From the Farm: Strengthening Community Through Food

Solar Warrior Farm

by Victoria Marrazzo, Solar Warrior Farm Manager

The Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is located in South Dakota, a short five hour drive from the bustling city of Fort Collins, Colorado. However, Fort Collins and Pine Ridge Reservation, while geographically close, couldn’t be farther apart in terms of food sovereignty issues.

Food sovereignty is the right of all people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems. Trees, Water & People’s Food Sovereignty Program aims to provide a functional and educational example of sustainable food production for tribal communities. The issue of food sovereignty is important, especially in tribal communities, because of the high rates of nutritionally-related illnesses and development continuing to threaten tribal resources. The need to rebuild a self-sufficient food system that will directly improve nutrition and health in tribal communities is apparent, even more so with federal budget cuts to food assistance programs. Food is a tool which can create positive change – it is the most fundamental element of life. Food provides a way to strengthen connections within communities and maintain values, principles, and language – to build resilience for generations to come.

The food sovereignty movement is taking shape on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the form of the Solar Warrior Farm, located at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. The farm grows a variety of native and heirloom fruits and vegetables, with the help of the farm’s solar water pump and gravity fed irrigation system.

Volunteer power at Solar Warrior Farm!
Volunteer power at Solar Warrior Farm!

Late May frost set back our planting efforts, but tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, radishes, parsnips, cucumbers, squash, and more are now in the ground and thriving. Weeding on a non-conventional farm is a tedious job, which volunteers have been happily undertaking. While the rain this season has been the sole setback for other projects on Pine Ridge, the fruits and veggies have been happily soaking it up. Hail has already made its debut this season, but so far without any severe damage to the crops. While the hail did not do any damage, the tomatoes are experiencing a different type of problem in the form of the Colorado Potato Beetle. This pest defoliates the plants when they are young and can at times be fatal to crops. The beetle will have no luck on Solar Warrior Farm! Volunteers have been actively removing these pests from the tomato plants by hand (we use no pesticides).

The farm also has fresh straw placed in all the rows between the beds.  The straw has multiple purposes: it keeps moisture in the soil, it protects the soil from water erosion, it protects the soil from wind erosion, and it will help to keep weeds suppressed. The greenhouse is cleaned and looking ready to start some new transplants. Overall, things on Solar Warrior Farm are going well. We thank you for your support of this important community resource.

Solar Warrior Farm

Food sovereignty is the right of all people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems. To better combat the systemic issues that have shaped the current food system on Pine Ridge Reservation, it is important to promote self-sufficient food systems. At Solar Warrior Farm, we are working towards this goal of rebuilding food sovereignty. Please come and join us, to work towards this goal together.

Notes from the Field: Partnering for Sustainable Agriculture in Honduras

Honduran boys

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant National Director

In the small community of El Socorro, located just ten minutes north of Siguatepeque, Honduras, there is an impressive institution focused on sustainable agriculture. The Center for Teaching and Learning of Sustainable Agriculture (Centro Educativo de Agricultura Sostenible – CEASO) is a critical organization working to build local and regional consciousness.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) is looking to support and partner with CEASO to help local campesinos (farmers) improve and diversify their plots, helping to conserve and manage an increasingly critical protected area – Reserva de la Cordillera de Montecillos – that serves as a key watershed for the growing cities of Comayagua and Siguatepeque. There are plans to move Tegucigalpa´s international airport to the current air base (Palmerola) that has long served as a joint Honduras–U.S. operation since the conflicts of the 1980s. That airport move, along with the advanced work on turning the Tegucigalpa-San Pedro Sula highway into one of the best in Central America, will gradually increase development pressures in the central highlands region of the Cordillera de Montecillos Natural Reserve. Thus, our discussions on potential projects and proposals are timely as the region faces a quickly changing landscape and an ever-expanding agricultural frontier.

