Native New Yorker Gloria Kim helps Salvadorans farm sustainably

Gloria Kim, a second-year student in the School of International Affairs at Penn State, is leveraging her interest in agricultural sustainability to help improve the lives of others. Working in El Salvador with 10 farmers and two other U.S. interns while living in an adobe home on a farm during her two-month program in the Suchitoto municipality, she immersed herself in the farming culture of the country. She was trained in a variety of permaculture techniques during her internship, including soil conservation, organic pest management, the diversification of crops, medical gardens, composting of nutrients and the uses of rainwater.

 
Permaculture, Kim describes, is a way of life, designing human settlements around nature, and taking into account not just farming but also surrounding influences like water, animals, micro financing, and more. While incorporating technology into this philosophy, permaculture stresses the use of natural agriculture solutions for day-to-day issues. For example, plants such as neem and marigold are used as organic bug repellants rather than potentially harmful chemicals.
 
Farmers and interns in Kim's program abided by the lifestyle, using everything provided by nature; showering with rainwater once every three days, using compost latrines, and even saving urine for pesticides.  “It was uncomfortable at first,” said Kim, a native New Yorker, “but you get used to it.”
 
The organization's year-long program for farmers provided education for high-yield seed usage, and is designed to alleviate the changes forced upon the Central American country by the influence of the U.S. and the green revolution.
 
The internship not only placed Kim alongside the farmers in a very hands-on experience, but immersed her in both the positive and negative aspects of the developing world. She participated in Spanish classes through the program and worked with indigenous groups that are discriminated against, to understand their way of life, language and religions. She said she lost her sense of time, with no phone access, once a week Internet access, and little communication with anyone outside of the farm.
 
Not an easy row to hoe 
 
Kim said she was struck by the difficult circumstances of the nation. From an environmental perspective, she was surprised by the massive gaps in land due to deforestation, as well as the lack of agricultural space due to an expanding population and the consequences of environmental degradation such as soil erosion.
 
Despite safety concerns, Kim chose El Salvador. “The trend is for people to work in Africa and South America,” said Kim. “No one pays attention to Central America, and no one goes to El Salvador because of how dangerous the area is.” 
 
Kim worked alongside ex-guerilla soldiers in the field, passed mandatory army searches on public buses, and avoided the high-crime areas of the city after dark which she described as all part of her cultural and developmental experience. At the same time, she noted the immense need for massive improvements in terms of politics, economics and the environment. “It was sad,” she said, “It's a war-torn country, and there's so much gang violence that affects the community.”
 
Kim persevered in El Salvador despite a dangerous foot and leg infection treated at a free clinic with low-quality drugs — the best health care available in the El Salvadorian town. She learned to play the banjo and filmed machete commercials in her free time.
 
Kim hopes to dedicate her future to agricultural development, and actively seeks out opportunities to work abroad in the future. Among other plans, she is set to explore Thailand to gain more experience in permaculture.
 
“The land is different, and the people are different,” said Kim, who looks forward to seeing how the Southeast Asian nation compares to Central America. “There's no ‘one fit' to agriculture.”
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Last Updated April 27, 2013