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 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

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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.

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My new home.

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!

 

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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.

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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

The harvest crew

The harvest crew

Recently we spent a day at the farm with the Sacred Valley Honeybee Sanctuary harvesting honey from the 12 hive apiary. Several of the Sanctuary’s recent apprentices came to help out with hive checks and harvesting honey from two of the top bar hives. This was a pretty exciting day in our role as hosts to sustainably managed bees at the demo farm!

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Comb from a top bar hive

We started out suiting up and checking on hives in the more standard Langstroth (box shaped) hives in which honeycombs are pre-fabricated. Jerry pulled a fast one on everyone and insisted the inspectors could not wear gloves…eek! Luckily only a few stings later we were on to the top bar hives to harvest! The top bar hives foster a more natural form of beekeeping. The bees make the comb size and shape themselves, adding personal decorating touches that are more in tune with their needs. With this type of hive, you literally just cut off part of the comb oozing with glistening, fresh honey and drop it into a bucket. The pre-fabricated Langstroth hives take a more intensive harvest process that keeps the combs in tact for future use.

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Fresh sliced honeycomb

So Jerry, the head beekeeper, identified the most honey filled combs for harvest, then quickly sliced the comb into a bucket. I wanted to reach out and eat the honey right there. The bees were less than pleased but I’m sure they had plenty to share!

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home filtering processes

Next we crushed the comb up in a bucket and poured it into a new bucket with holes poked in the bottom. The honey sat and dripped through several layers of strainers to make the final product, pure organic honey. Home filtered! I’d say I can’t wait to try it but we definitely dug right in at the farm, slurping the fresh honey out of slices of comb. Each comb had a little bit of a different color and taste due to the various plants the bees foraged. Yummmmmm it was so good, messy, and amazing despite the sugar crash that followed. Can’t wait until the next harvest! ~Kat

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Checking on the ladies one last time

 

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A fresh egg from our ladies at the farm! Our chickens have finally started pulling their weight around the farm and we couldn’t be happier.

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!

 

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

 

 

This is a snapshot of recent visitor, Louise, from South American Explorers. Check out more photo updates in our Andean Alliance Facebook album, From the Farm .

Growing Soil Fertility

Oftentimes at the farm we say we’re growing soil fertility first and vegetables second. Why’s that? Because without fertile soil you can only cultivate crops for so long before yields decline and external inputs are no longer sufficient to feed the needs of healthy crops. The soil is a substrate for growing. It is a living, thriving world full of microorganisms and nutrients necessary for healthy plant growth. The agroindustrial model looks at the soil as this dry, dark matter that must be pumped full of chemically constructed nutrients and additives. The soil in such a model is dead, dry, and just a substrate for placing roots of plants into. When we recognize that the soil is really a complex and very alive system, we begin to think about how to nurture this system so that there is a symbiosis with plants. The cylce of a growing plant and growing soil quality thus go hand in hand. At the farm we practice this in various ways, a few being:

  • Crop Rotation: Crops take and give different nutrients. We balance this through carefully planned rotation so as to increase, not deplete, soil fertility.
  • Association of plants: Certain plants complement each other and the soil.
  • Soil Fertility: composting, vermiculture, local soil fertility methods such as biol and bocashi (explained in future posts!)

What is Biol?

Over time we’ll adress our different methods for building soil fertility. Last week we made Biol. Along with the photos in this post, I’ll explain the process. Biol is a compost tea-like substance made from a mix of  crushed egg shells (calcium), ash (potassium, phosphorus, magnesium), yeast or chicha with sugar (quick break down), alfalfa (nitrogen), guano de corral (sheep/lama/guinea pig droppings), and milk all mixed with water. This can be done anaerobically (without oxygen) or aerobically (with oxygen) and stirred daily for a few weeks. Kind of like making a “potion” in your mom’s basement – one of my favorite childhood pastimes. When ready, we dilute it with water and spray this natural fertilizer on and at the base of our veggies for healthier plants and healthier soil! We learned this neat technique from a local expert here in Peru. It is so applicable for the highland communities we work with because Bocahsi utilizes only resources that the farmers here have at hand making it easy to make, low to no cost, and more likely to be put in practice. Plus it looks so nice (below), huh? Pretty neat! ~ Kat

Check out our photos from the 1st Demo Farm open house held yesterday, Sunday October 17th.

Click here to view the whole photo album on  Andean Alliance facebook page!

The Corn Festival

Recently, the AASD and Team Peru traveled to Lares for the annual Choquecancha Corn Festival.  For the last three years we have celebrated this festival with Ruben, his family, and friends in his cornfields. The corn festival is a tradition passed down from the Incas. Today, it is sadly falling out of practice in many of the small farming communities of the Andes. Together Ruben and ourselves are dedicated to keeping this beautiful ceremony alive and practiced, at least in his community of Choquecancha.   

 

What is in a Tradition?

The corn festival is one of three big workdays in Ruben’s steep mountainside cornfield. It is the last work day before harvest, but it is so much more than a work day. The day is centered around one of the cornerstones of the traditional Inca communal work system, Mink’a. Practicing Mink’a means that farmers in the community rotate working together in each other’s fields, a beautiful system of communal support and community building. The day is filled with a feast of traditional foods – meat stewed for the special occasion, tasty fried corn cakes, a traditional chard and potatoes mix, rice, mote (large corn kernels), and of course the native papa (potatoes). Chicha, the local corn alcohol, fuels workers and cooks alike between stints of intensive clearing between rows. Dances in the corn fields, beautiful flute and conch shell playing, and lots more dancing carry the celebration throughout the night. For a beautiful, detailed personal account of this day, check out a post by Amanda Sidman, who joined us for the day! As the clouds flitted across the pristine sky, we stood atop a vast mountaintop, celebrating a day of community, tradition, and beauty. Thanks  to Ruben for inviting us to celebrate such a wonderful tradition for yet another year! ~Kat