From a “gravel pit” to resilient farm

October 29, 2021

“I like organic production. You don’t need much, you just need to know how to manage it. Now we have a healthier way of life.”

Ana María Castro, family farmer in Honduras (Kath Clark/SeedChange)

When Ana María Castro decided to use up her savings to buy a desolate piece of land, her husband had his doubts. What could she possibly grow in that soilless gravel pit?

Her reply:

“Let me be. I want my plot of land.”

As a woman in rural El Plantel, Honduras, Ana María had been involved with coffee production on other people’s farms before but she’d never had a plot of her own. But she had been preparing for this kind of challenge for more than a decade, with support from SeedChange donors. She took training in agroforestry and how to use trees alongside other crops from our Honduran partner, Fundación para la Investigación Participativa con Agricultores de Honduras (FIPAH). She was (and still is) an active member of a group of local farmers who do on-farm crop research together. And she spent endless hours learning agroecological growing techniques.

So she went for it and got the land.

She and her daughter, Belkis Cruz, got to work. To the gravelly dirt, they added organic matter, compost and manure to build healthy soil. They contoured the land to limit erosion. They also planted a large diversity of trees and crops. For Ana Maria, putting the agroecological techniques she has learned into practice on her farm means not having to buy expensive chemicals and improving soil quality without compromising her family’s health.

“I like organic production. You don’t need much, you just need to know how to manage it. Now we have a healthier way of life.”

Eight years later, Ana María now grows nearly fifteen different crops under a multilayered canopy of trees—including avocado, which was not thought possible to grow in the region. Mandarin, pineapple, plantain, oranges, peach, cinnamon, cassava, coffee—the harvest yields an abundance of nutritious food for her family and a reliable source of income.

Ana María is also an avid member of and volunteer with her local, SeedChange-supported community seed bank, Banco Comunitario de Semillas de Agua Sucia, that provides high quality and locally-adapted seeds to farmers in the region. (Kath Clark/SeedChange)

Ana María’s perseverance paid off again in November 2020 when two hurricanes swept across Central America, dumping torrential rains in their wake. Many of her neighbours saw their soil and crops taken by landslides but Ana María’s farm survived, thanks to the deep roots of the trees she planted and the techniques she used to build healthy soil.

Today, Ana María’s skills are helping her community get through the hardships of COVID-19. And her daughter, Belkis, even has her own plot now too.

One thing hasn’t changed though: the name of Ana María’s farm. La Balastera.

The Gravel Pit.