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!











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.


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


This week’s photo shows a fusion of new and old. Yes, I know it looks like a pile of rocks with some pretty colored lettuces sticking out from the top. But what you’re really looking at is the terracing technique, a practice borrowed from Incan agriculture. This terrace is an old method we adopted from the Incas that is then planted with a crop that is relatively new to the valley, heirloom leaf lettuce.

Incan terraces are a sophisticated agricultural method, plus they look cool!  Terracing creates microclimates. Between each terrace a change in temperature and light exposure occurs. The Incas harnessed this technique to grow crops suited for various climates in one place, essentially creating the perfect climate that each crop needed to thrive. At Moray, the Incan runis of a sophisticated agricultural laboratory, they would slowly adapt crops to different climates by moving them up or down terraces. So while the heirloom lettuce sitting on this terrace may be a part of a new movement for organic, unique varieties in the Sacred Valley, we’re still looking to the past to help us keep these little leaf-lings warm and thriving at the farm. ~Kat

The below post is my reflection based on an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, titled Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mentors

I found this article on effective mentorship quite interesting as there are many parallels between being a mentor and the AASD approach to working with community members. It is important in any relationship with a complex power dynamic to stay grounded through humility. At the end of the day we all have an opportunity to learn and benefit from somebody within a relationship, regardless of a disparity in level of experience, education or accomplishment. Often times when a power separation does exist within a relationship one with less power may be hesitant to push the boundaries of what he or she could offer versus receive. This article infers that under these circumstances it is the responsibility of the person with more power (the mentor) to encourage a more symbiotic relationship. I think that is a valuable lesson that any individual can take into the world of social change, education or any field that is driven by relationships. ~Adam

AASD’s Aaron Ebner explains why irresponsible development practices are a social injustice.  Aaron speaks to the issue and  explains what organizations such as the AASD are doing to change these practices for addressing social justice and more. These 2 videos were made for Kalamazoo College’s Arcus Center Collaborative Leadership Prize and made it to the regional finals. We’re crossing our fingers for a win!! Stay posted for the news !



We hope you can join this important conversation and encourage you to share your own experiences and thoughts with us!

We finally have a team photo of our Peru based staff members! Countless times we’ve searched our photo archives for a picture of all of us to no avail. Guess we’re together so much we don’t really feel the need to capture photographic “memories” of our hours spent side by side. But these photos do come in handy for so many little things. So here it is! We’re dirty and sweaty (per usual) on day 2 of the Salkantay trek. We stubbornely decided to forego the guide and forge our way carrying all our stuff, trudging up steep elevation changes, and cheering each other on. Our team pretty much rocks!


*Photo used from Cheryl Hedges’s collection of this epic trip documentation

Thought the Textiles Series was finished? Think again, my friend. One more final follow up, but this time more specific to the AASD’s work with traditional Peruvian textiles and the people that make them.


As you probably know, the AASD is helping connect rural indigenous artisans to international markets. Currently, we work with one women’s weaving association located in Choquecancha, Peru. This association is called Wiñay Warmi, which means “Growing Women” in Quechua. And that’s just what we help these women do. We help them grow.

How do we help them wiñay (grow)?

The connection of rural artisans to an international market serves as a temporary avenue for income generation. The goal? Sustainable income and women’s empowerment. But the kicker – and the big difference between the AASD and many other organizations – is that we don’t envision our involvement as a forever thing. We use our temporary involvement as a way to help the women organize, learn basic business essentials (such as savings and investment), and make their own decisions about their future. We help facilitate that learning process. This is the way to a sustainable income, and it empowers women and girls to seize the opportunity.

Wiñay Warmi Update

We’ve been unsure about our progress and impact until recently. Over the course of the last year and a half, the AASD has been selling INKAcases, a product that we make from textiles that the AASD purchases from Wiñay Warmi. The women have saved a small amount of money, which they plan to reinvest into a local business. This business will be fully operated by the women’s group.

Watching the process unfold has been a moving experience, and the women don’t quite understand its impact. At least not yet. They took the initiative to discuss small business ventures, and they deliberated as a group about pros and cons. They democratically came to an agreement. They saved money collectively, something previously unthinkable for many in this impoverished community.

So what is that business?

It’s a CUY BUSINESS! That’s right. Guinea pigs. With the help of the local government technicians, the women will reinvest their hard earned savings into growing and selling guinea pigs. (If you are unaware, guinea pigs are one of the few sources of protein in the rural Quechua communities.)

So next time you’re in Choquecancha, maybe you can purchase a delicious WIñay Warmi cuy meal. ~Cheryl 

This video features Ruben teaching some of the biointensive planting method to students in the Ccachin greenhouse. Ccachin is a small Andean farming community in the district of Lares. To date AASD has 3 greenhouses in Ccachin, one at the primary school and two at the secondary school. This video features AASD’s efforts with the students to breathe some new energy into one of the secondary school greenhouses. Enjoy!






