Project Gettysburg Leon (PGL) has been a sister city with the urban and rural areas of Leon in the country of Nicaragua since 1986, and over the decades has worked with people on many kinds of projects, including agriculture education in the last few years. That has been a two-way street. Part of PGL’s mission is cross-cultural exchange, so groups from Gettysburg and Adams County have traveled south to learn about farming and forestry in the tropics.

Agriculture is central to the Nicaraguan economy, with over 50 percent of the population working directly and indirectly on planting, growing and harvesting crops such as sugar cane, peanuts, banana, sorghum, tobacco (for cigars) and the king of Nicaraguan exports, coffee. It’s a little-known secret that rum is an important export from Nicaragua and that in Nicaragua it grows on trees, bottled and aged (no, not really). Despite this centrality for the income of many Nicaraguans, there is little education in agriculture for what is just as important: nutrition and health.

Some PGL programs focus on school and arts education and there are current plans for an extensive potable water project in the rural community of Talolinga. There are also two small but important programs to promote diversified agriculture in communities of Nicaragua, one in an urban area and one in Talolinga. The goals include improving diet by not just knowing what to grow and eat, but how to grow: what techniques improve soils, how to prevent pests, which seeds do best in Nicaragua’s climate.

In Talolinga, the work of PGL has been helped immeasurably by support from the Young Grower Alliance of Adams County, which has visited Nicaragua several times. YGA provided scholarships for extension studies in agronomy, forestry and veterinary sciences to Nicaraguans. One young man graduated through this program, and two more will graduate this year. They will take what they learned and bring it back to the land where they work with other families, using their knowledge to make life better.

In the city of Leon, PGL supports a garden project with seven students from the agriculture university. These students work on 24 large-scale plant beds on the grounds of a school for handicapped children, some of whom are developmentally disabled and others who are blind or deaf. Some of the kids work together with the university students in the gardens, where over eighteen different vegetables have been planted. The crops will be served to the kids at the school. The university students get degree credits for managing the garden.

What these young people are learning, with PGL and YGA support, is something shared with the communities they live in. Knowledge and skills for better nutrition are crucial to impoverished countries like Nicaragua, especially during political turbulence such as the country has faced in the last year. People who know what to eat are people who stay healthy, and those who know how to grow what to eat, they will have better lives. That is a goal of these projects and these gardens in Nicaragua.

Greg Bowles is the current director for Project Gettysburg Leon, the sister city program between Gettysburg and the country of Nicaragua that was founded in 1986.

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