Don Antonio and Doña Hermelinda are farmers from the village of Patzocon, in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala. Antonio, 45 years old, and his wife Hermelinda, 37 years old, have created a farm` growing a wide diversity of crops which gives them food for their daily consumption. They are the father and mother of 5 children for whom they have been able to provide care through their hard work. Their goal has been that their children do not grow up in the same conditions of scarcity in which they lived years ago.
Don Antonio is the oldest of his siblings. He only remembers growing up with his mother, since his father died when he was just four years old. He remembers that his mother did not have the economic resources to allow him to go to school, although his greatest desire when he was a child was to study.
At the age of 7, he helped with the chores around the house, and on some days he worked as a day laborer in the corn fields of the neighbors' farms near his home. When Antonio reached the age of 9 years, he had to begin migrating to work in the coffee plantations of the south coast of Guatemala to be able to help support his mother and younger siblings. His job consisted of using a machete to cut the weeds around the coffee trees, and in the months of the coffee harvest he picked coffee. In addition, he was entrusted with other jobs such as fertilizing the coffee trees and cutting pacaya (an edible palm). For 10 years he made regular trips to the coffee plantations, his only company being the group of day laborers from his own community. He mentions with a discouraged voice "going to the coffee plantations was good because one got to know other places, but at the same time, one hardly earned anything, one always ate very little and we didn't sleep well.... The salary was not fair, because the plantation owners only paid what they wanted to pay you". However, Antonio is more encouraged now because he and his wife can work their own improved farm growing a diversity of crops. This has permitted them to be able to experiment with the planting of a wide variety of vegetables, grains and fruits which has improved the profitability for their family farm. Additionally, because he doesn't need to migrate to the plantations for work, he has more time to be with his family.
However, Don Antonio and Doña Hermelinda face a problem that plagues their community: the deforestation of the forests that surround their village of Patzocón. For several years, the commercialization of wood has been a means of subsistence for many local families, who have no other cash income for their necessities. However, the logging problem increased drastically when a new access road was built, which made illegal logging by companies much easier. Antonio and Hermelinda expressed concern that they see that the streams where there used to be sufficient water have now diminished considerably, to the point that in the dry season, some water sources have dried up completely. This situation has affected many of the crops on their farm, including the corn and beans, because they used the water from these streams for a miniirrigation system. Antonio continues to grow some sugar cane to make panela, using a traditional method taught him by his grandfather. It is a special brown sugar used to sweeten coffee and other drinks. For years they have used the streams of the village to supply water to the sugarcane. However, now he is planting less sugarcane due to the lack of water. Selling the various sweets that they made from sugarcane in the local markets has been a source of cash income for the family.
In early 2022, Don "Tono", as he is affectionately called in his village, together with Doña Hermelinda and their children, created a forest tree nursery to replant the deforested areas surrounding their community. This year they intended to plant 5,000 forest trees of different varieties, among them: cypress, jacaranda, cuje, and pine. With the participation of their neighbors, the technical assistance of the Baja Verapaz Program, and the collaboration of EPIC and Mennonite Men, they are working to achieve their goal of rebuilding the plant life and ecosystem of their village. They state that the fruit of what they are now cultivating will be seen in the future, benefiting their children and grandchildren who will be able to take advantage of the effort they are making today.
The work of Don Antonio and Doña Hermelinda is only part of the reforestation project being organized by EPIC and the Baja Verapaz Sustainable Agriculture Health Education Program. Their goal for this year was to plant 20,000 trees with assistance from a JoinTrees grant from Mennonite Men. Epic recently reported that they were able to greatly exceed this goal by planting 35,385 trees this year, with the help of local communities and families.