Bolivia — William Guerrero is building a reputation as a first-rate
soccer player here in this remote region of the Bolivia Altiplano some
14,000 feet above sea level.
an impoverished area. William will likely never play on an organized
team. He may never own a pair of cleats. But the 12-year-old boy can
dribble his well-worn ball along the hardened paths of soil outside his
home like a veteran.
__IMAGE2__Young William is strong and looks like he could run forever.
surprise, said his mother, Bernita Choque. When William's not at school
or outside playing soccer with his many siblings, he's likely eating
something. Over the past year, William and his family have been
enjoying a more healthy, balanced diet thanks to an LDS
Church-sponsored greenhouse project that is bringing spinach, carrots
and other vitamin-rich produce to a region where vegetables are
typically scarce.The people of the
Bolivian Altiplano have long existed on a diet of meat and potatoes.
The climate here is simply too harsh for traditional farming and
reliable plant growth of most types of vegetables. As a result, many
people here live in a perpetual state of vitamin starvation.
"the (Altiplano) people are malnourished," said Wade Sperry, an
agronomist working as a field operations manager for the welfare
department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such
malnourishment, he explained, can cause developmental problems and
hinder growth and brain development.
the need to incorporate fresh vegetables into the diet of Mormon Altiplano
families, the church introduced a culture-changing technology here in
the form of family underground greenhouses. Dozens of earthen
greenhouses can now be found outside Altiplano homes, including
Made of adobe and other
simple building materials, the greenhouses are providing families with
year-round access to tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, peppers, carrots and a
produce section's worth of other vitamin-rich veggies.
the assistance of the church's Benson Institute Office in La Paz, some
100 families have built greenhouses over the past two years. Most of
the families are Mormon, but many non-Mormon families also have been included
in the project. The greenhouses are typically built underground where
the temperature remains constant, allowing for perpetual harvests,
__IMAGE1__Most of the greenhouses
are about 5 feet deep, 6 feet wide and usually 10 to 15 feet long.
After digging a rectangular hole, a wooden frame is built that
typically rises about two feet above the ground. A roof made of
fiberglass or plastic is then stretched across the frame.
church provided the building materials for the families to get started,
along with plenty of construction assistance and training. The
homeowners and their families perform most of the building and labor.
Principles of self-sufficiency are followed throughout the building
The greenhouse owners also
were given a maiden batch of seeds that would allow them to grow the
vegetables needed to feed their families — with enough produce left
over to sell and purchase more seeds.
Training has been essential to the project's success.
teach the people here that they need 10 hours of sunlight to grow a
good vegetable," said Sperry, "They have to orient their greenhouses so
the sun crosses lengthwise across the greenhouse. Different vegetables
are planted at different depths, and if you get the depth wrong, they
won't grow correctly."
goes beyond building, operating and maintaining the greenhouse. Most
greenhouse owners are still adjusting to eating vegetables on a daily
"Introducing something new
into the region can be challenging, including changing the diets of the
people," said Elizabeth Garcia, who administers the Benson Institute
Office in Bolivia.
"The people here have had to get used to eating vegetables," added Sperry. "They're not used to the flavor."
Benson Institute training teaches the greenhouse owners how to prepare
the vegetables and ways to cook them or to use the vegetables raw. They
learn to flavor the veggies with salt, herbs or other products to make
them more palatable. Families are also taught the rich nutritional
benefits found in spinach, carrots, tomatoes and other produce.
greenhouse project is a broad program that helps the family understand
how nutrition will help the family improve their health and help their
children improve in school and in life," Sperry said.
Choque has witnessed a change in her family since harvesting their first crop in the family greenhouse.
kids are happier and healthier," said Choque, who is expecting her 10th
child. "They don't seem to get sick much. And they all help with the
greenhouse. The little boys bring in the water. Everyone helps collect
Choque has also
learned to incorporate green vegetables into her family's traditional
Altiplano diet. She enjoys tossing spinach salads and has learned to
cook vegetable soup.
A broad smile
stretches across Eulogio Ticona's face as he watches his 3-year-old
son, Joel, heft a cucumber from the family greenhouse. The cucumber is
large enough to compete at any county fair.
son is being raised on lettuce, peppers, carrots and other vegetables,"
said Ticona, who is not LDS. "I believe it's helping his intelligence
grow. He's learning his numbers and other things quickly. He's growing
Ticona doesn't have much time to talk — vegetables are waiting to be picked.
"They grow fast in here. Before you know it, they're ready to be picked and eaten."