Baja Community Benefits Farmworkers

Debra Blake and Carol Woodruff are among the many expats working with the local community to improve the living standards for everyone.

Their group, “Feeding Farmworkers’ Families,” focuses on those  whose arduous labor provides sustenance not only for their neighbors, but also for communities outside the local area.

It all began about 41/2 – 5 years ago. Debra Blake joined a small group of volunteers, spearheaded by Barbara Bridge and Patty Rodriguez to offer an opportunity to provide some basic education, with an emphasis on English-language instruction, to the children of the farmworkers.

The volunteers hoped that once the kids were comfortable speaking some English, they could overcome their shyness regarding Gringos, and be more confident in seeking to communicate and collaborate with them; in this way, both the people from El Norte and the natives of Baja would benefit by employment options and through sharing the history and the traditions of both cultures.

The current school is very spartan, consisting of only a concrete foundation and a roof, a simple structure with no walls, having evolved to that point from teaching the kids who sat on blankets in the open air.

The boys and girls were naturally eager to have an opportunity to improve their opportunities through education, and of course their parents welcomed the chance to see their children broaden their horizons.

The school, “Escuela en Las Lomas,” quickly grew from a few families to 40 to 90 students, primarily the children of 30 Oaxacan farm worker families with whom the founding group of volunteers developed strong relationships of trust, great expectations, and hope for a brighter future. Unfortunately, the pandemic has forced the closure of this project.

The farmworkers who are the focus of the group’s efforts are very poor. Some of them live in homes provided by various church groups, but many others live with extended families in plywood and black plastic shacks with dirt floors. About half of the 30 families have no electricity, and none have running water.

Their homes, marginal as they are, can only be reached by a dirt road that is impassable during wet weather.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the families were already very poor, working hard in austere conditions to earn a meager $8 – $10 per day per person.

The pandemic very quickly resulted in the closing of schools, restaurants and other institutions dependent upon the produce that the farmworkers provided, thus reducing demand for their output by more than half.

This caused layoffs, which made an already needy community even more insecure; some families could not even afford to provide themselves with basic necessities, including food.

The food delivery program began in mid-April of this year; Carol and Debra expected (“hoped” is a better word) that the situation would be short-lived. Of course, that has not been the case.

The need for assistance to these struggling families continues to this  day.

Carol and Debra obtained the despensa (“pantry”) guidelines from DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia) in April and began to procure and distribute full allotments of rice, beans, lentils, sugar, eggs, milk, oil, oatmeal, canned vegetables, tomato sauce, pasta, tuna, and other basic nutritional needs every two weeks to the families in their care.

Eva’s Garden (a local organic grower/distributor) contributes an assortment of fresh, organic veggies.

In addition to food supplies, they are able to provide sanitary products from a regular donor who purchases them from Costco and donates them to the families through this team.

Carol says, “Our donors are families and friends. The Punta Banda community has been very generous.”

As schools remained closed due to the Covid crisis, Debra and Carol became aware that the children were in need of structured activities and materials that stimulated them to become more involved in learning.

To that end, Barbara Bridge provided the students with homework, which they actually loved; it gave them an opportunity to reinforce what they had learned in a classroom setting, such as writing and math skills.

The older students are given supplemental worksheets from LaRousse Publishing, the results of which are collected by Debra and Carol, who provide feedback and award stickers to reward the kids’ efforts.

Each child learns at his or her own pace, depending on individual capability and eagerness about a given subject. Age/grade levels are not relevant in such an environment; each child’s willingness to learn dictates how fast he or she will progress.

More recently, FFF provided a mobile library, which now has 75 books in Spanish, with more on the way. The kids are so grateful for this additional opportunity to grow and learn that they have proven themselves responsible by returning the books so that they may check out others.

Some of them are already on their 3rd book in as many weeks.

Beba ‘Cosmo,’ who teaches Early Childhood Education at Alocalo University, selected and provided the books. Beba is the owner of the popular Punto en el Cosmos Restaurant in Maneadero.

