A Holiday Message from the Raíces Directors

collage_2012_02   Seasons Greetings to all our friends, staff and supporters. On behalf of all of us here at the Raíces Cultural Center, we hope your holidays are filled with joy, blessings and much love!

2013 promises to be a pivotal gear in Nature’s mechanism for positive change. Let us all begin to focus on humanity with more compassion and love, to start with, and then use the latter to continue to heal our wounded Mother Earth.

Let us all plant a seed of peace and unity, cultivate it until it blossoms and grows to cover us all with understanding!

Peace and blessings,

Francisco G. Gomez & Nicole Wines
Co-Directors, Raíces Cultural Center

The Eco-Logic of First Peoples

by Francisco G. Gómez

A few days ago I attended a screening of “The Economics of Happiness” at the behest of a friend. The film, in a nut shell, addresses the “New” trend called Localization, which appears to be very similar to an old First Nations practice. First Peoples always practiced localization, way before activists gave it a trendy name.  Permaculture, coined by Bill Mollison, for natural methods of growing food, amongst other things, is another catch word for an age old practice of First Peoples.

According to Helena Norberg-Hodge, producer of the film and founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture, one of the key factors in solving the global environmental crises is localization. Communities are coming together to re-build on a more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm, what Helena calls, an economics of Localization, but is it new?

Russel Means, now deceased, but still a voice and champion of indigenous rights, has been talking about Localization from the spiritual perspective of culture for a very long time now. Perhaps non First World Peoples, you know the ones that are considered trouble makers like Russell was, are conveniently overlooked because of their unpopular views about other matters not of an environmental nature? It appears that Russell tried to look at everything under the sun through the lens of balanced culture, an ecology of culture, you might say. He says, “…Everything, everything belongs to everyone. With that philosophy as “primitive” as it may sound is how we live in this land…” see: http://www.republicoflakotah.com/2010/thanks-giving/    

Helena’s work in Ladakh is admirable in deed and after reading her paper “The Pressure to Modernize,” http://www.localfutures.org/publications/online-articles/the-pressure-to-modernise , I can see why Russell was so concerned about the continued detrimental effects of morphed European intervention in his culture and what’s left of Lakotah lands. And, while Helena, from an outsider’s view, mentions briefly Ladakh’s very rich history in the old world of commerce, she says:

“…Leh was for centuries a centre of trans-Asian trade. The Ladakhis themselves traveled both as pilgrims and traders, and were exposed to a variety of foreign influences. In many instances they absorbed the materials and practices of other cultures, and used them to enhance their own. But it was never a question of adopting another culture wholesale. If someone from China came to Leh, the result was not that the young suddenly wanted to put on Chinese hats, eat only Chinese food, and speak the Chinese language.”

I can see where Russell was making a case for the same reasoning that Helena points out, as that outsider, but from his personal experience as the “other,” an individual that was born into outside intervention and lived it till his death. He says:

“It takes a strong effort on the part of each American Indian not to become Europeanized. The strength for this effort can only come from the traditional ways, the traditional values that our elders retain. It must come from the hoop, the four directions, the relations: it cannot come from the pages of a book or a thousand books. No European can ever teach a Lakota to be Lakota, a Hopi to be Hopi. A master’s degree in Indian Studies or in education or in anything else cannot make a person into a human being or provide knowledge into tradtional ways. It can only make you into a mental European, an outsider.”

On his homepage, http://www.russellmeans.com/ in the main menu click the -speeches- tab and read “For America to Live, Europe Must Die.” It’s obvious that Ladakis, like the Lakotahs, weren’t ready to be Europeanized, but it happened!

By this time you’re probably saying “dude, what’s your f_ _ _ ing problem?” No problem, my inquisitive Eco-friends, just lengthy concerns about why some people are listened to and why others aren’t. I know, it’s just like that, you may say, get over it…I don’t think so! The main bone of contention would be to ask “who cares who tells the story of First World intervention, environmental and cultural catastrophes as long as it’s told?”

