This week has been wild. I survived my first time traveling solo in Latin America and made it to my hostel in Cusco without any problems.  I even made some friends in the hostel! I met up with my fellow intern Viviana for dinner (Alpaca steak and pizza) in Cusco. I went to bed feeling a little nervous for the next day but proud of my accomplishments so far.

Adjusting to a new family

The next day I met with Viviana and Chris to go pick up Anna from the airport. I was nervous that it would be awkward but luckily we all got along really well. Driving into the Sacred Valley I was struck by the lucia dishesinsane beauty of the mountains surrounding us. The dramatic landscape helped to calm my nerves. One of my biggest concerns going into the program was the living situation. I knew that amenities would be basic and that I would be living with a host family, but after my experience in Chile living in a host family consisting of one older woman, I was worried that I would be lonely. I was really excited to learn that I would be living with the other interns and in such a large host family. The experience so far has been wonderful- Maritza and Lucho are very sweet and accommodating. They love learning about our lives and telling us the history that surrounds the Sacred Valley. I loved playing Spot It with them and seeing their playful sides. This house is never quiet- Lucia is always yelling about something and the radio is always playing weird oldies or Peruvian music, but I love the energy and the friendly vibes from this family.


Lucia’s favorite pastime- doing the dishes.

 

Old insecurities

chard days work

All in a chard day’s work.

After my nerves about the living conditions were assuaged, my old fears about my own physical capabilities started to return. Before Calca I had no experience farming- let alone at this high of an altitude. I knew that the program would be physically demanding but I was nervous about my own abilities. I was a chubby kid growing up, and to this day a small part of me still feels as though I don’t have the physical capabilities to handle intense work like this. I know that the only way I can overcome this insecurity is to prove it wrong again and again. Overall I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far in Calca.

 

 

 

 

I am bad with children but good with dogs

dogsOne of the things that I’ve been loving about this program is the insane abundance of cute, friendly dogs. It seems so trivial- here I am having this great cultural experience and I’m happy that there’s a dog on the farm? But honestly having Leroy and the pack of dogs that greet us when we come to the office and the puppies living in our backyard just makes me feel more at ease here in Calca. Kids are another story. Going into the lesson plan I was nervous- not only because I had no teaching experience but because I had no kid experience. However, all of my nerves were calmed once we left Rayampata and immediately five or six children flocked to me to hold my hand for the entire walk up to the farm. Friday morning was super fun for me – more fun than I ever thought teaching a bunch of 8-year olds how to compost could be. I felt seriously overjoyed afterwards because I felt as though the kids had accepted me and looked up to me. It made me feel on top of the world.

 

 

Quinoa harvesting

quinoa harvest

Kati is a 14-year old girl who came to teach us how to separate quinoa seeds from the chafe- that unwanted plant material that still sticks around after harvesting.  I was shocked when one afternoon she stayed with us to sift quinoa even though it was pouring rain outside and we were stuck in the dark, cold shed. She helped us sift for a few hours without a single complaint. 14-year-old Nikki never would have been so patient. This photo is awesome and encapsulates everything I hoped that this experience would be. That gorgeous, golden quinoa made us so happy because we had worked so hard to harvest it and were left with a truly beautiful product.  I hope that this theme – the happiness that comes when you create something amazing- continues throughout the duration of my time here.

 

 

My love affair with América Latina

                I’ll be honest- a lot of the reason why I chose to do this internship was so that I could stay in Latin America and continue to allow the disorganized chaos of this entire continent teach me new things about myself. I loved my time in Chile, but am trying very hard to keep this a separate experience. I have a feeling that I’m about to grow a lot over the next 9 weeks. I thought I would come out of this internship with stronger arm muscles, better Spanish and more knowledge about farming, but now I’m realizing that this is going to be a mental and spiritual journey about challenging myself and throwing myself into uncomfortable situations and allowing myself to swim rather than being scared that I’ll sink. I have a feeling that some really special things are going to happen for me in the Sacred Valley and, although not without some nervousness, I’m ready to embrace all of it.

calca

My new home.

The birthday girl!

The birthday girl!

