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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkNews from Around Banderas Bay | October 2009 

El Remance 'Edible Schoolyard' Project Needs Your Help!
email this pageprint this pageemail usRoberta Rand - SF Productions TV
October 15, 2009



If you would like to know how you can help the Nuestra Huerta garden project, contact Seth Cloutman at Seth(at)foodbyseth.com, or write to nuestrahuertapv(at)gmail.com.
You never know how destiny and circumstances will conspire to match an important cause with the person uniquely qualified to lead it. Nuestra Huerta (roughly translated, "Our Family Garden") is a perfect example of the harmonic convergence of a person, a place and a passion.

In this case, the passion is healthy nutrition for children. The person is Seth Cloutman, Vallarta's "Food Geek Extraordinaire". The place is Benito Juarez Primary School in El Remance, a rustic, poverty-challenged corner of Puerto Vallarta that tourists seldom see.

Seth hopes to educate the kids in El Remance on the value of eating foods that nourish, not debilitate - and give them the tools and know-how to raise those foods themselves. "Right now, these children are subsisting on a diet of sugary soft drinks and starchy foods like mac & cheese," says Seth. "It's cheap food, but it's slowly killing them." Seth contends that with the students planting and raising their own vegetables, they can eat hot, healthy meals for as little as 40 cents a day.

Nuestra Huerta was inspired by a similar project, the "Edible Schoolyard," first conceived by renowned San Francisco chef Alice Waters, and first implemented on a small scale in an urban public school in Berkley, CA, over a decade ago. The concept has grown and now edible schoolyards have taken hold at schools around the US.

The Right School, the Right Principal, the Right Stuff

El Remance is located on a hillside, just past the tunnel exit before you head toward the cafes, hotels and posh boutiques of the Romantic Zone. In El Remance, the River Cuale gushes out of the mountains in a muddy torrent on its way down the hill to Gringo Gulch.

Seth learned about Benito Juarez Primary School from his partner Cristhian, whose mother founded RISE (Refugio Infantil Santa Esperanza), a refuge for the "unadoptable" children in Puerto Vallarta. Benito Juarez Primary School is unique in that its principal, Alfredo Velasco has long had a heart for the kids nobody else wants. He takes in the ones who've been rejected by other schools or whose disabilities make them hard to place.

Velasco, who has been the school's principal for 20 years, also has a vision. His goal is to show the poor and disadvantaged children in his charge that life holds something more than the wretched circumstances they come from. Despite a dearth of government funding, Velasco has managed to make Benito Juarez Primary School a sanctuary of learning and creativity, incorporating art classes, nature presentations, concerts and language workshops into the curriculum. "I am open to any idea or activity that will broaden horizons and enrich kids' lives," he says.

And so, when Seth approached him about putting a vegetable garden somewhere on the schoolyard, Velasco didn't hesitate. "We have a place," he said, and pointed them to a large rectangle of cement-covered ground between two school buildings.

What Goes Around Comes Around

To fully understand Seth's enthusiasm for this project, you have to look at the unexpected family background and circumstances that shaped him.

"I was adopted as a baby into a working class family in Portsmouth, New Hampshire," Seth relates. "My dad worked in the bowels of the Naval Shipyard. There was an unspoken expectation that I would follow in my dad's footsteps and work there as a janitor, or some other blue collar job."

But Seth was an owlish kid interested in math, science and food. He sang solo classical pieces in junior high and took classes in French. Nothing in his parents' paradigm resonated with Seth - or vice versa. His father and mother (whose idea of a high-class meal was bologna fried in butter), tried to cure his artistic sensibilities with sometimes cruel discipline

"The one thing I had in common with my dad was his vegetable garden. I was fascinated by watching things grow," he says. "I'd be so excited about seeing vegetables sprout, I would run outside in the morning and stick my hand in the dirt to check on the progress of the potatoes growing."

There's more than a touch of irony in the fact that the single positive memory Seth has of being with his father was helping him tend a garden. Teaching kids the joys and benefits of a garden takes Seth full-circle in his journey of healing

Seth is not one to dwell on the injustices of his childhood. Instead, he lives each day with gratitude for the mentors and "angels" who showed up at just the right time during his youth, and who continue to show up for him today.

"Nuestra Huerta is the culmination of my dream to remember those who've helped me, by helping other children in need," he says. "I've been given such amazing opportunities. The help I received while growing up instilled in me that you take care of the people around you. And if you see the ember of something in a child, encourage it - just as I was encouraged."

Primal Garden Therapy

An idea whose time has come can take on a life and momentum of its own. "Everyone relates to a garden," Seth says. "Something about getting your hands dirty preparing the earth to nurture life satisfies a basic, primal human need."

Consequently, Nuestra Huerta has generated considerable interest among the expat community in Puerto Vallarta. "But time is of the essence," says Seth. "We want to break ground sometime in the next two weeks," he says, "and we need $10,000 to $15,000 seed money - excuse the pun - along with donations of soil for raised beds, garden tools and labor to break up concrete on the garden plot."

Bob Price, founder and director of the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, has signed on as advisor to the garden, in addition to committing plants and supplies. Dave Tarr, owner of SF Productions TV, has also committed resources to film, photograph and report on the project as it progresses.

Nuestra Huerta is currently being registered as an AC (non-profit) organization in Mexico. Nuestra Huerta is also in the process of being registered as a 501(c)3 organization. When these processes are complete, all contributions will be tax deductible. Maria O'Connor, legal counsel for Tropicasa Realty, has given her time pro bono to set up the AC (Mexican non-profit) and monitor any legal issues.

If you would like to know how you can help the Nuestra Huerta garden project, whether by writing a check, hosting a house party fund raiser or volunteering, contact Seth Cloutman at Seth(at)foodbyseth.com, or write to nuestrahuertapv(at)gmail.com.

Roberta Rand is Public Relations Manager for SF Productions TV, a full service production and marketing company in Puerto Vallarta. Prior to relocating to Mexico from Colorado Springs with her dog, Bo, Roberta worked as a magazine editor, web editor and marketing copywriter. She is also an essayist and author, whose book "Playing the Tuba at Midnight" explored the quirks of living single.

To learn more about SF Productions, click HERE or visit SFProductionsTV.com.





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