Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Caca De Vaca

Yesterday, Dan (our intern) and I went up to the "company" farm on the north side of our finca. Sometimes Eliot and I would find ourselves here to watch the sunset or view the valley to the south, but this time it was for other reasons. As Dan and I climbed to the top of the farm, we crossed over the barbed wire into the pasture. We were surounded by vacas (cows), and...well, we had come to collect their feces. As we passed up cow pie after cow pie, Dan exclaimed, "why are we passing up all these piles? you sure are picky about your cow shit." He was right, I was in search of the freshest cow shit I could find. When I found the piles still warm from the metabolic processes recently incurred upon it, I exclaimed "we got freshies", and we proceeded to scoop, bag and move on. We were collecting caca for our biodigestor, which contains excriment of various animals and captures the methane that is released when the organic compounds breakdown. This is a low-tech system that has been in practice for centuries. As the gas accumulates in the plastic bag above the tank, it becomes pressurised and is piped to the outdoor kitchen. Here it is connected to the stove and we are able to cook for hours.
The only problem with our system is that we dont have enough excrement for the system to properly function. After we collected two coffee sacks worth of caca de vaca we proceded to drag the oozing bags home and fill the intake tube to the biodigester. In about 1 hour we collected 50 pounds of cow feces, and we accomplished the mission without angering the bulls.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Kids excited about Reforestation

One day Eliot met some of the local kids at the elementary school and invited them down to the finca to show them our seedling nursery. A month later the kids showed up wondering why we weren't at the farm that morning. I reminded them that that we had invited them a month ago, and things do happen sometimes. Since then the kids have become really excited about trees, and come over almost daily wanting to help us. Sometimes they even teach us a thing or two. When Greivin (10 yrs old) shows up with his brothers Luigi (7) and Jhonny (12..and thats how he spells his name), they almost always bring seeds. Some seeds are endangered species that we havent even found yet.

Being around the kids has reminded me of how, as we get older, we become estranged from our fundamental connection to mother earth. Showing the kids how tamarinds sprout or talking about the monkies and snakes that we've seen genuinely excites them. The excitement is contagious.

I believe that the youth still posses an inherent connection to the environment, born with a love for their environment, instead of a need to dominate it. If we can harbor and develop this passion among children, we are that much closer to reparing what our forefathers have squandered. Cheers to the YOUTH!!!

Pura Vida

Friday, August 25, 2006

Learning from the Masters: Farmers teach us how to make and mix suelo

The pictures below illustrate the process of mixing soil practiced by many local farmers. This soil recipe has traditionally been used for small coffee trees. This specific method was tought to us by our neighbor, Harold. This is what we use for our seedlings.

Step 1
Start with a base of 1 part topsoil from the farm, then from into a flat-top mound

Step 2
Add a thin layer of cascara de arroz (rice husks)untill it totally covers the topsoil

Step 3
Add a thin layter of Cal (Calcium) in the same manor as step 2

Step 4
Add 1 part brosa de café (composted coffee husks), and crumble by hand

Step 5
Repeat step 2 and 3

Step 6
Mix, making sure the moist brosa de cafe is fully broken down

Step 7
Fill the bags, give it the ol´ pound and shake to ensure a well-filled bag

Step 8
Transplant the seedling

This method has been practiced for generations and has ensured the health and nutrient demands of millions of coffee seedlings, (while they wait in the shade to be planted).

Monday, August 21, 2006

Time to Plant... More Questions Sprout

La Cunicula (the name for the weird weather period in July and August) is over and its time to plant. We have 120 Nogales (Black Walnut) bagged-up, ready for distribution. William Mendez (pictured here) came by this morning to pick up his order for 33. ¿Que vale? After numerous reminders that we are providing a free service to the community, he still asks me how much they cost. He was happy once again to hear that they were free. Tomorrow I’m going over to help William put them in the ground. We will be reforesting the riparian (river ecosystem) hillside on the south part of his farm. These fast growing species will grow tall and extend their roots into the bank of the river, helping to combat erosion, while the leafy canopy will provide shade protecting the soil from too much sun exposure.

