Growing success in Ecuador

For the last three years I have had the privilege and honor to lead a small group of Ohio State University Extension master gardener volunteers to Otavalo, Ecuador, for an outreach effort focused on gardening projects.

The activity is organized and managed by the Tandana Foundation, a Miami Valley nonprofit run by Anna Taft. The foundation offers cross-cultural volunteer opportunities and support for small community projects in Otavalo as well as Mali’s Dogon country.

I got connected with the foundation through former Ohio first lady Hope Taft and her work at the governor’s residence Heritage Garden. Hope wondered if we could get a few MGVs from around Ohio to go and help with some of the gardening projects.

This was three years ago, and we have filled the trip each year and hope to continue going as long as there is interest.

The most recent trip included working in the vivero or tree nursery that is owned by a group of indigenous communities. We helped to fill in a 3-foot ditch (that was dug by hand) as well as filled plastic bags for planting granadilla seeds. We also weeded the propagation beds as well.

In addition to working in the nursery, we helped one of the local families plant their garden. The mother of the family, Dionicia, has hip problems, and her husband works in Quito (a two-hour drive) each day and can’t do much around the house during the week.

Therefore, Dionicia would have had to plant her garden by herself. With the many hands of our wonderful volunteers, we planted the entire garden for her. We provided the value of 40 hours of work.

In return, she fixed us some tostadas, cheese and tomatoes and onions as a snack. She used their kind of corn that is more like a field corn, and cooked it over the open fire with lots of lard, garlic and onions. It’s kind of like CornNuts when it’s finished. It was really good.

We also participated in a minga in the community of Muenala, planting about 400 trees on the mountainside..

A minga is a community work day where every family has to have at least one person present. The work benefits the entire community.

After planting, we participated in the luncheon that was provided by the ladies. This is always a great experience.

They bring all of their food in pots (wrapped in sheets and carried on their backs) and then place the sheets on the ground. Each person then adds what they brought to the long table (row of sheets). Our group added bread to the mix.

Then we all gather round the sheets and eat with our hands. The food is fantastic. They had lots of potatoes (the primary staple) as well as tostadas and fava beans.

Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at