Well, Evo Morales, you know the president of Bolivia, the guy whose face looks like it should have been on one of those American nickels minted at the turn of the nineteenth century, said in the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Talks:

“The budget of the United States was 687 billion dollars for defense, and for climate change, to save life and humanity, it was only 10 billion dollars, this is shameful!”

see clip at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/10/bolivia-enshrines-natural-worlds-rights

Bolivia, needless to say, no longer receives any financial climate assistance from the U.S. since Evo opposed the Copenhagen Accords. Meanwhile back on the farms in the countryside of Bolivia, farmer Pedro has seen acre after acre of his avas (beans) die because they were affected by First World environmental pollution and global abuse. What gives, one might ask! Perhaps Evo should be making statements like that in six or seven different languages like Helena, maybe he should even decide to make a film so he can get his point across and be acknowledged for his great insight? I don’t think so! It appears that he’s from the wrong side of the planet and his views on the subject of global climate change are less than desirable for the powers that be. Then you might ask, hey, wait a minute, man, what about that plump little brown lady, you know, the one with the super sized red dot on her forehead who lives on the other side of the world? She’s talking about the same things that Helena’s talking about, isn’t she? Marvelous woman that Vandana Shiva, a true warrior of the environmental movement in India and across the globe. Helena gave her a few minutes in the Economics of Happiness; I asked myself, why not more?It’s amazing how Vandana came to bat for the thousands of farmers in her country, especially the ones that committed suicide after Monsanto screwed them over. Their stories will be told firsthand by surviving spouses and children with limited recourse to sustain themselves. But, kudos to Vandana because she had the cojones (balls) to tell the evil empire of Monsanto to get out of Dodge, oops, India that is.

After seeing the film it seems ironic that this highly acknowledged, honored and very intelligent woman born in New York, but raised in Sweden, would have to tell the Ladakhi people not to feel bad about themselves! Much to its detriment, little Tibet was opened up to the outside world way before 1978. Almost 900 years, from the mid 10th century, Ladakh was an independent kingdom, the dynasties that ruled during that period descended from the kings of old Tibet. During the early 17th century under the famous king Singge Namgyal the kingdom attained its greatest geographical expansion and glory. During that time period Ladakh was recognized as the best trade route between the Punjab and Central Asia. For hundreds of years caravans traversed the area carrying textiles, spices, raw silk, carpets, dyestuffs, narcotics, and other goods to the Central Asian towns of Yarkand and Khotan. Leh was the midway stop on this long trek, and as such it developed into a very diverse center of culture and business; its places of commerce were busy with merchants from distant countries, even though Helena makes no mention of this.

Of course the latter is telling, and speaks to the issues of Culture Shock and the impact of Europeanization of First Peoples in a negative way. Opening up the world to altered perceptions can be very deceiving when one is not aware of the true First World, in this case, American reality. Well, a few trillion dollars of American tax payer’s money to bail out the very people and corporations that screwed those very hard working American taxpayers, brought the chickens home to roost! The Middle Class said, “Hold up, something’s not kosher here!” They were soon downsized at their jobs, lost their homes and many even found themselves homeless. So much for the American dream. Sounds like a twist to “Bye bye Miss American Pie,” only the well intentioned hardworking citizens of this country, in many cases, found themselves taking the last train for the coast, but even Sandy messed that up for them too. Sounds a bit like Ladakh, but just in a different way, you might say!

The idea of culture shock brings to mind a personal experience I had when I was but a child in the 4th grade. My parents felt that I would acquire a better education by attending parochial school, boy were they wrong! I can still remember my friend Carlitos, a peruvian kid who had arrived to live in America at the start of the school year. Back in those days there were no E.S.L. or bilingual classes like there are today. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t any need for them being that Carlitos and I were the only two latinos in the class, and he, like Evo Morales, looked like he should be on a nickel too. To boot, he was the smelly kid in class, that didn’t help his already jeopardized situation in an all Anglo classroom. But, the thing that really hindered him the most was the fact that he didn’t speak any English at all. Of course Carlitos and I became very good friends being that I spoke Spanish and English. I couldn’t understand completely back then what he was feeling, I couldn’t, I didn’t look like an Indian, but I did have a Spanish name and that was bad enough.

Anyway, I recall that our teacher was this inhuman nun called, I think, Sister Mary Frankenbitch. I believe she was from the same order as the nun in the Blues Brothers, you know, the one that walked on air like J.C.. It turns out that one Spring day Carlitos and I were talking in the back of the classroom, that’s where we were made to sit, and all of a sudden Sister Frankenbitch comes floating down the aisle and grabs Carlitos by the earlobe and stands him up. She made him stretch his arms out and turn his palms upwards. Like magic she made a ruler appear and whacked Carlitos on the hands so hard until he began to cry. To this day I don’t know why she didn’t do the same to me, perhaps because I was Anglo looking and I spoke English, I can’t really say. Needless to say, that’s the day I began to question religion and decided that I would find a way out of that school. It was my first true experience witnessing the plight of the “Other;” culture shock in it’s purest form. It’s also amazing how Carlitos learned to speak English within the next four to five weeks. I believe that perhaps Eco-logic is something intrinsic in First Peoples, but it might simply have been survival strategies on the part of Carlitos. As it turns out, by the end of the school year I managed to get myself expelled from that school and relished the idea of going to public school; of course this turned out not to be much better in the years of the 1960s.

