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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

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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.

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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

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

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: http://tinyurl.com/ch5r5ps

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

 

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

Team Peru’s Monica Kelsh tells it how it is in her below post, originally posted on the Team Peru blog.

“Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.” –John Keats

Lately I’ve been thinking about the way that AASD defines the concept of “immersive education.” What I’ve come to realize since being in Calca is that Team Peru isn’t just something you pick up for January or summer term and then just drop; it’s continuous and fluid. I think Adam really drove that thought home to me last summer when he said that Team Peru isn’t really a traditional immersive experience. It can’t really be categorized and lumped together with the other options offered for J-term and summer; other programs are 4- or 8-week practicums that start and stop, but the goal for Team Peru is that it doesn’t stop once we’re done in-country. The entire point of this practicum is to intertwine the work in Peru to the classroom for real use, and to return as many times as you can to continue the work on-the-ground. This is how the immersive model was envisioned, created, and carried out by Adam, Aaron, and other highly involved Team Peru students, and they hope that others can see it that way, too. Team Peru shouldn’t even be defined as a “practicum” because it’s not practice, it’s real; all the work done by students is utilized by a real organization that has a heavy stake in the communities and real issues to constantly tackle. Students are given an opportunity to work on complex projects alongside an organization that is working towards creating impactful and sustainable solutions for indigenous Peruvians facing debilitating effects of poverty every day. ~Monica Kelsh

– See more at: http://blogs.miis.edu/teamperu

One of the things I struggle with most as a development practitioner is conveying what I do. My colleague sent me an article the other day that I thought was easy to relate to and potentially appealing to anybody who cares about social change. This article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review is titled Collective Impact, and it discusses how, “Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations.” You can find the article here, but in the meantime, I’d like to just highlight one excerpt that I found particularly intriguing:

the nonprofit sector most frequently operates using an approach that we call isolated impact. It is an approach oriented toward finding and funding a solution embodied within a single organization, combined with the hope that the most effective organizations will grow or replicate to extend their impact more widely. Funders search for more effective interventions as if there were a cure for failing schools that only needs to be discovered, in the way that medical cures are discovered in laboratories. As a result of this process, nearly 1.4 million nonprofits try to invent independent solutions to major social problems, often working at odds with each other and exponentially increasing the perceived resources required to make meaningful progress.

I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day the issues that social change organizations aim to address are so complex that it is nearly impossible to tackle on your own. The article goes on to talk about the importance of intersectoral collaboration, which I agree with, but I just hope they are referring to all key actors within a sector, such as community members, schools and teachers, and local government representatives, and not just other “organizations” that think they know what they are doing. ~Adam

Click here if you still haven’t read the article!

 

 

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!