Raíz de Fondo in Baja California Sur’s capital city of La Paz is planting gardens, one mind at a time.
First-time visitors to La Paz might wonder how anything can grow here at all. Sweeping desert landscapes of rock and cactus tumble into the shimmering turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez. One might rightfully expect to find fish tacos and fresh clams and cold beer, but local organic heirloom tomatoes and sweet peas might not come to mind.
But twelve years ago, a small group of like-minded individuals acquired a derelict lot in central La Paz to start a community garden. What was at first meant to be a neighborhood cleanup project quickly grew into a non-profit organization, Raíz de Fondo. “When I moved here some 23-years ago, nutrition and access to fresh produce was a big issue,” says Erika Goetz, co-founder and board member. “While availability of goods and services has improved as the population has grown, nutrition continues to be an issue.” Remedying this has been a driving force behind the expansion of this grassroots organization, taking it beyond just a community garden.
I first toured one of the two community gardens Raíz de Fondo operates in February. At the Legaspi Garden location, I found a hive of volunteers and employees tending to the lush plots and learning from one another under a bright Baja sun. Adjacent to the garden, I found a small retail shop, Tienda del Jardín, which sells items for the home gardener, such as drip irrigation, earthworm humus, and compost. Also in the small shop were heirloom seeds, local artisanal cheeses, and a multitude of flours. It was easy to observe the passion and dedication of the seemingly humble gardeners on my first visit. But it wasn’t until my ensuing visits that I got a stronger sense of the breadth of this organization’s reach.
At the Guamuchil Garden location on the other end of town, you find an impressive open-air kitchen under a large palm-thatch roof. Here, bi-monthly cooking classes for up to 20 people, mostly locals, are coordinated by Goetz along with staff and volunteers. “We highlight the nutritional aspect of the food we’re preparing, but we also make sure it is a fun experience, where you can make new friends,” Goetz says. At the end of each class, after the small groups have tackled the theme of the day, the class dines together to enjoy their accomplishments. (Find the dates and themes for these cooking classes, which are offered from late September thru early June, here.
On my most recent visit, I spoke with Raíz de Fondo’s director, Jorge Taddei. While the gardens are decommissioned for the summer season, not all operations are shuttered during the hottest months. The Tienda del Jardín remains open, and a year-round food rescue program continues, delivering excess perishable produce from local farmers to those in need.
Director Taddei seemed most passionate about yet another program operated by Raíz de Fondo: one that plants seeds where they’re needed most, in the minds of the youth. “Our school garden program was started about six years ago, and has grown to eight working gardens in various elementary and junior high schools,” he told me. “This year, we’re hoping to take it to four more schools. The kids take such pride in their gardens and they inspire their families to garden at home.” Director Taddei further explained how the school gardens are utilized across curriculums, seeing math and chemistry teachers using the gardens to expand their lessons. Translated into English, Raíz de Fondo means profound or deep roots; precisely what this program aims to provide.
Erika Getz says her biggest sense of reward comes when people proudly show her photos of their home gardens and of the healthy meals they now prepare at home, which they learned at the cooking classes. Twelve years on, Raíz de Fondo continues to demonstrate the power of a garden to connect families and cultures, to illuminate minds and help those in need.