The Harvard anthropologist David Maybury Lewis in his Millennium documentary series, “Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World ” episode  #1 “The Shock of the Other,” stimulates  reflection and inspires a new look at what the modern world can learn from tribal societies as we enter the new millennium. It explores the values and different world perspectives that hold many  tribal societies together. It presents tribal peoples in the dignity of their own homes and captures their customs and ceremonies.

David seems to be extremely preoccupied with the impact his research and intervention as an anthropologist might have on the culture of the “Other.” He too believes that Europeanization has had severe repercussions on First Peoples. He brings this to light when he visits Spain and shows the effects of a mechanized society that has impacted the environment in such a horrific way. But then, this is nothing new to us here in America, is it?

Note: A screening followed by a discussion of “Millenium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World – The Shock of the Other” will take place at Ruthie’s Bagel Dish on January 7th, 2013 at 7pm. Sponsored by the Raíces Cultural Center. For more information about this event visit: http://www.raicesculturalcenter.org/sustainability.html

What does this all mean, you may ask? Well, when we use the “New” catch words like Localization, Permaculture, Transition or any of the other trendy environmental vocabulary that  are frequently on the lips of activists and the simple lay person who sees a need for change, let’s ask the question, “Where did those words really come from?” The Eco-logic of First Peoples would give a little twist to Willy’s writing by reciting, “A rose by any other name is still a rose, but doesn’t smell as sweet!” And, you may ask, isn’t it faulty judgement to question the best intentions of people who do good in the world? I don’t think so, but you can be the judge of that!

Messages from the Storm Front

There was no power, hot water or communication other than our cell phones, praise the powers that be for that. The night seemed to last forever, with the torrents of rain and wind gusts that at times wanted to tear the roof off my house. Of more concern were all the trees that surround my home; I silently prayed for many hours that one would not fall and hurt us as we became exhausted from the suspense of waiting to see if we would be spared!

Rt.18We woke up early morning on October 30th, the day after Sandy kicked the shit out of the Eastern Seaboard, especially New Jersey. As the light of day shown through the clouds and the eeriness of a gloomy sky loomed over us, we decided to walk from Paulus Blvd. down route 18 north to the Albany St. exit that connects Highland Park and New Brunswick. I thought as I opened the front door of my house and looked at my front yard and neighborhood, that we had really suffered a catastrophy, given all the downed electric lines, fallen trees and debris everywhere. As we got to 18 and began to walk, I realized that we hadn’t experienced anything in comparison with the devastation we witnessed along the Raritan River.

DebrisOf all the horrible things most of us, who experienced the storm, have seen by now, one thing has come back to haunt me over and over again. When the Raritan had swollen beyond its capacity, it threw up a veritable assortment of plastic bottles, cans, different types of balls, condoms, rubber tires and a whole host of other objects that weren’t natural to the river. It brought a strange feeling of foreboding and a memory of a commercial I had seen many years ago when I was a young man. It so happens that there is a clip of that old commercial and I have linked it here:

The tear in the Indian’s eye reveals a message of ecological truths that didn’t seem very important to many people living in the 1970’s, but it was already on the minds of concerned individuals who foresaw the future and decided to bring it to light in the public media of the time, something not normally done in that period.

As we stood on the sidewalk overlooking the Rutgers boat house opposite the Nicoles music building on Douglass campus across rt.18, the sense of eeriness intensified; it was as if the river had purged itself of what it could no longer hold within. We were now the Indian with the tear in our eyes, but the act of dispelling the poison upon us was warranted. It took some help from Pacha’s (Gaia’s) wrath to understand what was  shamefully hidden for so long. Standing before the incredible amount of refuse, it felt as if the inconsiderate people in the commercial, throwing their garbage from the moving car on the highway, had done so to us. The great Raritan River, with the help of Pacha, was just saying it was tired of being crapped on/in and wanted to let us know it in a very horrifying way!

Sandy may be one of many children born of the rape of Mother Earth by global climate change, a volatile seed which we helped plant. And, there are many scientists that say that it’s too late to change the harm done. Perhaps this is true, but this possible reality begs the question “Can we individually begin to create a consciousness of personal change to make our transition and that of Pacha less painful?” For those optimists who believe a reversal may be possible, the question might seem more appealing. Ultimately, the answer resides in each one of us, and if you believe that it is your responsibility, perhaps even duty to create ecological change, then let us not wait for Pacha’s pain to impact and influence our decision.

