The Fruits of My Labor Are Small But Sweet

It’s been an interesting two weeks. I would have liked to update last week, but I really like to include pictures with these things, and unfortunately my American batteries just ran out and the only batteries you can buy in Nicaragua last about one minute. Aaron lent me a couple for bit.

waterfall nicaragua volunteer fun

Aaron and I commented on how sometimes Nicaragua looks like Eastern Oregon. There was more waterfall up those rocks.

There have been 3 major events these past two weeks.

One is the leaving of Hiromi and Aaron. Sad to see them go. Noemy and Bismark were too I think. They were in every way the ideal volunteers, hard working and eager to help, and just curious about how to live like Nicas.

On one of their last days Bismark and Noemy took us up a river in Mozonte to a beautiful little waterful. Walking up ahead of Hiromi and Noemy I cast my ears back to catch snippets of conversation. I think its safe to say that both groups, the volunteers and the family, have learned incredible amounts about a different way of life. I hope as well, that maybe they’ve learned a little about themselves through the experience.

“That room is open for you whenever you want to come and visit,” said Noemy

“Thank you Noe, I hope I can sometime,” said Hiromi.

“You’d still want to come back and live in poverty?”

“Yes of course, we love it here!”

I thought it was a nice little snippet. I like to think that maybe that’s the greatest gift a volunteer can give, the belief that there is something special about the way that the family lives; something special enough that it would bring people back.

aqueduct nicaragua

Bismark and his daughter Jimena sit on a small aqueduct, leading one stream over another

Two would be Chloe from Earlham getting a good start on baking with Noemy. She hasn’t been up tons, but Noemy likes having the extra hand in the kitchen, and again I think that sometimes just seeing that someone is interested in and likes what she’s doing gives her work more importance and makes it more interesting for her. Chloe helped Noemy make Hiromi’s brownie recipe, and I was incredibly pained that I had to leave to teach a class before they finished baking.

aaron and chloe vonteers waterfall trip

No idea what was going on here.

Three is really just me feeling chuffed about my own work. After a great deal of struggle with solutions for  how to keep chickens out of the garden, I decided to try rocks. It seems to be working. I planted radishes, onions, and beets in a long bed out back behind the house.

volunteer nicaragua garden

Hey, I made a planting bed.

I also built a simple box for compost out of some wood I cut and some old roof tiles laying around the yard (I’ll get some pictures sooner or later). Claudia mentioned that there was some composting happening there before but it got sort of left to the weeds. I’m not sure where it all went. It was my hope that if there was just a little space for it, the family might use it and future volunteers might be able to encourage it’s use. Well, to my pleasant surprise, upon seeing the finished compost bin Bismark was very excited by the idea and started gleefully chucking food-waste in. It made me feel good to see, I just hope that interest continues.

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Forces of Nature

Millet - L'Angelus

Millet – L’Angelus, 1860 (praying for a better crop, originally painted as praying over their son who died in famine)

When one is working with the earth, sometimes the earth chooses to remind them who is in charge.

I grew up with a few people working in organic agriculture. My uncle has a farm of his own. My mom worked for years as a grant writer for non-profits, as well as writing articles about climate, environment, and food sustainability. I have seen a few times how quickly a crop can find itself in trouble. All it takes is the wrong bug, a little too much water, not enough water, too much frost. All it takes is a small change to ruin everything.

This week is the first week I found myself confronted by nature’s obstacles for the first time. Now, the primary and founding belief of permaculture is that the problem is the solution. It’s easy to say that, but implementing it is a real puzzle.

My first obstacle was Bismark’s twenty-some chickens. The planting beds I made last week will be eternally in danger of being rooted up by the girls and their main man. Chickens can potentially be great for a garden. They eat pest insects and their feces are high in nitrogen, making them an excellent fertilizer. But how to allow them close enough to the plants without allowing them to dig them up is a puzzle.

There is also the issue of the price of chicken wire and whether or not it will be effective. As with all things manufactured and imported, it runs more than it should, about $25 for 30m. An old friend donated some cash to the cause, but I had not yet found out the price of the wire, and so it will either cover seeds, or wire, but not both. There is also the problem that the young chickens will be able to jump it unless it’s so tall as to make access to the garden difficult. So, out of my intrinsic inclination toward frugality and a desire to find a solution that farmers here can implement on their own, I did an awful lot of research.

