By: Alexanne Dick
I have always loved getting my hands dirty. My childhood memories are brimming with images of picking up worms from my parents’ garden, building sand castles and squishing wet clay between my fingers. This love for using and playing with my hands translated itself into an ever growing love for gardening and agriculture and an open and eager interest for field work. These interests have been complimented through my position as a Food Security Research Assistant with the IMPLAN office in Los Cabos, Mexico. After several weeks of computer based research and work within the office I began to feel itchy to get into a different working environment in the outdoors. I wanted to find an opportunity to enhance my research by learning through engaging with people, living in the sub-region I am studying and getting a more elaborate understanding of life as an agriculturalist in the East Cape. Time to move my hands away from the keyboard and back into the dirt!
First step was to find places and people I could connect with to satisfy my desire to learn outside of the office. I got in touch with a group called Baja BioSana. This off-grid sustainable community is located at the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range in Los Cabos and has a property teeming with banana, mango and papaya trees. Rich in food forests, a wild and diverse variety of reptiles, gardens and indigenous trees this community also has a group of individuals from all corners of the world working to develop the property into a space for personal development through yoga, meditation and educational workshops all with the incentive of achieving sustainable living. I saw this community as a perfect place to develop my knowledge of agriculture and food security in the area while also connecting with like-minded individuals who are passionate about sustainable development.
Sun setting on the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range and banana trees
Papaya trees full of fruit
Cozy camping quarters for a few nights
After sending a few e-mails to organize the details and getting the green light from the director of IMPLAN to spend a week “in the field” I packed my bags and got on it! As with any field work there are highs and lows, and from previous field work experiences I have learned to take any hurdle with an open mind and a smile. My commute to Baja BioSana started with towing a friends’ van down the busy highway after experiencing engine problems. In his words; “the last thing you want to do, is to be towing a car down the middle of the highway at 10 at night in Mexico.” Luckily all went well getting the vehicle to the mechanic and we were soon back on track and on our way to the BioSana property. My stay there allowed me to meet and interview key stakeholders in the agricultural sector of the region. I got to eat fresh produce from the land, observe various irrigation systems for farming, learn about different composting systems and of course – get my hands dirty through planting seedlings and cactus plants as an effort to reforest the property with native species. I am grateful to have been able to use this property as my classroom and to share my passions with all the beings in this community (including rattlesnakes, iguanas and jackrabbits!).
Nursery at Baja BioSana with a large variety of native plants and trees
Lunch harvested from the Baja BioSana property, provecho!
To further enhance the understanding of my project I also wanted to develop a more personable relationship with the population I am working with; primarily farmers and ranchers within the three major towns found in the East Cape. In order to accomplish these more personable face-to-face interactions I decided to organize and host workshops within the towns of the East Cape. These workshops would be centered around sharing my research and efforts towards creating a document encouraging the permanent protection of agricultural land and the improvements of agricultural systems. The workshops also included a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis and a general questionnaire for participants to fill out. I wanted to use a participatory development approach to allow farmers and agriculturalists to discuss concerns and ideas they have regarding the development and protection of the agricultural sector. These workshops were very successful! Participants to both workshops arrived eagerly (and in style – many cowboy hats and leather boots in the room!) as well as with a lot of anticipation to share their knowledge and thoughts. It is rare for people from this sector to have the opportunity to speak openly in front of political figures and delegates. I was pleased to see such enthusiasm and to gather with people from all social sectors who are advocating for a green and sustainable future in this area.
Answering questions during a workshop in Santiago, one of the three main towns in the East Cape
Participants in the workshop fill out SWOT Analysis and questionnaires
IMPLAN member José Juan facilitates discussions and questions raised by participants
I believe that field work extends beyond what is done within my internship project and at the professional level. Field work is research conducted at all levels in an interactive way in an outdoor or anthropological setting. It certainly represents a strong aspect of work at the professional level. However, I think field work at the personal level is necessary and so rewarding! My personal field work during my time in Mexico has been extensive and has been filled with smiles, learning experiences and many discoveries! From tasting the Baja cuisine (mmm, raw clams and fish cured with lime, also known as “ceviche”), snorkeling and learning about local marine life, trying my steps at salsa dancing and attending Mexican festivals. I also gave surfing a try which was incredible. My surfing ventures also lead me to a hospital visit after a minor accident requiring some stitches. This obstacle reminded me of the importance to keep an open mind and a smile and not let moments like this bring me down (also reminded me of the necessity of health insurance while traveling!). After my wound was healed and my bruise of embarrassment faded away I got back on my surfboard for another go at it. I also got the opportunity to train for a 7km open water swim competition in San José del Cabo. Training for and participating in this event allowed me to meet incredible people and develop valuable relationships within the Los Cabos community.
I encouraged my supervisor to compete in the 7km swim with me! He didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Swim team full of smiles after a training in the ocean
The quote in the image below reads “son mas fuertes las manos que hacen que labios que rezan” which translates to “hands are much stronger than lips that pray.” This quote, hung up on a tree in the region of the East Cape, speaks to the importance of field work in any project. Throughout my International Development courses in university I would read about development efforts where individuals would come into a new area and impose change, sometimes referred to as the “top-down approach”. My fieldwork experiences have demonstrated to me that the most effective, just and well-rounded approach to development work is to involve the community as much as possible and therefore adopt a “bottom-up” and participatory method of work. This interactive and field work approach allows for local citizens and experts to offer a vision of the area as well as a mission for what change should be achieved in the future. I am grateful for my field work experience as well as for all the amazing people I have met along the way. Long live strong hands!
“Son mas fuertes las manos que hacen que labios que rezan.”