HoeI drove down Rt. 18 on the northbound lane yesterday; there were crews of electricians, trucks, hoes and public workers cleaning up the mess we’ve made. The Raritan looked calm and peaceful. It felt like Pacha was temporarily recuperating from her ordeal. I looked over and beyond the length of the river; I wanted to see if the indian was anywhere in sight, but when I happened to look in my rear view mirror I only saw his tear again in my reflection!

Why the Ancestors?

by Francisco G Gómez

Ancestor Altar

Ancestor altar on the stage of New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theater in the 2011 Raíces production “Festival for the Dead”

For most people the ancestors are a picture on a mantle, a necklace that grandmother left in her will, a pen knife that belonged to their beloved dad or an old guitar that a favorite uncle passed down to them before he entered the hereafter! Sights, sounds, smells and a whole host of other stimulus bring back that particular remembrance of those that came before you.

Memories of the dead contain many ways of honoring or venerating them. Marc Cohn’s interpretation of the “King” really brought this home when I first heard Walking in Memphis. One of the stanzas in the lyrics reads:

“Saw the ghost of Elvis On Union Avenue. Followed him up to the gates of Graceland, then I watched him walk right through. Now security they did not see him, they just hovered round his tomb, but there’s a pretty little thing waiting for the King, down in the Jungle Room”

We may never really know what motivated Cohn’s notion of seeing Elvis walk through the gates of Graceland or ever understand what it is that awaits the King down in the jungle room. Perhaps what’s most inspiring and touching about these lyrics is that in Cohn’s mind he sees the Ghost of Elvis somewhere and somehow in his remembrance.

Aumbao Wa Ori: Song for the ancestors

Aumbao Wa Ori: A song for the ancestors

As the Day of the Dead approaches, I reflect on how much we humans have forgotten the importance of those that came before us. As you pass cemeteries in the cities, suburbs and countryside, you see row after row of headstones for the dead. You also see sporadic wreathes and flowers, occasionally some type of memorabilia left at a gravesite. You may even notice older grave sites that haven’t been attended to for some time. It occurred to me that after a generation or two memories of the dearly departed are left for specific days like birthdays, date of death, holy days or any other days for remembering individuals that mean or meant something in your life.

We’ve even been programmed to believe that the dead are relegated to places like graveyards, mausoleums or urns where the deceased’s ashes are placed after cremation. Perhaps that’s why most modern day people view the dead with such finality.

Boveda: Altar for the Ancestors

Boveda: Altar for the Ancestors created for Raíces Cultural Center’s 2011 Día de los muertos/Day of the Dead art exhibit “Art and Ancestors”

Given the fast paced life that most of us lead, there never seems to be enough time to sit daily at a given time and place, to break bread and possibly talk about our ancestors. Is it no wonder that generations to come will never really know who grandma or grandpa were.

What makes remembering ancestors so cold and impersonal on the one hand and warm, nurturing and spiritually sustaining on the other, you might ask? In a world of religious fanatics, agnostics and atheists, that’s a rather difficult question to answer! No criticism here on the latter, we are all entitled to believe or not believe the way we wish. But, if we respect, venerate and revere our ancestors in an untraditional way that is alien to western thought of the dead, we could understand that what we hold most memorable about ancestors emanates from our mind, from the essence of that remembrance.The way we choose to express the remembrance, as you may have already understood, is expressed in many different ways, and rightly so.

Ancestor Altar

Ancestor altar created for Raíces Cultural Center’s 2011 Día de los muertos/Day of the Dead art exhibit “Art and Ancestors”

As November 1st. approaches, and the Day of the Dead comes closer, you may want to reflect on your loved ones who have passed, Those that made a lasting impact on your life and possibly were instrumental in molding the person you are now. Remember, their physical bodies may be gone and yet their energies will live on forever. Maferefún to the ancestors!

NOTE: This was posted one year ago on the last version of our blog, leading up to our 2011 production “Festival for the Dead”.  In celebration of el día de los muertos, or the Day of the Dead, we are reposting with photos from our Festival for the Dead and Art and Ancestors projects.  Please leave your comments and questions on the article.  Tell us how you honor your own ancestors.  What do you do to remember them? 


Guanábana – One of Nature’s Miracle Fruits

by Francisco G. Gómez


Guanábana leaves in the middle of all the fruit.

I just got back from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico last week and I must say that the natural course of life presents many undesirable events that lead to a greater understanding of why those events ever happened at all. I was on the island because a loved one died after a long and debilitating illness. That illness could have been managed and perhaps even cured with organic approaches to eating and health, but I could never get that individual to see how wholesome and live foods were the solution to her health problems.

Doctors and the medical establishment have distorted the truths about health so much and for so long that sick people listen with an unbending ear, even when they know that they’re in the last stages of life. Gullible people will take that last shot of insulin or dose of chemo because it might prolong life one day longer and because traditional practices of medicine endorse it. Holistic and alternative approaches to disease seem alien and primitive to those that accept the medical establishment’s well orchestrated pharma commercials, and as we might surmise, they’re in league with the American Medical Association.

