Spring has arrived in the sierra. Ranches are flowering brightly and buzzing with bees. Living Roots and the community of San Javier are busy preparing for Semana Santa (Easter Week) activities, which this year include pilot agritourism including mule rides and an interpretive medicinal plant walk, as well as an artisan and produce stand.
The Living Roots team would like to send a huge thank you to Tony Dimas, former cowboy himself, who accompanied us during our initial field work in the summer of 2010. Tony recently helped Living Roots acquire three laptop computers and two printers through the Hewlett Packard Employee Giving Program. Generosity and commitment like Tony’s are what make it possible for us to help the Baja Vaquero culture live on for the next generation!
In Feburary we launched the first Local Master Artisan Workshop in the secondary school. Dario Higuera and his son Memo, who both appear in “Corazon Vaquero” and “Los Otros Californios,” made the trek all the way around the sierra to introduce the workshop with a two day course in the San Javier school. They motivated and excited students not only about tanning and working leather, but also about their life on Rancho El Jarillal. Dario commented on how proud he was to have once gone to school in San Javier, and to now be a teacher there.
Taking over where Dario left off, Negro from Rancho El Aguaje, and father of Ruben, who is a student at the school, came to teach the next step in the tanning processes which was to remove the hides from the lime, clean them and place them in the Palo Blanco bark bath.
Horacio Cabrera, Director of Eco-Alianza, also accompanied us that day to help students understand the effects of tanning in the watershed. Students left understanding the impact tanning has on the fish, frogs and other life forms when they come into contact with salt, lime and organic waste.
After Semana Santa vacation, we will wrap up the leather workshop by inviting several master artisans from around the sierra to work with small groups of students to turn their now-ready leather into belts and bracelets. We are working to use images from this workshop to create an educational video for the schools so that the next generation of students can also learn this important sierra trade.
This Spring, Living Roots has fostered several connections between local communities. Last month we invited a group from Loreto and Loreto Bay up to Rancho Los Dolores to help rancheros understand their tastes and interests in terms of artisan craft and food as well as regional produce. This also gave rancheros the opportunity to voice some of the questions they have had about what their “market” is looking for. Participants enjoyed having a personal experience with ranches and ranching families, and left as fans of avocado leaf tea.
Helping us compile the results of this exchange is a group of 5 students studying Alternative Tourism at the University in Loreto. University students are expected to provide 600 hours of community service and these five chose Living Roots. Two have family in the mountains, two are focusing on culinary arts, and all are enthusiastic and motivated.
Living Roots is also busy strengthening institutional connections. In May, Living Roots will join long-time conservation organization, Niparaja, as well as the state Oasis Program, in the facilitation of a Social, Environmental and Ecological Community Organization exercise that will help the Ejido of San Javier determine what their priority issues are, and help provide expertise once the ejido has determined what help they would like to receive.
The Boulder, Colorado based operating foundation, Philanthropiece, also recently spent a day with Living Roots in San Javier meeting families and exploring the mountains by mule. Philanthropiece will begin a training in May on Community Banks for residents interested in learning about the communally run savings and loan program.