 

 Having strong connections to the communities we work with is one of the most important things for us here at AASD, and we think in social change generally; for ownership, sustainability, and fun. So we were pumped to be invited to Wensislada’s birthday celebration in Choquecancha, a member of the Winay Warmi Women’s Weaving group. After traveling three hours, we arrived to her house full of family(four generations), friends, great food (of course cuy was on the menu!), and good times. It wasn’t long before libations were broken out to cheers to good health and a happy birthday!! After singing happy birthday (in Spanish, English, and Quechua), the dancing began and kept us on our feet most of the night. After a good sleep and another great meal in the morning, we gathered with the weaving group to buy a batch of their amazing and beautiful textiles for more INKAcases! Exciting times all around.

Check out the photos  and like us on Facebook for more exciting updates!

foodsc

Check out this fun article I stumbled upon, 16 Foods That’ll Re-Grow from Kitchen Scraps. Some crops include onion, leeks, garlic, and the one that surprised me the most, pineapple.

It’s interesting to see how some plants will grow out of what we normally consider scraps or the waste parts thrown out when cooking. This type of information is applicable to anyone gardening for fun or even for small-scale farmers that don’t necessarily always have access to new seeds or time/space to let certain crops such as onions go to seed. Pretty neat!

Below is a post from a Summer 2013 Team Peru member, Krisztina Pjeczka about her overall experience this summer. Krisztina is a fellow from Middlebury College who was an awesome addition to our group of graduate students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

TP2

Learning to ´develop´

During these past six weeks my teammates and I have been faced with a whole range of challenges as much in our work as in our personal lives; and our ways of tackling them have come to greatly define our experience here. When we decided to work for the Andean Alliance this summer we signed up for a two-month long position in a developing country, where our lifestyle and working environment are both a lot different from what we got used to in the States. While this can manifest in some more itchiness, light-headedness or other physical conditions from time to time, I think it is also quite a useful learning experience that shakes us into being more in real terms with our environment. Living with your colleagues is yet another learning curve, an opportunity for a great deal of reflection.

To mention an example, I, personally, have come to like the fact that I’m using so much less technology for my work. My laptop crashed during the third week into our program and from then on I gradually grew further away from computers, the internet and just technology in general. Writing my end-of-the-day reflections by hand was first tiring, but by now I really appreciate the intimacy of it, a connection to my words which is lost in Microsoft Word. Researching relevant information for our project without a constant and fast internet access also seemed more troublesome first, but soon I realized it was another unfounded worry. All the information we need is around us, guarded but not hidden by the people! All we need to do is seek it out! Now that we are about to compile our master document with all the material we gathered this summer this is more than apparent: interviews, discussions and spontaneous conversations fill up the entirety of our knowledge base. And if I would really need a ‘global connection’, I have found a reliable, friendly and cheap internet place in town.

Another huge take-away for me comes from our living situation. In any given team setting you are bound to encounter personality differences, which can come to surface in a variety of situations. This is when clear and effective communication becomes so essential, and you have an opportunity to improve at it! It’s easy to make yourself understood when you are surrounded with your best friends, or when you’re sure that you share some transformative experiences with the people around you (like having gone to a United World College as in the case of most of my close friends at Middlebury College). Getting your point across becomes a challenge when you have different perspectives about life and different ways of expressing yourselves. This is where learning begins! With careful practice, sensitivity and a good team feedback system I feel we have all honed these vital skills of ours here. We came to help develop but also to learn how to develop ourselves. ~Krisztina

Various members of the SGP group

Various members of the SGP group

The Context

Below is a reflection from Team Peru’s Alex about a meeting with a group of small farmers that are ecologically certified in the Calca area. AASD is also part of this group of producers and together we’re seeking better markets, as explained in this previous post about Team Peru’s work this summer. Alex is reflecting on a a meeting with this group. SGP stands for Sistema de Garantia Participativo,which is part of an international movement lead by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) called the Participatory Guarantee System.

A Reflection from Alex

Recently, we  had a meeting with our SGP certified organic farming group.  The purpose of the meeting was twofold; to obtain qualitative data concerning the training, concerns, and general sentiments of the farmers, and to obtain quantitative data to determine production capabilities.  The meeting had its share of ups and downs.  In general the obtaining of qualitative data proved much easier than that of the quantitative.  I was quickly able to determine from our interview that our previous assumption that our SGP farmers were attempting unsuccessfully to compete with conventional growers may have been flawed.  It seemed in fact that our grower’s market sense was keener than we had believed as they were branching out beyond produce into more niche products such as dairy and bee products, organic fertilizers and pest repellents, and specialty crops.  In doing this, they were largely avoiding having to directly compete with conventionally grown table crops such as lettuce and tomatoes.  This discovery, in addition to being of great academic interest, could be very useful in increasing the value proposition of our products as our farmers are able to produce a myriad of different products to potentially meet different customer needs. ~Alex

 

Team Peru working hard on a business canvas model.