Anyway, these are truths that most knowledgeable and informed people have taken the time to study and evaluate. And, if unhealthy and healthy individuals alike would take the time to understand their bodies and the signs, signals and alerts that are given well before disease sets in, then they could easily control or even reverse their physical afflictions.

Guanábana FruitEnter the miracle fruit Guanábana (Annona Muricata), better known as Sour Sop in the English language. The latter is less than appealing to the ear but very powerful in its efficacy. In a study published in the Journal of Natural Products in 1996, compounds extracted from the Guanábana seed proved effective in fighting colon cancer because of its cytotoxicity to the affected cells. Adriamycin, a well know drug prescribed by doctors sympathetic to big pharma was found to be 10,000 times less potent than Guanábana. Breast, prostate, liver cancer and a few other types of cancers are also susceptible to the miracle fruit. What’s even more interesting is the fact that Guanábana when taken produces no negative side effects like most chemo prescribed drugs.

Just recently a health care worker that takes care of a neighbor of mine who is sick with Alzheimer’s disease came to my home because she heard that we love herbs, plants and trees that have curative properties. She explained to Angela and me that her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer that has spread throughout her body. Angela had just gotten a batch of fresh Guanábana leaves that her nephew had brought back from the Caribbean. She gave them all to the care worker and explained the process of preparing the leaves to make a concoction that her mother could drink as an alternative to chemo therapy. In just one month of taking the Guanábana mixture, the mother’s cancer has gone to stage 3 and she is feeling much better without all the side effects she experienced with the chemo. I too brought back leaves from my recent trip to the island and have given her more so she can continue to help her mom.

In Cuba we learned to make delicious refreshing shakes from Guanábana. You can go to any Cuban restaurant, and if their menu is legit, Guanábana shake will be on it. In Puerto Rico their is a pleasure refreshment called “limber,” it is made in an ice cube tray from many different types of fruit and flavors, one of them being Guanábana. The milk is extracted from the fruit and prepared in a mixture with ice. Some people even say that just swallowing the seeds produces curative reactions in the human body.

The Universe generates an incredible force, strength, power…call it what you will, that maintains all living things and is responsible for the continued evolution of the same. Inquisitive people throughout the ages have called this force magic, essence of creation, chi, meditation, prayer and several other things. They have even anthropomorphized it in an innumerable amount of gods, spirits, demons and other unearthly entities. But, it seems that there is no real name to describe this force that does what it does in such a perfect way.

I remember my mother always told me to bless my food before eating it; she said it would go down better and nourish me, no matter what type of food it was. It appeared that she was right at the time, given all the crap I ate as a young man. Much later I learned that the blessing was in the way the food was grown, harvested and consumed. Don’t get me wrong, I still go to the diner every now and then and remember what mom told me to do; I better!

Nature provides all the healing substances we need to maintain good health and even reverse disease. The problem is that we have placed too much faith in modern medicine and have stepped away from age old remedies. The medicine woman/man has almost completely disappeared along with the wealth of knowledge and wisdom he/she possesses. Perhaps it’s time to be less trusting of the bill of goods we are sold, and look at how we can use organic foods that abound in Nature as a method of prevention and cure for disease.

Guanábana may not be for everyone, but it certainly can’t hurt for those individuals who have been unfortunate enough to contract such debilitating diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. And, for those who find themselves in good health, it probably could complement the other positive things an individual is doing right to maintain homeostasis. After all is said and done, it’s worth a try!

UPDATE: Where to Find Guanábana / Soursop

Share Your Story – “Testimonials for the Ancestors” Oral History Project

Share Your Story in the Raíces Roots Online Archive

Share Your Story: Testimonial for the Ancestors. Two past participants.Raíces Cultural Center invites you to share your story in our “Testimonials for the Ancestors” oral history project. For many cultures, death has always been felt with such finality. There are those, however, that have maintained a reverence and veneration for those that came before them. Raíces is seeking video testimonials from individuals of diverse cultural backgrounds to speak about the traditions celebrating the ancestors in their culture. These videos will serve the purpose of documenting and preserving a history of cultural traditions devoted to the veneration and celebration of the ancestors and will be shared with the public on the Raíces Roots Online Archive.


We want to hear from you, in your own words:

…how your cultural traditions celebrate and honor the ancestors

…why you believe it is important to practice traditions dedicated to the ancestors and how you participate in these traditions

…how these traditions have evolved and why you feel it is important for you to carry them on


If you are interested in sharing your stories and histories with us, please contact us (contact info below).  If you are not local to one of our interview sites (NJ, NYC), you can submit your own audio or video recording, please contact us for details on submissions.