San José de Pané along the Cordillera de Montecillos in central Honduras
San José de Pané along the Cordillera de Montecillos in central Honduras

Like many areas of Honduras, the mountainous regions surrounding Siguatepeque are dominated by coffee. However, heavy dependence and reliance on coffee as a single cash crop is exceptionally risky. The coffee rust plague has caused significant damage, prices have been unpredictable and volatile, a small percentage of overall coffee value goes to producers, and climate change is impacting crop productivity. Not to mention the key fact that coffee does not turn into nutritious food for campesinos and their families. In some of the rural areas where we traveled around the mountain pueblo of San José de Pané, families are resorting to purchasing their corn and beans instead of producing it, due to reliance on coffee as the principal crop. CEASO works to ensure that these campesinos learn how to not only diversify their lands with other crops, but also conserve and protect their soil health and increase yields via ecological and organic methods.

Traveling with staff from CEASO

Perhaps the best part of CEASO is that it´s a friendly, welcoming, family-run operation. They took me in for the better part of five days and showed me the true meaning of warmth and hospitality. The father and founder, René Santos, works with his wife Doña Wilma and several of their children and friends to run a Sustainable Agriculture Technical School for local children. They started with just nine students and they are now up to 50, with more interest every year. It´s an impressive operation and they have received regional and national accolades.

These are the types of small and very well-run operations that we seek to partner with as they are professional, experienced, dedicated, and passionate, living and breathing sustainable agriculture as well as agroforestry. With the seeds of hope and optimism that are planted by small entities like CEASO, especially those that are focused on changing attitudes and behaviors towards more sustainable development and coexistence with protected areas, we can work to ensure a brighter future for Hondurans living in these rural, neglected areas of Latin America.

For questions or comments about our work in Honduras please feel free to email me at

Building Climate Resilience in Cuba

Visiting with Cuban friends
Visiting with Cuban friends in 2009 – all smiles in a harsh reality.

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

In two weeks, I’ll board a plane in Miami that will take me to an island on which not many living U.S. citizens have set foot. The United States’ relationship with Cuba has been strained (at best) since Fidel Castro wrested power from military dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. This was the same year that Bob Dylan graduated from High School, Alaska and Hawaii were granted statehood by President Eisenhower, and the first color photograph of earth was transmitted from space.

Now, 56 years and 10 U.S. presidents later, we still hold an ideological, geopolitical grudge with a neighbor that’s closer to our mainland than either of the two states added to our country in 1959. On December 17, 2014, President Obama took momentous steps to thaw U.S. relations with Cuba, by easing some restrictions on travel and trade with the island nation. This is a significant step in starting a new conversation between our two populations to examine how each of us lives, what we value individually and as societies, and where there is common ground on which we could begin building a common future.

The threat climate change poses to agricultural communities is one such platform that doesn’t discriminate by political ideology, language, or history, and one conversation where all perspectives need to be heard. Trees, Water & People intends to take part in this important conversation with Cuba, and will take our first step by attending the Tenth Convention on Sustainable Development and Environment in Havana from July 2 – 6 2015. There we will meet with colleagues from Cuba’s Institute for Agroforestry Research (INAF) and the Cuban Association of Forestry and Agriculture Technicians (ACTAF) to discuss current challenges in the rural areas of the country, and where TWP’s experience in Agroforestry and rural development could potentially contribute to a solution.

cuban chicken
(Photo by Sebastian Africano)

Rural communities in Cuba live in similar conditions as their Caribbean and Central American neighbors, with salty and silty soils, a volatile tropical climate, and difficulty accessing water. As such, there exist great opportunities for exchange and learning in agriculture, soil remediation, and forestry. Cubans have much to teach, having lived through “The Special Period” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. During that time, Cuban people survived through solidarity and ingenuity, having to devise ways to produce the majority of their own food without the benefit of petro-chemical and technological inputs. The lessons learned during these challenging times, and while living under 50 years of a brutal U.S. economic embargo, make Cuba a staunch ally in facing the adversity that will come with climate change.

Havana, Cuba (Photo by Sebastian Africano)

Behind the curtain of U.S./Cuba relations there is a Latin American nation of over 11 million people whose reality is only known to us by the tidbits of popular culture that sneak into the mainstream. These people, while having lived a different history than the majority of their neighbors, still face the same challenges and have the same aspirations of most communities in Latin America – keeping their families fed and healthy, leading productive and purposeful lives, and creating opportunities for their children. Just as we support other Latin American communities struggling with issues relating to rural vulnerability, we seek to work with the Cuban people to create a collaborative future around resilience, reconciliation, and climate change readiness in the tropics.