Other notables who have generously given their support to FFF prep and delivery operations are Hideyo Hirada, Chris Blake, Gary Woodruff, and Kathleen Estay.

Pris Austin of Los Adoptables in Maneadero adopts and treats the sick animals that the group sometimes encounters on their travels in the hills.

As Carol says, “It takes a village, and so many people have contributed in different ways.”

The next project underway is a collaboration with Baja Networks (Carlos Munguia) to install solar panels and a microwave receiver in an empty casita in the area without electric service; this will provide internet access to families and allow kids to attend classes via tv.

If you would like to make a donation to help our community to thrive, the FFF PayPal pool is https://paypal.me/pools/c/8oDfwG0bVK. Clothing and shoe donations suitable for hill terrain, non-perishable food, and school supplies are needed and would be greatly appreciated. Contact Debra Blake or Carol Woodruff via Facebook.

Hidden Gem Found In La Bufadora

Whenever I think of food sold in the Bufadora area, fish tacos, seafood cocktails and churros come to my mind. BajaMed cuisine is something that never crosses my mind.

That all changed last week when my wife and I visited La Bufadora Tequila Grill, which, judging solely by its name,  seemed to have even more of the same; the name somehow evoques fish tacos and margaritas in my experience, but oh my god was I wrong!

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were met by the owner, Alex Malpica, popular in the area as a resident of the Rosa Negra Ranch, one of the most popular properties in the area, having already been featured in 4 movies. In contrast to the fabulous property he calls home, I was not impressed with the restaurant, which seems to have a funky ambiance; I asked Alex about it and he said that he just wants to maintain a relaxed, easygoing atmosphere to his restaurant.

Alex told us that he came here from the US several years ago, retiring from the restaurant industry over there, and decided to acquire this restaurant. For many years it did very well, selling the usual combination of affordable Mexican dishes that are a staple for Bufadora tourists, but about a year ago Alex had an idea: What if he could bring food similar to the meals served in the wine valley to his Bufadora restaurant.

It seemed like an impossible idea. How would he even begin to succeed in such a daunting task, but in the process of searching for a solution, he met local Chef Temo Cortez. Temo brought to the table exactly what Alex was looking for, being an experienced chef who could create fine BajaMed cuisine at his restaurant.

Alex is not an easy man to impress, in my opinion; it’s even harder to impress him in the restaurant industry, as he has more than 40 years of experience in that area; so naturally I was very curious about Chef Temo that he talked so highly of.

Since I’m more easily impressed by actions than by words, I listened to what the pair had to say but decided to reserve my opinion until I tasted the food there.

We asked for a menu and got a letter sized sheet with about 14 different dishes, we decided on the shrimp, aguachile style, and a Tomahawk steak.

While we waited, Alex explained that one of his passions was Tequila, and that he makes his own Extra Añejo tequila, for which he has recently started distribution in the States. While we waited for our food we tasted two of his tequilas, Xedda and Escortauro, which were very good.

Chef Temo surprised us with an octopus tentacle appetizer, served sizzling in a mini iron pan. As soon as the plates arrived, I was impressed with the presentation; here I am thinking that I’m once again going to be let down with the food at one more restaurant, and this beautifully constructed plate comes to our table, and when I tasted it, oh my god, the savory, meaty, octopus just instantly takes me to the Valley; this is actually wine valley food, I say to myself.

A couple minutes later the shrimp aguachile comes, nope, it was definitely not your typical Mexican seafood restaurant aguachile, this one had a very subtle flavor, acidic but very well balanced. Later I learned that this was achieved by chef Temo by adding white wine and olive oil to the green chili and lemon juice. The presentation was immaculate, adorned with Salicornia and beet sprouts, which also helped bring the flavors of the plate together.

