When I studied  Cultural Conservation at the University of Victoria many years ago, one of the assignments was to complete an inventory of buildings.  The houses on one city block were recorded, photographed and evaluated using a weighted scoring system.  A building's significance was determined according to criteria such as historic features, style, condition, authenticity and age.   This exercise was a preliminary step in the process of heritage designation and long-term preservation of the city's architectural gems.   The lesson learned was that you have to know  and understand what is out there before you can protect it.
I read with interest an article in Los Andes newspaper reporting that a team of high school students is creating an inventory of trees in the district of Guaymallen, near Mendoza city.   The students each have a section of the city to work on, and are busy recording location,  identifying species and evaluating the overall condition of individual trees.   What a great project for raising environmental awareness and laying the groundwork for an arboreal preservation plan!

Trees at the edge of the canal on our finca
Canadian scientist Diane Beresford-Kroeger would applaud this endeavour.  In her 2010 book "The Global Forest" she stresses the importance of trees as "healers" of the planet, while explaining their vital role as hosts for diverse insect and bird life, and as anti-erosion and anti-famine plants.    She states that the Western forest has not been intelligently managed since the Middle Ages, when a seven-year renewable cycle meant continuity, and 64 items of market value were carefully harvested from the sustainable woodlot.   Beresford-Kroeger promotes the idea of creating a bioplan for one's farm that includes the addition of trees at the edges of the cultivated agricultural field.  

"A bioplan will walk organic farming one step further to increase the biodiversity of native species of plants and animals.  Quite often an organic farm, good though it may be, can be a desert, too, if the farm is just composed of mile upon mile of crops in an empty acreage.  The forest must come back to the farm in the form of an orchard, nut orchards and set-asides of select trees. "

If you want to reintroduce a forest to your property, Beresford-Kroeger has these suggestions: 
  • Choose quality seeds or saplings  of species native to the local area, selected from the oldest, healthiest specimens.  These epicenter trees are the most resistant to drought, climate change, and pestilence.
  • Mix deciduous and coniferous trees.
  • Post bird boxes to encourage wildlife presence, (their manure adds necessary nitrogen and an assortment of plant seeds to the forest floor).
  • Allow wind to pass through, bringing spores for lichens, mosses, ferns and mushrooms.

Alamos, a windbreak for the vineyards
Beresford-Kroeger would also be pleased to know that I am reading  the Kindle version of "The Global Forest" which was delivered in paperless format.   She points out that the sex hormones in trees called "gibberellins" are bleeding into the large bodies of water where trees are milled for the pulp and paper industry.  This huge  hormonal load is being dumped directly into our drinking water and xenochemicals  can now be found in the bodies of all mammals, including humans.   As she so eloquently says, "The broken forest is in our children's tears."

At her country home near Ottawa, Ontario,  Beresford-Kroeger has planted and cultivated, over a 30 year period, an incredible garden comprised of over 6000 species of trees, shrubs and flowers.  She also maintains a seed bank for the future, and is actively working to educate people about methods for the renewal and preservation of biodiversity.  

"The civilized world has not put a finger on the pulse of nature. It has ignored the pattern in which nature works, as if man himself is an independent species apart from the web of it.  The truth is that man is only one species and he stands on a fragile platform of life that is but a whisper away from death.  There is some time left.  There is time for a different way of thinking in which man can rethread the needle and sew a life for the future."

Bodegas Los Toneles ( the barrels)  is located in Guaymallen at Bandera de los Andes 1393.  The winery boasts an excellent restaurant and conducts guided tours of their facility with wine-tastings.   Owned by the Millan family, Los Toneles  produced this bottle of  2 Estacas Chardonnay 2008, with its aroma of tropical fruit and toasted bread, a medium body and a pineapple finish.   We paired the wine with a citrus salad that celebrates the fruit of our trees -  grapefruit and orange segments, walnuts and green olives -  tossed with arugula, butter lettuce, endive and thin slices of goat cheese.   A bottle of 2 Estacas sells for 15 pesos.

Citrus Salad
Today is "Children's Day" in Argentina, a day celebrated by family gatherings featuring a festive meal and presents for the kids.  It's a good time to give some consideration to the living conditions, rights and opportunities offered to children in this country.
The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child determined that children have the right "to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health care and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health."    Let's look  at some statistics from Index Mundi based on 2009 numbers.  

Argentina's  Infant mortality rate: 11 per 1,000 live births
Canada's  Infant mortality rate: 5 per 1,000 live births  

The infant mortality rate is considered by experts to be the single best indicator to represent the health of the population.  
Clearly Argentina has a long way to go to improve child health during the first year of life.  But so does Canada.
What these statistics don't reveal is the growing disparity between certain segments of the population.  Infant mortality in both countries  is higher than the national average among indigenous groups.  In Canada, the province of Saskatchewan with its large Native population has an infant mortality rate of 8.3.  That's the provincial average, but in two of the northern Saskatchewan health jurisdictions, among the Native population the rate is 14.5.  In Argentina, the province of Formosa with its large Native population has an infant mortality rate of 25.1.  These rates reflect higher numbers of infants with low birth weight or congenital malformation and also a higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome.  The lack of medical facilities in isolated areas plays a role in infant deaths, as well as the quality of pre-natal care and level of parental education.  There are often cultural beliefs surrounding birthing practices which prevent mothers from getting the very best care.  One of the saddest stories I've read about women in Canada was this recent article from the Globe and Mail, an account of Inuit mothers who must be flown out of their northern community to give birth in a medical centre. The women don't like to be separated from their families and often hide the fact  that they are pregnant in order to avoid re-location.   The end result of a complicated labour endured in a remote village without medical intervention  is often infant death.