The Sacred Valley Honeybee Sanctuary is making progress in developing their space at the farm! The hives are now arranged in the shape of a serpent with an in progress medicine wheel at one end. Eventually the area will have a medicine wheel at both ends. The serpent head is under way too (small lump of dirt at bottom left). Can’t wait to see everything done and the space flourishing with herbs and flowers. The bees will be buzzing and happy!

We often use “traditional” (such as “traditional farming practices” and “”traditional textiles”) as if everyone agrees on what we’re talking about. Two years ago, I tried to understand if there was some sort of agreed-upon definition of a “traditional Peruvian textile” by surveying a range of textile experts (weavers, merchants, academics, etc.). I asked them to rank in order of importance essential components of a traditional Peruvian textile. Results indicated that many felt the use of Peruvian iconography was the most important while shearing ones own animal was the least important. One respondent refused to answer, saying that all were “equally important” to making some textile “traditional”.

So, no, there is no strict agreement, but there’s some sort of fuzzy definition. Regardless, we along with countless other organizations and people, use the term continually. We’re almost left with no choice.

The Peruvian government is currently going through a similar conundrum, but on a massive scale that may have enormous consequences. In 2011, a law was signed that requires any business or organization to consult with an indigenous community if parts of its territory were going to be affected by the business/organization’s actions. How wonderful, right? Well, easier said than done. They have compiled a list of communities that have made it onto the “indigenous community” list, but the government refuses to release it just yet. You can read more about this here:

I pose the question to you – what makes a community indigenous? Where do you draw the line upon communities that aren’t “indigenous” enough, and who decides on the indigenous aspects? ~Cheryl

For previous posts in the Textiles Series, take a look at the links below:

Artistic Expressions in Time

Quechua Colors


For the last 8 months we’ve been hard at work on our family greenhouse initiative. The planning phase started long before that and in total lasted longer than a year. We talked, planned, looked for funding, and most of all gauged whether the community of Maucau was really invested in working with us to drive forward this family greenhouse project. Talk about making sure there was community buy-in.

As we all learn quickly in the field, there really is only so much you can plan for. The rest is reacting, adapting, adjusting and making sure a project responds to the real issues, concerns, and aspirations of all parties involved. Of course, taking into account that first and foremost this project is about families, veggies, and nutrition and not about fulfilling lofty visions of the AASD or remote funders. Here are just few ways we had to react and adapt to challenges and more throughout the process:

  • Do they even want workshops?: With our school greenhouse projects, capacity building workshops are the bulk of what we do. Providing these workshops is a given, really a must. But at the end of the day families (autonomous individuals) own their structures and are free to do what they please. Fortunately Maucau greenhouse owners asked to work with us to learn how to best manage and maintain their structures in an ecological manner. So together we embarked on a journey of workhops, sharing best practices, fusing local methods, and even hosting a few workshops at the Demonstration Farm.
  • Lesson Plans vs. Immediate Challenges: On several occasions we arrived with a well designed, interactive lesson plan ready to go and then put it on the back-burner. Each workshop opens with a discussion of how things are going for each greenhouse owner, mainly the women. Several sessions immediately shifted to address pressing problems with pests, roof repair, wind reducing strategies, and watering issues. Priorities for the owners had to be met. Sometimes we could push the issue to the next week and come prepared with solutions. Sometimes we had to respond to a real issue, read the crowd, and pull all of our creative knowledge together to find a solution. So long for the beautiful lesson plans, hand outs, and planned activities – vegetables determine the priority.
  • Dependency via Seeds: From the beginning we emphasized that we would work alongside Maucau as a resource connector, capacity builder, and organizer to encourage knowledge sharing about the greenhouse cultivation practices. We were adimant that following a few rounds of seeds to get going, greenhouse owners needed to save their own seeds and collaborate together to swap different varities. But then we realized their structures were too small to be take over by plants going to seed – where would the veggies grow? So, we agreed with the owners that they could sell some veggies to buy seeds locally. Well those seeds never germinated. Who knows how long they had been in the central hub of Lares for. Now what? Instead of pressing on providing seeds or leaving this issue hanging we asked the owners how we should advance, making it clear we could not provide free seeds anymore. Their solution? We bought a set of requested seeds that would indeed germinate and then sold them back to the owners on an as need basis. Not ideal but better than free seeds.  Hopefully soon we can find a way that completely removes us from the equation.
Our seed selling visit last Thursday went well. We made it clear that AASD is always available as a resource and a collaborator but that these structures were their own to drive, to manage, and to make flourish. True to their proven dedication over a year ago, these family greenhosue owners are really utilizing their structures and eating lots of veggies! Want to hear more about the Maucua family greenhouse project? Check out these previous posts:

Local Innovators

Photo of the Week – greenhouse owners at the demo farm workshop

Our Philosophy: A Reflection from Chris Miller

Photo of the Week– inside the greenhouse