A few minutes after we finished with the shrimp, the Tomahawk was brought to the table. Another one of Temo’s gems, beautifully presented, cut into pieces, with the bone still left on the plate. By that time, after the first two dishes, I was already expecting greatness and I was not disappointed; in fact, I was once again impressed. The steak was beautifully accompanied by a dab of Oaxacan mole with balsamic, and roasted vegetables

When we finally finished the steak, we were already stuffed, but we opted for the  crème brûlée anyway, it was a great finish to our meal.

The Bufadora Tequila Grill is located on KM 22.5, on the road to La Bufadora, just a few meters before getting to the arches that mark the start of La Bufadora. They open Tuesdays from 12:00pm to 8:00pm and Wednesday to Sunday, from 8:30am to 8:00pm. BajaMed style cuisine is only available from 2pm to 8pm, and Sundays all day. ,

Que Pasa In Baja?

Tijuana-Tecate Passenger Train Announced. Mario Escobedo, head of the state economy and tourism office, said that the Tijuana-Tecate passenger train is already in the works with an initial investment of $136 million USD for a 17-mile section.

He stated that the train would be a secure, sustainable option to connect with Tijuana and Tecate, with seven stations and two terminals. A minimum of 30,000 passengers are expected to use the train every day.

This project should not be confused with the existing tourism train that goes from Tijuana to Tecate (pictured above).

Initially, the project considered a route to Ensenada. And although the plan hasn’t been cancelled, Escobedo stated that “it’s not a priority right now”, mainly because the current state government administration will only last two years and will not be able to finish a project of such magnitude.

Ensenada Mayor Under Hot Water. Armando Ayala Robles, mayor of Ensenada, found himself in hot water this past week after local councilwoman Brenda Valenzuela protested about how he has been stamping his name in cement while still fresh in several public works.

Valenzuela stated that article 134 of the Mexican constitution clearly states that a person in public office cannot publicize himself in the public works they perform. “It’s also a very bad parody of the Walk of Fame in Hollywood”, said Valenzuela.

Baja Launches Tourism Campaign. In order to reactivate the local economy, which is being severely affected by COVID-19, the state of Baja California launched a promotional campaign named “Disfruta Baja California & Drive South” to attract tourists from California and Arizona.

“We are preparing for, when the time comes, promoting our state’s natural, cultural and gastronomic richness, in order to attract tourists that can drive over here and increase traffic to the most important tourist sites in Baja”, said Mario Escobedo, head of Economy and Tourism for the State.

The main objective of the campaign is to support the tourism sector in its reactivation, as well as to make people want to rediscover Baja or visit it for the first time.

Abandoned Ship To Be Unloaded Soon. The “Triumph” cargo ship, which has been abandoned since 2017 in the coasts of Ensenada due to a lengthy legal battle in England, is being finally unloaded soon, the Mexican Navy announced.

The Triumph has been reported to contain 47,000 tons of bauxita, a rock that is processed to obtain aluminum, and about 270 tons of high sulfur fuel. The ship has been all over local news lately as it was discovered that it has been slowly sinking due to the lack of maintenance.

It has been reported by local environmentalist groups that if the ship would completely sink, and the cargo and fuel would spill, a dangerous ecological disaster would ensue in the Ensenada bay.

Independence Celebrations Will be Online. The different independence celebrations in the cities of Baja California will be performed without public attendance, but will be available for viewing live online on social media.

Every year on September 15th, independence is celebrated with the traditional “grito” or shout, where mayors, governors and the president of Mexico go out to their balconies of their city hall and shout “Viva Mexico!” in front of a huge public audience that goes on to enjoy several cultural shows and dine on  traditional Mexican food.

On September 16th, a civilian and military parade goes through the most important streets of our cities, but this year it will be severely limited due to the pandemic, so authorities are encouraging people to watch it online instead.

Mexican Army Seizes Drug Load Valued at $16 million USD. Soldiers from the Mexican Army seized a massive load of  various drugs in the La Rumorosa area in Tecate.

The illicit drugs were found in an uninhabited area about 6 miles south from the town of La Rumorosa.

