Posts

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.

Photo by FAO/Simon Maina

Photo by FAO/Simon Maina

“We need to be able to focus CAADP on sustaining the momentum on three or four issues. One is women’s engagement in agriculture, in decision making and in policy formulation. Secondly youth engagement is critical for us to be able to move the younger generation forward. And thirdly, we need to be conscious of and responsive to the needs of climate change, in terms of building resilience of communities.” – Buba Khan, ActionAid International

Although this quote from the New Agriculturalist Article, Investing in Agriculture, refers to agricultural development in Africa, it is a statement that could easily apply to key focus areas for agricultural development in Peru. In fact, these are really focus areas for any country hoping to advance its agricultural sector and most of all to strengthen it. Resilience to climate change, reduced vulnerability to shocks, and just general development of food systems depends on key actors such as women and the future leaders of any country. So even though here at AASD we often focus on very localized, solutions, it is always useful to pay attention to the larger trends going on around the world in regards to agriculture and development.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0327

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


Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 1.22.38 PM

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 1.19.52 PM

 

Seed saving is a hot topic around the world. Growers and consumers alike are rebelling against the seed monopoly that comes hand in hand with industrial agriculture. They are rejecting the role of genetically modified seeds that require agrochemicals to properly propagate. The biggest qualm centers on the idea of the terminator gene found in many modified seeds sold by big agriculture companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, and Dupont. Growers are unable to save seeds from such seeds, as they are genetically modified in such a way that the next generation of seeds will not produce. The debate over the ethics of such a seed is nothing new. But as more and more people across the world turn to an alternative agriculture path, supporting food systems that are ecological and healthy both for humans and the environment, they too have begun to speak up more about control over seeds. The movement is well underway to promote open-pollinated varieties  to foster seed saving and seed exchanges. That’s why the new Community Seed Toolkit, a joint undertaking by Vandana Shiva‘s organization, Seed Matters and the International Recue Committee’s New Roots program, is worth checking out. It makes it easier than ever to share and create a thriving seed exchange in your own community. Pretty exciting!

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!

bee2

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.

bee3

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!

bee5

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

beee1

Checking on the ladies one last time

 

IMG_0051

Women in Maucua crushing up plants to make biocida

Often people ask what practitioners of ecological agriculture do to manage pest and plagues. Well there are many different methods that can be used that negate the need for pesticides and other agrochemicals used in conventional agriculture to address these challenges.

For example, we can plant certain plants or flowers around the edges of crops that either repel pests or attract beneficial insects that actually feast on pesky pests. Just properly managing soil fertility contributes significantly to plant resistance to plagues and pests. So essentially everything we do from composting, to soil preparation, to companion planting strengthens plants against environmental threats. Supporting a natural, balanced system reduces the risk of problems. Nonetheless we must also be prepared to address issues as they arise. One easy technique we use is Biocida, a process we learned from a local expert. It is ideal to use with community members because they can gather the ingredients from around their homes, similar to the soil fertility building Biol covered in a past post. Here’s how we prepare Biocida:

Biocida is a natural pest repellent used to both control and prevent pests from attacking plants. It can be used on small plants and should continue to be used on a bi-weekly basis. It can also be used at times when pests are attacking a normally healthy plant. But it is mainly a preventative solution rather than a control once pests have infested a plant.

Ingredients:

  • Bitter and aromatic herbs, plants, etc. growing in your garden and wild around your garden – these act as repellents
  • Leaf of a Cactus: Ideally the agave cactus or Tuna but any cactus will work – acts as a sticky substance that keeps the solution on the leaves (if you don’t have this, it will still work)
  • Water
  • Onion – repellent
  • Garlic – repellent
  • Hot pepper (i.e. a jalapeño) – repellent

Standard Biocida (this is the one we use most often):

  • Crush up the plants into small pieces
  • Mix in a bucket with water (1/2 plants;1/2 water)
  • Let sit for  24 hours so the active ingredients of the plants soak into the water
  • Filter out the plant particles inot a backpack or other spraying device
  • Dilute with water (i.e. if you have 1 6 liter backpack, 2liters should be bioicida and the rest water)
  • Spray on the leaves of all plants

Biocida Tea:

  • Boil water
  • Add all the leaves, garlic, onion, pepper, and cactus
  • Mix into the boiled water and let sit for 2 -3 minutes
  • Dilute with more water (1/4 biocida to 3/4 water)
  • Spray on leaves of all plants

Biocida Infusion

  • Place plants in a bucket with boiled water. Use a bucket that can be hermetically sealed for about 10 minutes. If using stems, roots, or plants with hard outer leaves, you may need to leave them in the infusion for 20-30 mins.
  • Spray on the leaves of plants

 Notes:

  • The spray is strong. Don’t spray on plants you plan to harvest within the next week
  • Apply after watering plants and don’t water for 12 hours after to prevent the bioicida from washing off the leaves

 Enjoy pest free plants! ~Kat

 

 

 

 

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 10.35.41 AM

The AASD utilizes a technical practice closely related to John Jeavon’s Grow Biointensive method of sustainable farming. John is a best selling author of various agriculture books most notably “How to Grow More Vegetables.” We appreciate John not only for his technical expertise but also because he is a great supporter of the AASD. John’s organization Ecology Action has offered numerous internships to local farmers greatly supporting the sustainable agriculture movement here in Peru. I arrived in Michigan last night to a package from John filled with a very generous donation of seeds and learning material for our organization.

John’s claim to fame is his technical expertise but he is truly making a difference by supporting sustainable agriculture in Peru and around the world. ~Aaron

Recently Ruben and I asked Raul, one of the Choquecancha greenhouse overseers what organic/ecological agriculture meant to him. Below is a rough transcription of the Spanish recording. Hopefully we can share the recording soon when we get enough bandwidth!  Raul had much more to share but this is a tid bit of what makes ecological growing important to him. As he stood in the greenhouse Raul made it clear that growing without pesticides and chemical additives is extremely important for the health of the community. He sees the value from the point of human and ecological health. The school year is just getting started again so we’re excited to work closer with Raul and other enthusiastic organic growers at the schools. In the meantime, enjoy this update:  

Ruben: Raul, what does ecological and organic agriculture mean to you? What do you understand about this method of agriculture?

Raul: I understand that organic agriculture is about woringk naturally with no chemicals. This means working with guano de corral and compost. The products are healthier for our children and ourselves.

Ruben: What do you know about chemical agriculture? Why is it not important to you?

Raul: For me it is not important because it brings sickness and plagues. For example if we put fertilizer on a plant, it will grow large and produce a lot. But it has no nutritional value, it is not healthy. It will eventually get pests and plagues and this is not good.

 

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!

[youtube]http://youtu.be/UdWyRdMZMBg[/youtube]

 

 

 

 

 

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