Team Peru working hard on a business canvas model.

 

blogjul23

This article, “A World Population Balancing Act: Food, Agriculture, and the Environment,” featured in the Landscapes for People, Food, and Nature Blog brings up some important considerations for the world food future. As we move forward trying to advance food sovereignty worldwide, we must do so in a way that is economically viable and sustainable while simultaneously paying attention to environmental impacts. Read the article to see how this pressing issue is being framed in a manner of positive opportunities for change.

 

 

Compost! Mmm that nice pile of “waste” decomposing in a pile/hole/compost drum in some corner of your garden. Some people have their compost down to a serious art, or science, depending on who you talk to while others just chuck that waste into a pile that occasionally gets stirred. However its done with whichever special recipe, everyone agrees that compost is a hugely important part of growing healthy soil and thus healthy food. Some such as Abishay (pictured with beard below) refer to this mix of stuff as black gold. However you look at it, there’s something beautiful about turning our waste and scraps into rich, fertile soil that feeds the crops we nourish ourselves with.

Making black gold

At the farm we usually make a “lasagna” out of:

  • Greenwaste: nitrogen and carbon from kitchen scraps, cut grass and alfalfa, garden weeds
  • Brown material: mainly carbon from dried grass, corn stalks, quinoa stalks, etc.
  • Dirt: fertile bed soil, adding a mix of microorganisms from around the farm
  • You can also add: manure (nitrogen rich and really great addition!), urine (for urea), ash, calcium, etc.

This last Thursday we hosted a compost workshop with our friend Abishay, a composting genius. We made a large pile of compost. We do use manure for boacshi, a rapid acting compost but not in our regular speed compost. This pile was perfectly stacked and with well packed edges that will be turned once a month for a total of 3 times before it is ready for use!

 

DSCN2935

DSCN2957

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Key things worth sharing:

  • Larger piles break down faster (at the minimum a 3x3ft. pile will do, even bigger if at altitude).
  • Start your pile on an even plain, flat surface cleared of grass. Piles should kill any weeds below it but it helps to clear the space first. We did a half fresh manure, half chala (corn stalk) base to see which controls the grass beneath better.
  • Fresh manure at the base will kill grass, while broken down manure will help it grow
  • Height  of the pile is more important the width
  • Water between each layer as you build
  • Water the ground for several days (dripping) before turning the first time. This will bring out the worms!
  • Manure makes your compost richer. Manure from smaller animals such as cuy (guinea pig), chickens, etc. is richer than from larger animals such as cows and sheep.
  • Urine is a cheap substitute for urea (dehydrated salt-like substance) that is rich material for any compost pile.

DSCN2985

If you’re in the Sacred Valley, come check out our pile! If not then these photos will just have to suffice. Best part of the day? Asking everyone to bring their own bucket of manure, urine, or food scraps…nothing like a nice warm gift of someone else’s urine! ~Kat

tp8

Often our farm updates focus just on the work we do within the physical space of the farm. But there’s much more to the demo farm project than just that. With our recent ecological certification, we’re starting to look more towards markets for selling our produce. For about the last year, on and off we’ve attended local, ecological ferias on the weekend where producers join together to sell vegetables and products such as honey, jams, grains, etc.

Through these markets we began to realize that there are a handful of motivated ecological/organic producers looking for even more robust outlets for their products. Some of these producers aren’t even selling in the ecoferias at all. That’s where the agriculture team of Team Peru comes in. They’re working with us to see if there is a more robust market for such producers (including ourselves) and if so, what models make the most sense (i.e. selling to restaurants, weekly veggie boxes, a local market stand, etc.). As we explore the possibilities, AASD and Team Peru are continuing to attend ecoferias and talk to as many people as possible from the suppliers to the consumers and everyone in between.

