Making a difference with organic farming in Mexico

To start a business is to take a leap of faith. That’s what farmer Emma Guadarrama and her husband Genaro Acosta did five years ago when they decided to build two expensive greenhouses to grow organic tomatoes. They had heard that organic produce was in demand in the nearby Mexican town of Ixtapan de la Sal, where they sold their product every weekend during harvest season. They also knew that the town had some of the highest rates of birth defects in the country, because, according to Genaro, the flower nurseries in the area where so many young women worked used hazardous fertilizers and chemicals.

“If we can grow good produce without so many chemicals,” Genaro says, “we can really help the women and children in our community.”

It was a perfect plan. The only problem was that they didn’t know the first thing about organic farming.

Genaro took classes from a government-run agricultural program a few miles away. He learned a variety of methods for prepping the soil, which included using bone meal, egg shells, and animal blood. He also learned techniques for nurturing the roots of the tomato seedlings, which included a paste made from lentils. He even learned how to keep pests away with a mixture of coca cola, fabric softener, and milk.

Things were off to a good start, but then tragedy struck.

Just a few months after they’d planted their first tomato crop — which requires a significant amount of care and attention — a storm destroyed one of their greenhouses. The entire structure collapsed under heavy rain and wind, wiping out the entire harvest.

“When that happened,” Emma said. “I sat down, watched the wreckage, and just cried.”

But with the same resilience of any hardworking farmers, Emma and Genaro quickly sprang into action. They approached Accion partner CrediConfia for a loan. They had already borrowed from CrediConfia once, to build one of their greenhouses. The new capital helped them get back on their feet quickly.

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Although they don’t have a formal savings account, every time they get a small surplus of profits, they invest it back into the business — anything from new tools for their tractor or the bees they need to pollinate the tomato plants.

Their customers are happy, Emma reports. “The ladies I supply at the market love my tomatoes. And they complain when I tell them our harvest is about to end. That’s why we’re busy building another greenhouse, so we can have rotating crops and a constant outflow of produce.”

As for Genaro, he’s been spreading the word about the benefits — both financial and environmental — of organic farming. He’s been teaching his techniques to neighboring farmers. Emma is looking forward to starting a course to learn how to make tomato shampoo, soap, and other tomato-scented products.

Sitting under the shade of a mango tree, Emma talks about the hardships of being a farmer. She recounts the recent damage to her kitchen roof, and how she had to cook on a wood fire outside while making the repairs to the building, which took a long time due to her lack of cash flow.

“We have made many sacrifices to have this business,” Emma says. “I don’t have big aspirations, but I want to meet my family’s needs.”

Emma and Genaro are not just meeting the needs of their family; they are sowing the seeds of a healthier community. With determination and small loans from CrediConfia, they’ll soon reap the fruits of their labor — well beyond their tomato greenhouses.

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