Testimonials will be catalogued as part of the Testimonials for the Ancestors project in the Raíces Roots Online Archive. If chosen to be featured in the archive, these videos will be available for viewing by the general public. Selected testimonials will be edited and may screened in public screenings. All participants will be asked to sign a release form prior to filming or submitting a testimonial. Participants will be notified if their video will be made public in the archive.

To participate in this project, please call Nicole or Francisco at Raíces Cultural Center 732-236-7618 or 908-227-5671 or e-mail raices@raicesculturalcenter.org

Living in the Garden State – Raíces Eco-Culture Garden Fall Update

It’s the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox.  For most gardeners, this is the time to wind things down, to pick the last harvest, turn the soil and prepare the earth for spring.

Fall Harvest - Black beans, red beans, purira hot peppers, wildflowers.  September 2012.

At the Raíces Eco-Culture plots, we too are harvesting the last of our summer crops.

 But “the last of our summer crops” are plentiful.

La Cosecha - Fall Harvest September 2012 And like other gardeners, we are turning over the soil.

Fuyo prepping soil, September 2012, East Brunswick

But we didn’t turn it to prepare for spring.  We were getting ready to plant our fall gardens.

Lettuce, September 2012, Livingston, Piscataway

Now our seedlings are being transplanted.

Fall Seedlings, September 2012, Livingston Campus, Piscataway

And new growth is popping up.

Broccoli, September 2012, Livingston Campus, Piscataway

 It’s a great time of year for plants that love the cool night air and the shorter daylight hours.Snow Peas, September 2012, Livingston, Piscataway

Since we live in the Garden State we believe we have the ability to garden year round.  Our first seedlings are planted by February and cold loving plants like kale, onions, garlic and some of the root veggies last in the ground through the winter. Beets sprouting, September 2012, Livingston, Piscataway

Today’s trip to the garden surprised us the new life of our fall and winter crops replacing the fading summer heat-loving plants.

Kohlrabi between bean plants, September 2012, Livingston, Piscataway

Peas, lettuce, kohlrabi, carrots, radishes, broccoli, beets, onions and greens are all popping up out of the soil.

Radishes, September 2012, Livingston Campus, Piscataway

In just a few weeks we will be eating fresh homegrown salads, peas right out of the pods, stir-fries and winter soups.  Even as we are planning and prepping for next year’s spring planting, we will still be harvesting, eating and sharing homegrown, clean produce from our micro-farm plots, enjoying a rainbow of good food.

For more information about how to becoming a member of the Raíces Community Supported Gardens or to volunteer with us in the garden plots, please email raices@raicesculturalcenter.org.


Fall Gardening Links and Resources

Planting a Fall Garden

High Mowing Seeds-Spinach for Winter Production

Grow Your Best Fall Garden

Urban Fall Gardens (NYC)


North African Plants – Treasures From The Desert

by Carolina Gonzalez

Living in the Canary Islands, on the Northwest coast of Africa, makes gardening a challenging task. A six month summer, with desert temperatures and dry, burning African winds allows only the stronger, more water-saving herbs to survive in our weather. In this post, we’ll go through the most powerfully medicinal, magical, and tasty plants from our islands.

For centuries, Canarian peasants have developed many unique ways to cultivate that defy the harsh nature of our land. The volcanic landscape, while blessed with an extremely fertile soil, is often too steep and unable to be sown with the help of animals, so the work of farmers is never easy. Terracing and saving water through tanks built right beside the crops, that are filled with rain water and/or underground water, have been the strongest allies of the Canarian farmer.

Despite what it may seem according to these conditions, we have a wide variety of healing herbs and a powerful tradition of herbalism that refuses to sink under the pressure of urban landscapes and modern, synthetic medicine. Herbs are still used daily for common illnesses, physical vigour, and beauty, and are easily available in farmers’ markets and grown on balconies and roofs everywhere.

Flowering Rue
Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Latin Name: Ruta Graveolens

Medicinal Properties: This is a very bitter plant so its tea is not very pleasant. Pregnant women should avoid it as it is a powerful abortifacient. It is helpful to treat irregular menstruation and it is also antispasmodic, but I wouldn’t advise its use unless you are quite familiar with herbal remedies, because it is easy to overdose. In the Canary Islands, there is a traditional remedy using rue for indigestion: fry a fresh branch of rue in two teaspoons of olive oil, set aside until the oil is warm and then dab your fingers on it and use it as a massage oil for the stomach area. I have used it myself and it works much better and more safely than tea. This oil can also be used for arthritic pains, but again only on non-pregnant women. If you want your farm animals to breed, cut off all rue from their grazing zones.