On Wednesday I will deliver another 30 Nogales to Roberto Jiménez, who has part of his land under restoration. A farmer with decades of experience, Roberto said he really loves the Nogales. He told me yesterday that the majority of trees that were planted for reforestation have died because they were so little when they were planted. He was happy to hear that our Nogales are 2-3 feet high and well established. The roots are actually breaking through the bottom of the bag. Roberto asked me if I could help plant the trees because he is still recovering from his kidney stone operation. "Por supuesto", of course, I told him.

Since Finca Project has begun distribution, everyone has been asking how much the saplings cost. After reminding people that they are free, they began "selling" like hotcakes. I paused to think about the consequences of our project. We obviously want to get as many trees out into the community as we can, BUT it wont do much (long-term) good to give away trees to farmers who are going to cut them down in 5 or 10 years when they have some sort of economic value. We also don’t want to undercut local nursery business by dissolving the market for hardwood, fruit, and shade trees. The closest substantial nursery is in San Vito, which is half an hour away, and I´m sure there are smaller ones all around. This calls for market research. As for creating incentives to alleviate pressures to cut down trees, well, that’s gonna be tough to figure out. Some things are out of our control, and finding community-level solutions to problems caused by global economic structures will take creativity, ingenuity, and commited community interest. For now, we will begin to formalize the distribution process by enrolling farmers in our micro-reforestation projects, which involves a meeting to review guidelines for participation. This will, at least, ensure understanding of our project and reinforce the specific beneficial details of micro-reforestation in general.

So long from the Farm,
Pura Vida

Monday, August 07, 2006

A New Intern: Worms and Trees

We have a new intern from UC Santa Cruz. Daniel Farber is doing an experiment on the use of worm compost as a fertilizer on our tree seedlings.

Daniel is doing his experiment on our manzanas de agua, Syzygium malaccense. This is a common fruit tree with shallow roots. This tree has value to our reforestation project because it helps protect water sheds by holding the water level high, and it provides an edible fruit to local farmers.

Daniel is using 100 seedlings for his experiment. For his control, he has put half of them in bags with a standard mixture used in coffee nurseries of dirt, rice husks, brosa (coffee husks), and calcium. The other 50 seedlings were placed in a bag with half of this mixture and half worm compost from Humberto Nuñigas worm farm.

Daniel measures the trunk and the leaf span every week. He will be measuring for a total of 7 weeks. This information will be valuable to us as we expand our own worm compost production and seedling nursery. Humberto Zuñiga promises us that worm compost is the best abono (fertilizer) there is.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Back to High School

Today I went back to high school. I was invited as a judge of the 5th Annual Aguabuena Bilingual High School English Festival. Actually I was invited as a member of the "jury". We had to score students on speeches and songs. We had our own panel, each with a bottle of water and a handmade souvenir to remind us of this special day.

I should have known better than to show up on time. I met Jacob, one of the two Peace Corps volunteers, on the road heading down to the high school. His wife, Trina (the other volunteer), was sick. For a long time it looked like we would be the only "jurors". We ended up waiting for over a hour for the teachers to set up all the microphones, speakers, computers, and projectors. I was surprised at what technology the high school has here. Many of the students used Power Point to give their speaches.

The two students that won the speech contest both used Power Point. One was a girl in the third cycle (10th grade, although there is no 12th grade here). She gave her speech on health food vs fat foods. (maybe fast foods). She spoke mostly of McDonalds, which I found strange since the nearest McDonalds is 4 hours away in Panama. The other student that won for the fourth cycle (11th grade) gave his speech on the history of vampires. I really liked it. There was also a singing contest but only two girls competed. And there was supposed to be a drama show, but the students never showed up.

There only ended up being 3 of us jurors. The other one was an exchange student from Australia. It was hard to pick the winners. In the end, the three of us went up on the stage, and I announced the winners on the microphone. Everyone applauded, and I felt like a rock star.

Then we ate lunch with the principal and all the English teachers. We talked about our project. The teachers were very excited to work with us. It looks like next year we are going to have alot of support from the high school here for our reforestation projects. As we left the school, I found a nogal tree that had just seeded. I collected a bunch of seeds and walked home. It was still sunny at 12:30.