The army reported that 1 ton of crystal meth was found, along with 6 kilos of powdered fentanyl and 5,000 pills of that same drug. About 5.3 kilos of heroin and 4 gallons of marihuana (THC) oil were also found.

The army stated that the bust would considerably affect the financial structure of local crime organizations since the total street value of the drugs was about $16 million USD.

The drugs were found abandoned on a dirt road when the military was doing a surveillance drive through the area. No arrests were made in connection with the drugs.

No in-person classes for Baja. Governor Jaime Bonilla stated this week that students will continue with virtual classes at least for the remainder of the current school cycle, which continues until July 2021.

He said that public schools will use this time to maintain and improve school facilities.

Baja California has 639,452 students registered for virtual classes, from K to 12.

Labor Day increases hotel occupancy. There was a slight increase in occupancy in the Labor Day weekend of 11%, much less than the normal increase during that weekend, but a much needed increase for our area.

About 194,000 tourists visited our state, and brought just about $40 million USD to local businesses.

Bringing Children and Horses Together In Our Community

In the course of one’s lifetime, the people who have the most significant and lasting impact on us (besides the parents) may be a nurse, a first responder, or even a teacher or professor.

The reason that’s true is because people who enter into such enterprises do so not out of a desire to become wealthy in a material way, but rather to enrich the lives of those with whom they interact, thereby making their own lives more meaningful and rewarding.

Case in point is Dawn Stephens, who grew up in a family that valued horses as companions. Her family lived in Burbank and had a ranch outside of Bakersfield, where horses roamed freely. In that environment, she learned to ride them and care for them, doing the hard work necessary to ensure that their health and sense of physical well-being were consistently and adequately attended to.

Her interaction with these magnificent creatures was temporarily interrupted when she decided to pursue a higher education.

She attended UC Davis, later studying Sport & Exercise Psychology at the University of New Mexico, finally earning her Doctorate in the same subject from UC Berkeley.

From there, she became a Professor at the University of Iowa.

When the time came for Dawn to give back to the parents who had so lovingly cared for her as a child, she suggested that the family move to Mexico. Where they could retire and reap the benefits of the casual lifestyle and Mediterranean weather that makes Mexico such a desirable destination for so many Americans when life tells them it’s time for a change.

So they came, but little did they know that retirement was simply not in the cards for Dawn.

She began to notice almost immediately that horses, once a source of inspiration, healthy exercise, and interaction with nature back in Bakersfield, were sometimes neglected or abused in her new environment.

Dawn made up her mind to prepare and maintain a sanctuary for the creatures in need, and, with her partner, Tina Jo, co-founded Tina Jo’s Promise in Punta Banda, a rich agricultural region southwest of Ensenada.

The pair have, over the years, procured 3 1-acre lots in PB, where the horses are cared for. In many cases, the horses are sick, malnourished, and frightened when brought to the sanctuary. The actions of Dawn and Tina Jo ensure that rather than being condemned to death, they are nurtured, loved, and meticulously cared for.

Her work is arduous but rewarding. She attends auctions where horses are being sold and often has to outbid meat buyers, who would use the animals as a source of protein in dog food.

Dawn has names for each of the horses, many of which are taken from the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the beautiful creatures is named “Atticus Finch,” and another is “Harper” (after Harper Lee in the novel). Her very first rescue, however, was named Lover Boy.

Her operation is massive and expensive and is primarily dependent on public donations in order to provide the nutrition, grooming, veterinarian care and all the equipment necessary to maintain such an optimistic enterprise.

Her altruistic nature now goes beyond caring for horses.

She is active in the support of Baja Love Outreach, an enterprise that provides support for 10 orphanages in the region.

One of the many benefits she provides to the community of orphans is bringing the kids to her ranch to ride the horses or simply to pet them and enjoy the wide-open spaces outside the confines of their crowded institutions. These activities help the kids to heal from abuse or physical injuries,

Seeing the positive impact upon the children whose interactions with the animals brought them such joy, Dawn began to envision a dream whereby her efforts to improve the lives of these young orphans would ensure that their lives would be made more valuable once they were no longer wards of the system.

