Cornucopia and The Women’s Self-Reliance Program
The Story behind the woman that makes tasty Cornucopia cookies and superior baking mix while spreading knowledge of sustainable gardening in El Remate, Guatemala.
ARANZASU DE LA O INTERVIEWS ROSE LORD
At first glance cookies and gardening may seem like they have little if anything in common. However, the woman who has graced us with cookies and baking mix proves that food of all kinds can be correlated with serving mother-nature and those in need. Rose Lord resides in Pittsburgh but is well known in El Remate, Guatemala where she provides women with information about nutrition, intensive vegetable gardening, and micro-enterprise. Rose as part of Global Coalition for Peace created the Women’s Self Reliance Program in 2005 in an effort to help women in economically depressed areas improve their life conditions through intensive gardening. The hope is that families will have healthier food choices and a greater appreciation for food, mother-nature, and spiritual forces – all of which encompass what Spiritual Foods is all about.
Rose operates the Cornucopia Baking Company from a commercial kitchen in her basement in Pittsburgh. The first part of our conversation had to do with her passion for baking cookies and how much she enjoyed baking for her children when they were growing up. Therefore, I was shocked that she answered she would do gardening over baking when I asked which one would she pick if she had to choose between the two. This allowed me to see into the soul of a women who is trying to do her part to support organic agriculture and help end world hunger.
What do you love most about baking?
The way my house smells from the cookies, bread, and granola. I love being able to provide people with something that everybody loves and it’s good for them – cookies are a comfort food – for all those reasons I like making the Cornucopia cookies.
I understand you make the baking mix and cookies at your home. What are some of the requirements for having a home-based baking business?
Well of course, it differs from one state and even one county to the next. Where I live your baking kitchen has to be entirely separate from your family kitchen. Then there are specific requirements as to what kinds of materials you have to use to cover the walls, ceiling and floor. All of your equipment has to be commercial quality, your mixer, your oven, even your sinks and work tables, everything stainless steel. So it does involve a financial investment.
The county health department comes in at least once a year and inspects to make sure everything is up to their standards, your refrigerator and freezer are the right temperature, you’re keeping the place clean, and so on. If you’re going to sell to retail stores you have to have a UPC (bar) code for each of your products, a different code for each variety of cookie, and you pay a yearly fee for each code. Some stores will demand that you have product liability insurance. There are also yearly fees to pay to both the county and the local municipality for operating a business. The licensing fees are not very high but it all adds up. Of course, your overhead is still going to be a lot lower than if you were operating out of a commercial building. There are other advantages to a home-based business too, like being able to make your own hours, no commute, no dress code – you can work in your pajamas if you want to. My daughter-in-law helps me out and the flexibility is great for her since she has two school-age kids. There are also certain tax deductions when you have a home-based business.
I really enjoy working out of my home.
If you had to choose between baking and gardening, which one would you pick?
More then making cookies, I love making gardens – If I had to choose between one or the other, then I would make gardens.
How did your interest in gardening develop?
When my youngest son was an infant, I was nursing him and he quickly fell asleep. It was a nice spring day and his other brothers were playing outside. I started paging through a magazine and came across an article about famine in Africa – the mother was looking at the camera sitting the same way that I was sitting with my son. The little boy had the last signs of starvation and his mother was staring straight at this camera. I had never seen such a look of despair. It touched me so deeply and it was like I could feel her despair of her not being able to feed her child. Therefore, I decided that some day I was going to do something about that. That someday I would make a difference so that other mothers wouldn’t have to watch their children go hungry. I never forgot that image and that mother. Although I wasn’t aware of it, all of the activities that God directed me to during those years while I was raising my children led to this goal.
How did the Women’s Self-reliance Program evolve?
3.) Nutritional education
That was the birth of the program but the Women's Self-Reliance Program would not exist were it not for the support and encouragement that Vyasa (Victor Landa) has provided from the very start and the generosity of he and Lakshmi that allowed me to make the first trip to El Remate in Guatemala.
Why is intensive gardening so important in Guatemala?
It is helping people sustain themselves to prevent hunger and malnutrition. It’s on a very small scale but it’s something! Whenever I teach someone how to make one of these gardens and then they come and show me their cucumbers or tomatoes or carrots, I feel so gratified. When gardening is done right it will sustain beautifully. From the scraps of the food that you grow and eat you make compost, the compost enriches the soil and you grow more food and the plants provide the seeds needed to plant the next crop.
The goal was to see how the gardens were doing and to teach some additional gardening skills. We had 56 people that we distributed seeds to (each women got 12 packets with different vegetables they could grow) Some gardens are doing beautifully while others are having pest problems (caterpillars). Several of the woman are now selling produce in markets!
I was really touched to see that some high school girls chose to build gardens as their senior project. Six of the women whom we had taught worked with the high school girls. They chose the gardening project so they could teach other women this healthy way of feeding their families. That is one of the goals of the program -- the multiplying effect of women teaching other women. We ask for that commitment when someone gets a new garden.
Another goal was to get people making and using the ramon (a dietary staple of the Mayans). In previous visits, the women’s group planted an orchard with 600 trees, built a galera for their (outdoor) meetings, made tamales to pay
What is your vision for the future of food in this country?
I’d like to see every household with their own little gardens. In cities, you can make them in vacant lots or on rooftops - sustainable community gardens. Learning how to garden should be a part of growing up. The farmers can grow the things you can’t grow in a backyard garden so you can purchase the rest in communities like Kimberton where they grow the purest, most wholesome food that can be grown. In November, Rose will be heading back to El Remate to check progress and continue to provide support that is needed. For more information on the Women Self-Reliance Program you can visit: www.globalcoalitionforpeace.net/wsrp