Ecuador trip was a win-win

I love my job and the awesome opportunities that it presents. Last week I had the pleasure of leading a group of 16 Ohio State University Extension master gardener volunteers (MGV) on a working vacation to Otavalo, Ecuador.

This was the second year for our international outreach project, and was just as gratifying as last year.

The trip is organized by the Tandana Foundation, founded by Anna Taft. The foundation has a relationship with the indigenous people in the mountains near Otavalo and works with them on various community projects.

Our focus is around gardening projects, and this year we planted 500 tree seedlings, 200 pounds of potatoes, filled numerous soil bags for the new seedlings, and weeded the tree nursery.

One of the highlights for me was going 11,000 feet up the mountain to the community of Padre Chupa for a “minga” or community work day. Each family is required to have at least one representative present to work.

We planted potatoes in the most amazing soil you ever want to touch and smell. Many of us were just mesmerized with the soil and couldn’t start working right away as we had to take time to smell and fondle the beautiful soil.

Weird, I know, but any gardener who has our clay soil knows what I mean and would do the same thing.

The downside to planting the potatoes is that it’s on a fairly steep slope. We had to watch our steps.

It was interesting watching the process. The men went first and prepared the bed. We were ready to follow behind the men and plant the potatoes but that was not how they do it.

The bed is totally prepared by the men, the women then follow and drop the potatoes in the rows in the entire bed, and then the men come back and fill the soil in over the potatoes.

Since we were up so high in altitude, we really had to be careful about the sun. We piled on the sunscreen and reminded each other to continue to do so. Even under a hat, I had a little sunburn on my nose.

The purpose of the trip to the communities is to protect their water supply. We do this by working in the tree nursery and helping the manager, Matias, get ahead of the game.

We aren’t doing really hard work. We fill the seedling bags with soil, move some of the trees around and weed the beds. While it’s not hard work, with all of our hands, we completed around 55 days’ worth of work for Matias.

If you would like to hear more details about the trip, go to: and search for Ecuador 2014 for all of the posts.

If you are interested in this type of community service, the next gardening trip will be Oct. 10-17. For details, go to