As she so wisely observed, “What happens to these kids when they turn 18? They are sent away from the orphanage with no further assistance. What are their prospects? Sell drugs? Enter into a life of prostitution? Work forever in an unrewarding and low-paying job, if they’re fortunate enough to find one?”

Baja Love Outreach has provided 2 cargo ship containers and had them placed on her property; these units will provide the basic structures to be modified into classrooms where the kids can come to learn skills allowing them to become proficient in a chosen profession to support them long after they leave the orphanages.

She has the wherewithal to send surveys to the kids to ascertain their interests, so that she can provide the training in the fields that interest them most.

Once she knows what the children are drawn to, she will provide training in those areas of expertise.

For example, she will provide vocational-type training for construction skills, mechanical work, computer skills, welding, sewing, etc. Some adults who are already proficient in those areas have already volunteered to provide the training.

She currently has a hydroponic fodder machine on the property.

Future plans include the development of aquaponics units; first, a large one for the ranch, then later smaller ones to be placed at each orphanage.

Aquaponics is a symbiotic system whereby live fish are nourished and the waste they accumulate is turned into bacteria, providing nourishment in the form of fertilizer to sustain a garden, which in the process of photosynthesis returns safe water to the fish.

Dawn’s vision is reflected in this statement on her website: “My religion is kindness.”

The magnitude of her love for children and for animals is awe-inspiring. By bringing them together, she improves the lives and future prospects for both.

She can’t do it alone, however. She is currently engaged in a fund-raiser to make sure that the horses have enough hay for the winter. She says that now is the time when hay is sold at the lowest price, and she would like to purchase enough of it to last one year for the animals in her care.

It costs $650 per month to provide food for the horses. If only 25 people donated $25 each per month, their most basic needs would be covered. A donation of $150 for the year by each of 50 people would help Dawn and Tina Jo provide a quality life for the horses that have thrived under their care. Their goal is to raise a total of $7,500.00 to feed the horses for a year.

Please consider making a donation to help this altruistic enterprise to continue and to grow.

Also, check out Dawn’s personal FB timeline to see the many testimonials to her loving care for both children and animals.

For more videos and photos of the heartwarming efforts on behalf of the young people and the horses, see Tina Jo’s Promise, also on FB.

Most importantly, please donate! Any amount is greatly appreciated, and will go a long way to ensure the longevity, success, and growth of this most energetic and charitable enterprise.

You can make your donation through PayPal at Donations@TinaJosPromise.org; or click on “save a life” or “adopt a horse.” You can make a one-time donation, or a monthly recurring one.

It’s a 501(c)3 organization, so any donation you make is tax-deductible by the IRS.

And remember, their mission is “to end the suffering of abused, unwanted and neglected equines and to improve the quality of their lives.”

Obviously, to help them grow is to improve the quality of life for the community at large, and by making life better for children and for animals, a better society overall is ensured.

Missing American Couple Found Dead

The bodies of Ian Hirschsonhn and Kathy Harvey that were reported missing two weeks ago were found at the bottom of a water well in Ensenada.

According to Ian’s daughter, they couldn’t be lost as the 77-year-old man knew the area very well, as he frequently visited since 1985.

Kathy and Ian were last seen in their truck, which was found abandoned seven days later.

On September 4, San Diego’s Police Department, where the couple was from, confirmed that the bodies were  Hirschsonhn y Kathy Harvey.

Hiram Zamora, a local prosecutor in charge of the case, said to the press that they were both murdered in their house by a drug addict who wanted to steal from them.

The suspect, who has already been identified, moved their bodies from El Socorrito (near San Quintin) to the city of Ensenada, where they were later found.

The couple rented a house near El Socorrito beach, a popular area for American retirees.