Check in with TWP regularly for updates on our first exploratory trip to Cuba, and to support building climate resilience in the Americas! Also, feel free to contact me at or at (970)484-3678 ext.16 with any questions.

Your Vote Will Help Solar Warrior Farm Win a $15,000 Grant!

vote for SWF

Imagine doing all of your grocery shopping at the gas station. Impossible, right? Sadly, this is the reality for many Lakota families living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In fact, Pine Ridge has only one grocery store to serve an area the size of Connecticut!

To help local people get access to fresh food, Trees, Water & People created the Solar Warrior Farm, a half-acre garden located at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. This special plot of land produces native and traditional foods such as, potatoes, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, corn, melons, peppers, carrots, and a variety of berries, all of which are harvested and distributed to families.

All we need is a few minutes of your time and a couple of mouse clicks and you can help us win $15,000 at Nature’s Path Gardens for Good competition. And, if you want to go the extra mile, you can vote every day! Voting is open until July 6.

vote button

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to vote for Solar Warrior Farm! Voting ends July 6th, so please vote today (and every day) to help the Solar Warrior Farm thrive!

Project Update: The Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate Takes Shape

Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

 The Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate (NCFEC) is well on its way to becoming a reality. Over the past month, Trees, Water & People (TWP) and our partner, Proleña, have made considerable progress with a Nicaraguan architect, creating the master plan for the center. The plan will be finished and transferred to blueprints by the end of June 2015, at which point we will be ready to break ground. Once we begin building, we’d like to maintain the momentum to have the site operational and receiving guests by mid-2016.

Your donations will help make this a reality!

Once the dorms, classrooms, and workshops are constructed, we will begin the process of sizing and designing solar energy systems to power the site. We have a number of colleagues in the solar industry around the world who are committed to helping us with this challenge, and we are even considering designing a course around the installation. Also, as construction advances, planting of our various agroforestry plots will begin, demonstrating different combinations of crops and productive trees that can increase resilience on a rural farm.

Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy and Climate
Meeting with partners are the site of the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate near La Paz Centro.
 As climate change rears its ugly head in the tropics, families already living in extreme vulnerability will have to adapt their approaches to be able to survive in rural areas. This means changing the rate at which they consume natural resources, and diversifying their crops and planting schedules to withstand volatile weather patterns. TWP’s NCFEC will be a resource for these farmers and their communities, providing them with a suite of technologies, proven methods, tree seedlings, and curriculum that will support them in this transition.

Thank you for supporting this effort – we look forward to keeping you informed as the Center takes shape and gets closer to opening its doors!

donate button

Spring 2015 Forests Forever Newsletter Now Available!

2015 Spring newsletter flash

Letter from the Board

by John Becker, TWP Board Member

For some ten years now, I have been a donor, volunteer, and board member of Trees, Water & People (TWP). It has been a privilege to become involved with the outstanding staff, partner network, generous supporters, and perhaps best of all, be invited into the homes of our clients to witness the impacts of our programs. To describe these experiences as rewarding and humbling is an understatement.

I’ve had another exceptional opportunity recently to get out onto the front lines of TWP’s continuing mission to empower communities to take positive, sustainable steps in the management of their natural resources. I volunteered to stand in for our International Director (now father of two!), went to Panama to meet with a new potential partner, Planting Empowerment (PE), and witnessed their very innovative model for rural agroforestry.

Planting Empowerment is the brainchild of four recently returned Peace Corps Volunteers. We drove to where the road ended in the Darien Province of eastern Panama, and visited tiny villages where PE is creating a for-profit, socially conscious enterprise which pays subsistence farmers to use some of their land to plant a succession of tree species that will provide assorted financial returns over 25 years.

Planting Empowerment Panama
Meeting with community members in Panama with Planting Empowerment.

It was great to see, and incredible to travel to – and absolutely bold and daring as an investment. Will it work? I don’t know. Do I want it to? You bet! I also bet that 17 years ago, when our co-founders were launching TWP, that our ideas to do rural tree nurseries, clean cookstoves, and solar heating systems looked similarly far fetched. But in the words of the writer/thinker/doer Paul Hawken, “Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.” That’s what we’re doing. Thanks for being on our team.

Fell free to contact me at anytime with questions or comments about Trees, Water & People’s work at

Please click here to read the Spring 2015 Forests Forever newsletter!