We began coordinating the planting of Apple trees in 1995 in two mountain communities. Finding varieties that could withstand the year-round temperate climate of Oaxaca was challenging. Three varieties from the Middle East were identified as the best potential candidates. The program grew rapidly to include 12 communities, and a full-time agricultural engineer was hired in 2013, as we were outgrowing our capacity to provide the technical assistance required to maintain the optimal health and production of the orchards.
In 2014 we began the planning for five demonstration orchards. Each orchard will have a minimum of 500 trees, which is approximately the number of trees needed per family to support a sustainable income. These orchards will host two newer, more promising varieties of apples on dwarf rootstocks and will host differing pruning and watering techniques within different elevations and micro-climates in an attempt to identify best practices by location.
It wasn’t long before we realized the potential of growing peach trees in the mountain communities. Peaches already existed in established orchards north of Oaxaca near Puebla and provide for a faster return on investment than apples, as they begin producing fruit the second year after planting.
By the end of 2014, we have 165 participants in 12 communities with a combined total of 11,500 apple trees and 32,000 peach trees. These trees together can produce 543,750 kg. of fruit, or 600 tons.
WHY APPLES AND PEACHES?
In the last 20 years, the city of Oaxaca has grown tremendously in population and is rapidly modernizing. While apples and peaches have traditionally existed in the local markets and grocery outlets, they have been expensive and not of the highest quality, due to their importation from other areas. Growing these fruits locally can provide all consumer outlets better quality, lower prices, and the knowledge that local communities are benefitting from their sales. Also, these fruits, which traditionally are grown in colder, more temperate regions of the world, have the added marketability of ripening at different times of the year than their imported equivalents.
OTHER AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS AND PRACTICES
We have experimented with many ideas, if not for commercial viability, then at least for the immediate consumable benefit of the participants in our programs. These products have had varied results, and include a wide range of vegetables, mushrooms, berries, cover crops and raising rabbits. We have experimented with composting programs and building greenhouses, raised beds and hutches to see what the needs and interests of the communities are.
The year 2014 marks our first mushroom workshop, where we will be introducing the consumable and commercial benefits to a number of participants. They will learn how to propagate several nutritional and valuable mushroom species. We are very excited to be partnering with Micologica, a local mushroom production company, to properly begin a program that has been in the works for almost a decade!
Among our goals for 2015 is to identify other fruit crops of value, besides other varieties of apples and peaches. These may include plum, apricot, cherry, avocado, and other exotics. We will also begin a berry program that will focus on blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.