The infant mortality statistics have to be weighed in terms of past history and global context to gain some perspective.  Argentina has steadily improved from an average infant mortality rate of 16 in 2004.  It ranks 148th out of 221 countries on a chart listing the highest mortality rate as number one.  In comparison with other South American countries, Argentina has the second lowest infant mortality rate.   Canada, on the other hand, has been slipping in the charts:  in 2004, the infant mortality rate was 4.75, a lower number than today.  Canada ranks 186 out of 221 countries, which is not an admirable position among industrialized nations.

Students in San Rafael
What about a child's education in Argentina?  The current government has declared education mandatory from the age of 5 years, and children must complete 9 grades.  Public transportation is free for students and even young children take the bus independently to and from school.   University is tuition- free and open to everyone at the undergraduate level.   Literacy rate is 97%.

In Canada,  public school starts at age 5 and includes 12 grades, but the legal age for dropping out of school is 16.  University education is expensive, with average tuition fees amounting to $6,600 Cdn. per year, not including the cost of students' books, transportation and accommodation.    Literacy rate is 99%.

Educators and sociologists maintain that the greatest determining factor for a child's achievement in education is the level of education attained by his or her parents, a fact that implies a bleak outlook for a bright child whose parents never went beyond high school.  A recently published international  study by Mariah Evans from the University of Nevada showed  that the presence of books in the home can increase a child's education by 3.2 years.   An in-home library of over 500 books had the greatest effect on a child's educational achievements.  

In Argentina, books are expensive and the range of available literature is limited.  Students use photocopies of textbooks, rather than the real thing and libraries have inadequate collections because few borrowers actually return the texts. ( Whenever I have loaned an English language book to an Argentinean, it has come back dog-eared from repeated photocopying, as these multiple copies can be sold to other readers.)  Perhaps the greatest gift that one can to give a child on Dia de los Ninos is a book.

Overall, conditions influencing the health and welfare of children in Argentina are improving.  From what I have observed in my own community, the Native children benefit from inclusion in families that are close-knit, with several generations actively involved in child-rearing.  Parents and grandparents are present in their lives and serve as positive role models.  The Argentine children I have met are polite, confident, articulate and respectful of their elders.   They may not have the material luxuries of their Canadian counterparts, but their emotional and spiritual needs are well looked after within the family unit.  

In Canada 11% of the population lives below the poverty line.  In Argentina, the number is 23%.  But does a low household income determine that a child who grows up in a poor family is bound to be disadvantaged for a lifetime?   Surely there are simple, efficient ways to break the cycle of poverty and improve the prospects for all children.

A lot of my time in Argentina is spent preserving the harvest, preparing jars that can be put away for future meals.  What about working to preserve the environment?
The two girls just ahead of me in the grocery store line-up were a little shy about having their photo taken, and curious as to why I wanted their picture.  They didn't know it, but the green re-usable shopping bags slung over their shoulders are Canadian ones, purchased by me and donated to the mercadito in our neighbourhood.   I am pleased to see the young people in Rama Caida using the bags every day,  developing a lifelong habit that respects the environment.   By reducing the use of plastic bags, the "white trash" that ends up as toxic waste in canals, along the roadside and in landfill,  they are doing their bit to preserve this area's natural beauty and  protect its ecosystem from contamination.  

Garbage along the roadside
The introduction of green bags at the local level has become an ongoing project for us  in co-operation with Casa Martin, a small family-run grocery store that serves the native population as well as ex-pats  living in Rama Caida.  The owner's son, Jose Luis Guardia, a bright young lawyer who spends weekends helping out at the cash register,  took to the idea immediately.  He could see that reducing the need for plastic bags would mean savings for his family's business and that the highly visible fabric bags, printed with the store logo, would serve as an excellent advertising/public relations initiative.  The first 50 bags were handed out to loyal customers free of charge, with an explanation of the environmental benefits.  It has become a bit of a status symbol to own a green Casa Martin bag in Rama Caida and not a day goes by that we don't spot one being proudly used. 

We hope that the trend continues.  The next step will be to set up a local manufacturer to produce and distribute the bags.   This could become a cottage industry, employing women who are stay-at-home mothers living on the fincas.   In the meantime, we are donating the bags on a regular basis to keep the momentum going.   

Autoservicio Casa Martin is located on Ruta 143 between Calle Perdiguez and Ejercito de los Andes.   The store is open 365 days of the year.  Phone: 441162 and ask for English-speaking Jose.