To really get what’s going on Team Peru has decided to spend some days working on AASD’s farm just to get a feel for what it really means to be a small, ecological producer in the Sacred Valley of Peru. After all that writing and thinking, the crew really enjoyed getting out and putting in some hard work at the farm. Check our the album on facebook for more photos of Team Peru out and about.

tp2

blog1

It’s Team Peru season! If you’re a regular follower of AASD you’re most likely a member of  a past Team Peru crew (or two) or you’ve heard all about it. Team Peru is a group of graduate students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (this year we also have one Middlebury fellow) who spend a summer immersed in life in Peru working with the AASD. We’re three weeks deep into the summer session with Team Peru and things are getting interesting.

This summer Team Peru is exploring options for connecting small, local producers with markets. These producers are either already, or willing to begin, producing ecologically if there is a way, an outlet, for ecologically produced goods. These small producers must have an incentive to continue producing ecologically as it often means more time spent working with their land to ensure it is healthy and in tune with natural processes.

blog2

Ecological production focuses on using resources at hand but also working within the natural cycles and processes of nature. This takes time and care; thus, many producers believe their products deserve a higher value. Many see no value in selling their produce in the local markets for the same price as agrochemical producers sell their goods. Some farmers have even taken extra time to gain a regional ecological certification that is recognized nationally throughout Peru. But what value does such a certificate have if the majority  of current  buyers are not seeking such a product?

While this certificate is a huge step forward, we still see the potential to do more with this proof of ecological production. There is an opportunity to use the certificate as a point of organization and a launch pad for reaching markets that place a higher value on such goods.   This project is about connecting ecological farmers with a market that values the quality of a chemical free good for a range of reasons from human to ecological health to just the desire to support local, small-scale farmers working to produce safe and healthy vegetables.

We’re in the thick of information gathering as you can see from these photos of a recent interview with Placido, a small ecological/organic farmer in Calca. He is explaining why he sees value in producing organically and why he seeks a better market where he can sell his goods at a higher price. He also explained a bit about what he believes are the main challenges holding others from joining the movement.Very interesting! Check back in for updates and findings about this project soon. Team Peru will be sharing insights from interviews and personal reflections throughout their exploration this summer.

Want to learn more about Team Peru? Read about past experiences on the Team Peru blog.

Grow your soil first, your food second. This is a piece of advice many ecological growers are familiar with.

So how exactly does one grow a mass of brownish black dirt? Soil is a living and thriving thing. It is a substrate hosting microbes, bacteria, and a multitude of nutrients, the most important for plant growth being Calcium, Potassium, Nitrogen, Magnesium, and Phosphorus.  The soil feeds living microbes. Healthy soil is teeming with living matter from microscopic material to slimy earthworms. The things we put into or take out of the soil in agriculture can either improve the health of this living system or severely deplete it of nutrients.

For example, chemical based agriculture pumps alien sources of synthetic chemicals into soil to feed crops rather than relying on the natural occurring substances to do so. Intensive farming of one crop, monocropping, sucks too much out of the soil substrate. Soon farmers are left with a dead brown mass that once was home to millions of thriving microbes. In order to continue growing crops, farmers must pump more external, synthetic substances into the depleted soil, essentially just using the dirt as a place to put plants who then eat these synthetic fertilizers.

The alternative to this model is feeding the soil so it grows and in turn provides nutrients to support the growth of healthy crops in a more natural way. This can only be done by harnessing the power of nature and working with, not controlling or depleting, ecological nutrient cycles. AASD and many other ecological growers grow the soil through natural fertility building techniques such as compost and bocashi. These materials restore the nutrients we took out of the soil with the previous crops. And most importantly, we rotate crops.

imgres 

Different types of crops take different nutrients out of the soil and put other ones back in during their growing cycle. In order to ensure the balance of nutrients is restored, we can rotate crops based on the ratio of nutrients they give and take. For example, lettuce feeds heavily on nitrogen.  So we don’t want to plant kale after  lettuce which because both are what we call heavy feeders. Instead, we want to balance this nutrient load out. We use the above chart to help plan this rotation. This is a simplified version to help one remember which plants usually give, take, or lightly feed on nitrogen. Of course, other nutrients are restored through this balance too. Normally we rotate our crops by fruiting varieties (tomatoes) to leafing varieties (lettuce) to rooting varieties (onions) to leguminous varieties ( beans). With this rotation, we can help restore the nutrient balance, growing our soil, and in turn growing healthy plants. ~Kat