If you ask, 5-year-old Florinda Ruiz Lopez will tell you all about how to plant a seed and water it. “Then, when you’ve finished with the water, when you look at the plant, it grows really fast, but it’s really little.” And, as she talks faster and faster, she’ll tell you about the grasshoppers and locusts that eat the leaves of the gourd plants. And how some of the garden pests turn into butterflies. And how together she and her mother plant lettuce, tomatoes, aromatics and other plants she doesn’t know.
The rest of the classroom is just as excited to share their gardening expertise. When teacher Leydi Molina Cruz holds up liquid in a bottle and asks, “Does anyone know what this is?” all 12 children yell, “Caldo de cenizo!” After asking, “What does it do?” they scream in unison, “Fights pests!”
Allison Molina Ramirez volunteers to explain how the concoction is made: “A piece of soap. And ash. Water. Then we stir it, put in all the ash, and you put it in a little bottle.”
Santa Ana students partner up to tend their own vegetable plots next to the schoolhouse throughout the year. They spray the caldo de ceniza, or “ash soup,” to keep the insects off their plants.
Heifer Mexico and Pernod Ricard provide seeds, boxes and tools for the school’s garden. The goal is to familiarize young students with the foundation of a healthy diet.
“The objective of Heifer is to contribute good nutrition to the children,” said Leydi Molina. “They come and assess them, raising awareness about good nutrition with parents and their children.”
At the start of the project, 70 percent of children under five years old in Santa Ana were malnourished. Heifer Mexico team members now come regularly to measure height, weight, hemoglobin levels and other health indicators.
“They’re healthier because they’re attended to,” said Yolanda Hernandez, who has had two children involved in the monitoring. “If they’re not well, they can get the medicine they need. Before, you didn’t know if your kids were well, really. Now they give us a document that lets us know if they’re well.”
Pernod Ricard and Heifer Mexico also give teaching materials to the school to help incorporate fruits, vegetables, farm animals and food preparation into curriculum. Many of the lessons are in the indigenous Zapotec language or focus on its alphabet. More than 90 percent of Santa Ana residents speak Zapotec, but hardly anyone writes in the language anymore. With younger generations, the school is reviving the alphabet so it’s not lost.