Ecuador trip sows seeds and goodwill

This past week, former Ohio first lady Hope Taft (wife of Robert Taft, the former governor) and I had the incredible pleasure of leading 18 master gardener volunteers (MGVs) from Ohio State University Extension to Otavalo, Ecuador.

Our purpose was to assist 23 indigenous communities protect their water supply by collecting seedlings and seeds, planting trees and weeding.

The trip was sponsored by the Tandana Foundation. Hope’s daughter Anna founded the foundation, and Hope is its president. They have worked with the communities to develop projects that will help to improve the quality of life for the indigenous Andean people.

We left Ohio a week ago yesterday and arrived in Quito, Ecuador, at 11:30 pm. After the two-hour bus ride and check in at the La Posada Del Quinde in Otavalo, it was about 3 a.m. before we got in bed.

At 6 a.m. Saturday the rooster crowed, dogs barked and our day began. And, boy, did it begin with a rumble: We experienced the 6.9 earthquake that hit in Columbia, about three hours north of us. It was quite an experience to be eating breakfast and feel the floor roll and watch the hanging pots shake. It lasted for about 7-8 minutes and then subsided. We heard reports that no one was hurt, thank goodness.

Most of our work was done at the vivero or nursery. We had quite a trip up a pretty good mountain that was even higher in elevation. This nursery was developed by all of the communities and Tandana volunteers in order to grow the trees. Matias is the proud manager of the nursery and couldn't wait until we got there.

After receiving an overview of the nursery and the purpose, we went to work. The foundation kind of thought that maybe we would be bored with our work and that it wouldn’t meet our expectations. What they learned was that extension master gardeners don’t mind a little weeding — in fact, we love to weed and work outside.

For us, it was such a pleasure to work in the "garden," something we haven't done in few months. After our morning work session we had a picnic and headed back to the bus. When Hope asked Matias what he thought about our work, she said she didn't need an interpreter. He was so excited and must have said gracias a hundred times and smiled the entire walk up the hill.

On Monday we went to one of communities and visited a school. We worked with 10-11 year olds and planted trees.

This has been one of the most rewarding events of my career.

For more information, go online to and click on Partners and Links on the left then click on Ohio State Master Gardeners for my blog from the trip.