EarthTrain, an NGO, with a center above us in San Jose, also has a building in Casco Viejo in Panama City. They are renovating the first floor of this building to be a Artes Naturala, a gallery show casing art made in the Mamoní Valley. Our group of women will be selling pots of mixed flowers from the courtyard a joining the gallery.
The Texas business students will be doing market research, getting the gallery ready to open and giving business tutorials to our women in El Valle.
Part of the marketing of these flowers will be the story. The story of the Mamoní Valley and its unique location on the thinnest part of the isthmus of Panama. As well as the story of the families that live there. This community is struggling with traditional farming methods, and a cash crop of culantro in a increasingly competitive market. Many families resort to hunting endangered animals, slash and burn agriculture and illegal harvesting of wood near the Mamoní River watershed. Our hope is to demonstrate a way to earn money that isn't destructive to the rain forest. One that will instill pride, give women an income, and increase awareness of the ecology of Panama. Through the sale of these planters, we have the opportunity to educate both the growers in El Valle de Madroño and the customers of the gallery.
The women who are participating in Plantas Ornmantales are:
Rosa - This lovely abuelita (little grandmother) has one of the most beautiful gardens in El Valle. She also has one of the best views. Her house is nested on the edge of a hill overlooking the community. All her children are grown. She has been collecting and trading plants with friends and family all over Panama. I often come across her kneeling in her garden with broken reading glasses on. Her eye site isn't very good, but that won't keep her out of the garden.
Leonarda - A mother of four boys, I suspect she likes gardening because it is one of the few feminine things about her house. She often collects wild plants from the jungle when she hikes out to harvest culantro with her husband. In Panama aloe is grown near the doors of the houses to protect from the evil eye. The aloe collects any negative energy headed towards the house. If the aloe dies it is because too many people have been sending the evil eye. Leonarda has flourishing aloe. It blooms and spreads around her house.
Sobieda - She helps run one of two little general stores in El Valle. All around her pink house and store are beautiful plants. This is a women who understands that good soil grows good plants. Her whole family has been involved in the process building containers and potting up flowers. She collects unique dahlias, orchids and begonias.
Andrea - Her family owns the competing little general store. She is a novice gardener, who is collecting flowers and growing them in a mix of recycled containers on her porch. She is the mother in-law of Yani and Jeni.
Yanissa (Yani) - A very intelligent woman. She has a quick mind for business and is very concerned with the education of her three young children. She sees the opportunity in working on this ornamental plants project. However, her husband has just accepted a job in Chame and she and her family will be leaving the community in December. She would like to stay involved, but I am not sure if it will be possible.
Arelis (Jeni) - The niece of Leonarda, the daughter in-law of Andrea and the sister in-law of Yani, Jeni can call just about everyone in El Valle cousin. Jeni almost finished high school, but dropped out when she became pregnant with her daughter, Jorlenis, now one year old. She feels she missed out on her education. She is looking for a project to call her own.
The School - The primary school in El Valle de Madroño has also chosen to participate. The funds they earn will be used to improve the school. Currently the five students in elementary school help out in the garden every Thursday afternoon. In addition to growing the flowers, they are also growing vegetables to eat and culantro to sell.
If this project is successful and a regular sale of plants is established we will be looking to expand. There are five communities in The Madroño Valley, and two others have expressed interest, La Zahina and San Jose.