Spiritual Properties: it is placed at the door of the house/business/temple to repel negativity, as this plant is a powerful warrior against conjure and evil spirits. It is a major element in protection amulet bags (dried leaves) and on hex-breaking floor washes (tea).

CAUTION!!! The combination of rue and solar exposure is very dangerous, especially during the plant’s blooming. It may cause severe burns and blisters if picked during daytime, so harvest before or after sunrise and wash your hands well after picking. Not everyone is allergic to it, as it happens with other allergy-inducing plants, so don’t take risks or you can end up in the hospital.

Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Latin Name: Chenopodium Ambrosioides

Medicinal Properties : Epazote is used mainly in digestive issues. It is a wonderful herb for indigestion, or after big meals to help the digestive system work properly. In my personal experience, Epazote makes an awesome tincture for all digestive matters, and it is also steeped in liquors as part of the “Parra”, a traditional digestive herbal drink that is used to finish huge meals.

It has been used for many generations, along with Wormwood (Artemisa Absynthia), to treat intestinal parasites of all kinds. Though the risk of having internal parasites in children is nowadays very low, pets with internal or external parasites will also benefit from this plant – you can powder it and sprinkle your pet’s bed, or give your pet a bath and after it atomize the infusion over the pet’s body, always avoiding the head.

Spiritual Properties: used in protection and hex-breaking  – as always, the magickal properties are analogous to the medicinal ones. Epazote helps us digest the obstacles in life and removes spiritual parasites. It makes a wonderful smudge/spray for getting rid of residual negativity from our houses: smudge/spray the house with it after situations that are highly stressful for the whole family, like after a family member’s death, after a divorce, etc. A bundle of dry Epazote is a wonderful protection to keep nightmares caused by spirits away, and to protect children from spiritual attacks.

Passion Flower

Passion Flower
Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Passion Flower
Latin Name: Passiflora Caerulea/Edulis.

Medicinal Properties: The Passiflora plant is the mother of the Maracujá or Passion Fruit. There are about 500 subspecies, but the most comon are the Passiflora Cerulea, which produces the yellow passion fruit, and the Passiflora Edulis, which produces the purple passion fruit. The fruit is one of the subtropical fruits with a higher amount of C and A vitamins. The juice is incredibly tasty and aromatic, as it is used mainly to enhance the taste of orange and papaya juices. A juice made of papaya and passion fruit is a powerful detox brew for diets, and does wonders for people with gastric problems.

Teas and tinctures of this plant’s leaves and root are known to be used to treat anxiety and depression. This plant is usually combined with Valerian Root, Lemon Balm, Orange flowers, Violets and other calming herbs and flowers. The leaves can also be smoked, dried and powdered, and mixed with other smokeable herbs, as the sedative alkaloid it contains has the same effects.

Spiritual Properties:The flowers are used mainly for love and passion amulets – a bundle of leaves, left to dry over the bed, will assure the couple lovely and passionate nights; but since it is also related to the Passion of Christ, this plant is also used in ceremonial/blessing incenses and oils, as it is believed to keep away negative entities.

Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Latin Name: Thymus Vulgaris

Medicinal Properties: though used mainly as a spice for soups, stews and sauces (try it with grilled chicken or vegetables), thyme has many powerful medicinal properties. It eases fever, phlegm and cough; relieves muscle pain and headaches caused by menstruation and sunstroke; helps digestion, lowers fever,  and it is also a powerful antiseptic and antibiotic. Along with rosemary and sage, there is little thyme can’t heal.

Spiritual Properties: in magic, thyme equals courage and luck. A powerful amulet against negativity, evil eye and persistent ghost activity, it is also used for money and prosperity spells. It is just as powerful as a medicine than as a magical herb: there is hardly a spell/amulet that doesn’t improve with the use of thyme! It is also a very fragrant herb, so it can be burnt as incense to repel negative energies, specially on businesses.


Photo by Carolina Gonzalez

Latin Name: Foeniculum Vulgare

Medicinal Properties: this humble plant, often overseen as a weed due to its prolific nature, is full of healing properties. It eases digestion, relieves nausea and vertigo, works instantly on heartburn and bloating, and it is a mild sedative, becoming an excellent after-dinner tea. It is also a wonderful eye wash, especially for dry and sore eyes that are exposed to dry climates, and used along with antibiotic herbs, a powerfully healing wound/sunburnt wash.

In the islands, it is customary to give fennel tea to babies with colic. Although nowadays herbal healers are extremely cautious when giving herbal teas to babies younger than a year, many generations of Canarians have used this remedy for their sick babies.