Tijuana-Tecate Passenger Train Announced

Mario Escobedo, head of the state economy and tourism office, said that the Tijuana-Tecate passenger train is already on the works with an initial investment of 136 million USD for a 17 miles section.

He stated that the train would be a secure, sustainable option to connect with Tijuana and Tecate, with seven stations and two terminals. A minimum of 30,000 passengers are expected to use the train every day.

This project should not be confused with the already present tourism train that goes from Tijuana to Tecate (pictured above).

Initially, the project considered a route to Ensenada. And although the plan hasn’t been cancelled, Escobedo stated that “it’s not a priority right now”, mainly because the current state government administration will only last two years and will not be able to finish a project of such magnitude.

Victor Diaz Dies at 77

On Saturday, August 8th, Victor Diaz, loving husband and father of 4, passed away at the age of 77 in Tijuana.

He was born in Mexico City on December 1st, 1942, although he lived his final years in Rosarito, where he helped countless families move between the US and Mexico with his business “Fletes y Mudanzas Diaz”.

Mr. Diaz, an honest man of strong convictions, was very well appreciated in the local community, especially by the staff of this newspaper where he was a good friend and a client for over 5 years.

He is survived by his wife Juanita Ramirez, his four children, Victor Hugo, Jose Humberto, Leo Kenneth and Omar Saul, his 7 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.

He will be greatly missed.

Big Brother Tech Increases at Border

Big Brother will be watching you more closely when you enter the US from Mexico. More comprehensive screening technology may be installed at an inspection station near you! Even though cross-border traffic is severely limited, tens of thousands of pedestrians and motor vehicles cross to and from California daily.

Way back in the 1980’s Congress mandated (in US Code 1365b) that the entry and exit of all foreigners be biometrically recorded. They are recording American travelers too. In February, House Bill 5273 (Securing America’s Ports Act) was passed. This bill requires the Department of Homeland Security “to report to Congress a plan to…scan all commercial and passenger vehicles entering the US at a land port of entry using large-scale non-intrusive inspection systems.” DHS would then periodically report to Congress on the progress of implementing the plan, which would eventually be increased to 100% of all vehicular traffic.

The X-ray and Gamma Ray systems currently in use in Tijuana are time-consuming and inefficient. According to Border Now magazine, only 15% of commercial vehicles and 1% of private cars are scanned by these methods.

A pilot biometric program was instituted at the Otay Mesa crossing, primarily to identify foreigners (i.e. Mexicans) who were travelling on expired visas and/or stayed in the United States past their permitted date.

Many airports in North America instituted Biometric Facial Recognition software that automatically matches a person’s face with their passport photo, a process  reported to be 97% accurate. However, if one’s appearance has changed, a secondary review is required. When I travelled to Nova Scotia in 2019, the camera was unable to take an acceptable photo of me to match the photo on my passport. Therefore my printed form displayed a blank face. I passed through customs without a second glance from the border patrol officer. So much for security.

A $28.8 million (US) was awarded to Viken Detection, maker of the two X-ray systems being employed at US borders, in October 2019 for the handheld scanner. There was no information on the cost of the under-car X-ray detection units. Jim Ryan, CEO of Viken Detection, states that a combination of these two systems are powerful “in the fight against drugs, human trafficking and terrorism that targets critical infrastructure;” instead of merely relying on camera-based methods and drug-sniffing dogs.

Currently, the United States has installed Osprey X-ray scanners to detect drugs and contraband underneath motor vehicles entering Texas from Mexico. Since this technology has been designed specifically for high-density border crossings it is expected to be implemented at the Tijuana border crossing in the future. While these vehicles are being safely X-rayed, a border patrol agent will be dutifully checking the identification and documentation of all passengers with hand-held devices that are already in use at many US border crossings.

The CBP is not confirming the identification of all of the southern points of entry that will receive one or more of the new screening instruments at this time, but it’s safe to say that one or more of these technological advances will be implemented at the Tijuana crossing in the near future.

Attempts to obtain additional information on the detection systems from Viken Detection were unanswered.

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