I’ve decided to try a bunch of rocks. Apparently chickens don’t like the feel under their feet. It just requires a little maintenance in the way of moving them out from the sprout as it grows.

The next obstacle has been ants. Nicaragua has the meanest ants on the face of the planet. I don’t think I’ve ever known such an aggressive insect in all my life. They’re in our yard and at least once a day one manages to bite me and leave an itchy welt. They need no provocation. They eat the plant’s produce and, to make ants even worse and even more fascinating, they cultivate aphids in their nests, which of course spread to the plants.

ant aphid cultivation

To my dismay, I uncovered a huge ant nest where I was making one of the beds. Right about this time I was watching a chicken chow down on a series of chilies. Either they’re real tough or they can’t feel spiciness. I waited and hoped that she’d do me the favor of getting in and rustling up some ants, but after one try she left them alone. They’re mean I tell you.

ant hill

what looks unassuming on the surface is seething underneath

I’m not sure what the best solution to the ants will be. Boiling water with chili might be necessary, but that seems like it would also kill good things in the soil. Still looking into other solutions.

The rainy season is also hard on us, and my biopores, while helping, are not nearly enough.

So nature’s final blow has been a round of fever. Maybe a bit of heat exhaustion, it was hot last Wednesday when I was riding out to Mozonte, I’m not sure. Anyway, I won’t complain, these things happen.

And that’s the moral of the story – set backs happen, especially when working with the earth in all it’s grandness and power. It serves well to be reminded from time to time that I must work within the earth’s rules and guidelines; that I can’t push against her but must find ways to work with her. One can’t grow anything without a little luck and a little favor on the part of the land that grows it.

Artisans, Design, and Big Dreams

It’s been a busy few weeks here. Sometimes it seems like doing work is the best way to create new work. Every finished project opens the doors to two more. A large part of my focus in the past two weeks has been on different design projects, mostly directed toward the coffee courses that fund our project. This is the front of a flyer waiting approval from one of our partners to go to print:

and our new logo:

Lately we’re really looking into different ways to promote our artisan connections. Things like our connection with a local guitar maker and local ceramicists seem like great ways to both generate a little extra revenue for the project and to introduce people to the communities who don’t have the time to commit to volunteering. Check out our pages for our ceramicist and guitar makers here:

Guitars

Ceramics

Our first volunteers since I’ve taken on the role as coordinator are coming this Saturday. I’m excited, it will be a learning process I’m sure. Bismark and Noemy, their hosts, live in a beautiful little house with a tiled roof and clay walls up in Mozonte. They have a small farm where they grow corn and beans, and a little coffee crop, all without the slightest hint of machinery or chemicals. They make their own cheese and sour cream in the house. Claudia has made some comments about how she’s jealous of our new volunteers. I can’t help but agree.

It’s our program’s hope that eventually we’ll have a small demonstration farm in Mozonte as well, with the idea of creating a community garden and agricultural learning center. With a little luck, after this year’s coffee season we might have enough to buy an acre or two and start on that. I’d really love to see more variety in the crops grown here, and the only way to start is teaching through demonstration. After all, what good is it to grow broccoli if no one knows a recipe with it?

A good analogy for why teaching agriculture in this fashion might be my relationship with sushi, one I feel like is probably shared with at least one person reading this. The first time I heard about sushi I was, well, pretty grossed out by the idea of eating raw fish, but then when I tried it I fell in love with the buttery deliciousness of salmon sashimi. If we can give community members a taste of the metaphorical sashimi that is a multiculture, maybe they’ll fall in love.

It should be possible to buy a piece of land to start a demonstration farm for around 10,000USD. It seems like so little for land in american eyes, but it’s an incredible amount of money here. Like I mentioned before, the revenue generated through the courses for industry professionals in the coffee season should bring us pretty close, but it’s hard to know for sure.

The next couple weeks will definitely be interesting. We’ll keep you posted.

-Bennett LaFond, Project Coordinator

Hello from Guardabarranco

Guardabarranco is a non-profit organization based in Ocotal, Nicaragua that works with local farmers and people in the community to create an exchange of knowledge, experience and culture through volunteer work.

The organization offers coffee industry-centered tours and classes and uses the profits to fuel community improvement programs in a variety of venues. Currently we offer volunteer positions in organic agriculture, education and coffee farming, and are looking to expand to a local foods program with a family bakery in the nearby community of Mozonte. For more information, check us out at http://www.eco-nic.com/