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Juan Garcia: Cultivating community & the exchange of ideas

Juan Garcia and his wife, Irma Barahona, live in the small community of Tule in the Zapotal Mountains of the Santa Barbara Department, Honduras. Parents to eight children and owners of dozens of roosters, ducks, pigs, and other livestock, they have many mouths to feed week in and week out. To provide for a full household, Juan attends to their parcel of land six or seven days a week, growing a variety of crops but primarily frijoles (black beans). The frijole is a nutrient-rich legume of the Phaseolus vulgaris species. A dynamic and wholesome crop, it is a staple of the diet for Juan and Irma’s family as well as many others in the mountains of Honduras.

In 2015, northern Honduras was wrought with an unusually long dry season. A strong crop yield in the mountains hinges on an evenly balanced distribution of sun and rainfall; last year simply saw too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Juan’s farm suffered and production stagnated throughout the community. As if that weren’t enough, in the height of summer, a herd of wayward cows came upon Juan’s parcel and ravaged what was already a thin supply of frijoles.


Times were tough for Juan and Irma. Fortunately things began to turn around when they started working with Vecinos Honduras, Groundswell International’s local partner, in early 2016. Through the resources and knowledge provided by Groundswell and Vecinos Honduras, Juan was taught how to produce an organic farming solution, derived from animal and vegetable matter, which addressed many of his challenges. The product acts as a completely natural, highly efficient fertilizer. Moreover, it is an operative insect repellent, fungicide, and is pretty effective in warding off pesky, errant livestock.

Juan began to see his production increase rapidly upon using the organic fertilizer. Coupled with a stronger harvest climate in 2016, yields are up for Juan as well as others in Tule who have begun using the organic fertilizer promoted by Groundswell and Vecinos Honduras.

While Juan is out in the fields, Irma is typically busy with tasks around their compound. This includes taking care of the children, feeding their livestock, cooking and generally keeping the house in order. Recently she took part in a joint community effort organized by Vecinos Honduras to build a new stove for an older woman in the community named Martha. The new stove is of a highly proficient design that Vecinos Honduras has promoted in other communities. All told it will be about 70% more efficient than her previous model. It consists of resources either gathered within the community or in neighboring villages, or sourced cost-effectively through Vecinos Honduras, helping families get the materials they need for the best price.

Irma and two other women work tirelessly all morning, piecing together the stove with clay, stone, and metal rods, before mounting the chimney. Martha is eternally grateful for their help and cooks them a delicious lunch in thanks.


The beauty of Irma’s work is that she helped build a stove with her bare hands for another community member out of her own goodwill. Moreover, under the guidance of Groundswell and Vecinos Honduras, she now has the experience to build herself a similar stove, which she plans to do. This aligns with one of our core philosophies, that empowering people through technical expertise is the most effective way to promote learning and the exchange of ideas. Think of the old Chinese proverb: “You give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime”.

Juan and Irma are certainly grateful for the ongoing, important support from Vecinos Honduras and Groundswell. Juan says passionately “Gracias a Dios. Gracias a Vecinos Honduras” (“Thanks to God. Thanks to Vecinos Honduras”).

This blog post was written by Jack Murphy, a freelance writer based in McLean, Virginia. Earlier this month Jack spent time living in three different mountain communities in the Santa Barbara Department of Honduras, speaking with farmers about their recent successes and new innovations in achieving sustainable agriculture. Jack has served on volunteer trips to Honduras in the past, participated in reforestation projects, and taught English in local schools. He is passionate about promoting sustainable food practices, promoting an exchange of ideas across farming communities, supporting social justice efforts, and advancing youth education opportunities in poor communities. He runs an ongoing travel blog at


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