every recipient becomes a giver and a teacher. This practice reflects Heifer’s concepts of community development that are somewhat countercultural for us, like: “we can accomplish more if we help each other than if we each try to make it on our own”, and: “we can’t truly prosper until the whole community prospers and the environment thrives”. Hmm…

I can’t remember clearly how much we understood about food justice before going to Honduras 5 years ago, but the trip provided some eye openers. Of course, we knew Honduras was a poor country; 60% of the population earns under $1.25 a day.
In the early 20th century Honduras was a classic banana republic, the economy and government pretty much owned by the United Fruit Co. and the Standard Fruit Co. (branded Chiquita and Dole, respectively). Although that is no longer the case, what remains true is that most of the economy is owned by foreign investors and transnational corporations who take their profits out of the country. We saw this in the capitol, Tegucigalpa, where the fast food chains, whose names you know well, were in business. The university professor, Efrain Diaz Arriviallage, who spoke to us there, explained that these companies are allowed to bring all ingredients in from the U.S. tax free. So, they are not supporting the local agriculture. All they leave behind to benefit Hondurans is the hourly wage, probably similar to the wage in the Export Processing Zones (EPZ’s) of 63 cents an hour. Read this page to learn how to make a killing in Honduras:

Efforts to alleviate Honduran poverty by the World Bank and developed countries usually aim toward expanding the cash economy; i.e., develop your exports so you have cash to buy imports. When applied to food, this can have some bizarre results. Honduras produces some of the best coffee in the world, right? Some places we went had nothing available but Nescafe. The snacks we were offered were Oreos and Washington State apples, the Red Delicious kind that had been in cold storage for months and then shipped to Honduras where tropical fruit can be grown year round. The irony of this might have been amusing to us as tourists, but as one recognizes that the good food has been exported, and the people who produce the food can’t afford to buy the imports, the feeling changes.

So, where does Heifer come in? We were told that Heifer works for food sovereignty. What is that?

    •    Food sovereignty means having the right to choose what you eat and what you grow. On a Heifer project, as long as a crop or animal can be sustained in good health without harm to the environment, the community decides what it will grow.
    •    Food sovereignty means having access to land to grow on.
    •    Food sovereignty means saving your own seed and not needing to buy it from a transnational company every year.
    •    Food sovereignty means producing your own fertilizer, not needing to buy it from a transnational company every year.
    •    Food sovereignty means being able to market your produce locally and buy your food locally.
    •    Food sovereignty means having a voice in agricultural policy
    •    Food sovereignty means having equal gender access to the resources for growing food. More and more often now Heifer begins a project by working with the women, particularly in countries where there is a machismo culture. If they begin with a mixed gender group, everyone takes on traditional roles; and the men pick up the leadership and control of the money. If they begin with the women, the men may scoff at first, but, as the money starts flowing in, they get on board, and everyone works together with a whole new dynamic.

We saw these principles at work at the first project we visited, where the community had organized into small groups of 3 to 5 women. Each group had selected a leader who received the technical training. We met with the community at a farm that had been in the project for 4 years; and this is where I need pictures because I can’t describe the power of these women who were so energized by what they were learning and accomplishing---you need to see their faces.

"In the beginning each woman drew a picture of her farm as she wanted it to be.”
“Each time our group met we each put some money in our bank account, even if it was just a few cents.”
“We made mineral blocks for our cows to lick. The cows are amused by them. We had more money in our bank account, so we made more blocks and sold them. Now our bank account is growing.”
“Our group knows everything about caring for cows. It took me just one hour to learn how to give a cow an injection! Now, when a cow is sick, I know just what to do. Last week my neighbor’s cow was sick. I knew what to do. Now that cow is alright!”
Keep in mind that some of these women are from villages so remote there are no roads into them, and yet they stood up and gave speeches to us Norte Americanos, teaching us about what they were doing. And all the while their daughters were watching them.
After the speeches and a compost making demonstration we toured the farm. We saw the cow that was the original Heifer gift. At her side was her calf, which would be bred and passed on to another family. The cow was pregnant with a second calf. She was producing milk for her calf, the family, and for sale at market.
Both the cow and calf were producing manure, which is fed into this simple biogas apparatus. The pvc pipe carries the methane gas to the kitchen where it powers a 2 burner stove and a refrigerator. Refrigeration is so rare in this part of Honduras that the family is selling ice cones at market. As the manure exits the other end, it is added to the compost to fertilize the vegetable garden.
                   Chickens produced eggs and chicks and more manure!
A fish tank of tilapia and nutrient rich water for the vegetables.
In this drought prone area all household water was run through this filter and reused for irrigation.
The majority of Honduras is mountainous. This farm was operating on a slope; so the vegetable garden was terraced. At the foot was planted a “green fence” to catch any soil run off. It consisted of coarse, fast-growing grasses, which were cut and carried to feed the cow and calf---so the nutrients have now run full circle on this integrated farm.

Below that “fence” was an orchard of many fruit varieties fertilized by the family bees. The son sold his honey at market.

Scattered about the property we saw bananas, coffee plants, and even a cashew tree, all this on no more than five acres of land. This is a beautifully integrated farm, a sustainable system where the animals eat the crop wastes and the animal waste feeds the crops, and the people thrive.

Like you, I work for good in the faith that someday words I have spoken, actions I have taken may snowball with the words and acts of others to actually effect change. I cannot tell you how energizing it was to visit these Heifer projects and see something working, on the ground, right NOW.

Heifer’s work in the U.S. is currently focused in Appalachia. For more information on U.S. projects let me offer two links: a brief text summary,  and a 7 minute video,

Originally posted to Hunger in America on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 03:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Kitchen Table Kibitzing, J Town, Pink Clubhouse, and Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living.

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