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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

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.

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My new home.

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.

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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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

 

 

 

 

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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

 

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 .

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!

Wow, hanging water bottles and a stone wall. AASD really hit the nail on the head this week with this beautiful and inspiring photo of the week, huh? Not quite. But what you’re looking at could be called inspiring for its innovative quality. The wall makes up part of a small family greenhouse. The hanging plastic decorations are plastic bottles filled with water. These neat contraptions attract pesky bugs that would otherwise feast on the vulnerable plants just a few feet below. Oh no! Who knew plastic bottles could be such life savers! I’m sharing this with you because it represents another instance of utilizing resources at hand to address challenges in the greenhouses.

Alright, to be honest, I just get really jazzed that the plastic water bottles are being reused, contributing to healthy plant growth while reducing waste!  Yep, I really am super excited about this instance of creative reuse. ~Kat

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