Spiritual Properties: fennel is highly related to children’s protection and thus, to angelic magic. Tied in a bundle over the main door of the house, it is a sign of angelic protection, keeping negative spirits away. It is also a very well known herb for lucky gambling – keep a small red fabric bag filled with fennel near your lottery tickets for an extra dose of good luck.

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About the author:
Carolina Gonzalez has been a professional Tarot Reader and Spiritual Worker for over 15 years, as well as a creator and provider of Spiritual Art and Supplies through her online business, House Of Eleggua, which caters an exquisite worldwide clientèle with the best quality items for the practise of African and Latin American – origin religions. Her blog, as of September 2012, has reached 335,000 visits and her artwork is proudly displayed on altars, temples and sacred spaces all around the world.

Carolina and her husband Fernando Abisaab are also the founders of the House Of Eleggua Temple, which is involved in several charity and environmental projects, and  focused on educating their supporters on the beauty and power of African and Latin American – origin religions.

You can visit her website at: http://caminodeyara.indiemade.com//

All text and images property of Carolina Gonzalez. Do not reproduce this article, or the images included, without written permission from the author.

A Good Food Rainbow

Check our new photo album, featuring just a little slice of the rainbow of good food we have harvested so far this summer as part of our Raíces Eco-Culture Micro Farm project.  It is all grown organically from organic seed. We are updating the album throughout the season, so check back for more photos!

We eat, the community members who help and support our programs eat, and we share with other organizations in our community, like Elijah’s Promise and A Better World Café.  We hope to acquire more land to cultivate, where we can build structures that will help us grow, care for and harvest food year-round and host cultural and educational programs and events for our community.

Home » A Good Food Rainbow » La Cosecha 2012 » La Cosecha 2012
Raíces Good Food in the Community
Green Beans
Green Beans
Another Colorful Harvest
Red Beans
Raíces Peas
Black Beans
Golden Potatoes
Weighing In
Cherry Tomatoes
La cosecha
Hot and Spicy
Raíces Good Food in the Community
Green Beans
Green Beans
Another Colorful Harvest
Red Beans
Raíces Peas
Black Beans
Golden Potatoes
Weighing In

Of Gurus and Harvests

It took only two short years to make a Pachamama believer out of me. Not being one to seek out sages, gurus or other learned individuals who seem to be in abundance today, a very young person who sought learning from me, turned out to educate me instead. Having known my dear friend for a brief eight years, I soon came to understand how much knowledge, love and skill she has for making things transform from a few rows of dirt, into a healthy organic mosaic of herbs and veggies.

I remember the first time I passed by her house in New Brunswick, N.J., I was amazed at how many beautiful plants she had growing in her backyard garden. At that very time I began to think if I could copy what she was doing. Little did I know, but would soon find out, that only I could make the magic required in my own little piece of Pachamama. The mysteries were hidden within me; I learned this the hard way by believing that all it required was some good dirt, seeds and water. I attempted to be simple about the way I would plant, and my first year’s harvest was sad in deed.

It turns out that my friend also had a plot out at the community gardens at Cook Campus, Rutgers University. She invited me out one day two years ago and since then I now have a plot right next to hers. That’s not difficult to understand, what was instrumental for me, at that time, and since, is the fact that I would go out to Cook and hide behind the bushes to watch and listen to her create her own magic. One would think that she was talking to garden gnomes and singing along with flower fairies. My friend didn’t have a very good voice back then; however, her invisible garden keepers didn’t seem to mind at all. If you saw her garden up close, you would know why.

The second year of my Pachamama education was rather fruitful, given that I began to unravel my own magic, and it seemed to work, doing what I love and do best, music. I imagine that my neighbors have thought rather strangely of me in the last few years, singing, drumming and dancing around my garden, but I know they understand when I offer them a great big red organic tomato or a shiny eggplant. They say “you grew that?” I say “ no, I had help from my friend and Pachamama.”

I believe the greatest lesson I have learned from my very young friend is that we can create a sustainable world through the most basic of all necessities, food. That if we all work together we learn and teach many things together, regardless of gender, color, national origin, religious preference, sexual preference and most of all the age divide.

Besides my backyard garden, my friend and I now combine our respective magic at three other community gardens in Central Jersey and grow our own produce, started a pilot C.S.A, donate food to Elijah’s Promise and A Better World Cafe.

The few true gurus I’ve met in my long life, never looked or acted like gurus. My dear friend is in deed a Pachamama guru, she helped me rediscover the Gaia magic within me without even intending to. She simply shared her knowledge and love of nature, and I was able to harvest the fruits of her magic! That’s my Guru friend Nicole Wines…