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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

egg

 

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.

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.

 

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

Women in Maucau using their personalized manuals for a hands on activity.

Last weeks photo of the week  featured me, so I figured I would keep the personal buzz going.  In the photo of the week I am drawing maps of each greenhouse owners plots, and what was near harvest, so we could design a participatory activity allowing the women to diagram what they could plant next, based on the nutrient cycles of different plants.

The design and execution of this activity took much more than one or two planning sessions, but instead was built upon six months of trial and error, relationship building, and capacity building with the community.  Although a long and arduous process, we feel it is necessary because of our strong belief in the power of community. As that post notes, it is the community who is responsible for success in the end, so it is crucial that we include them every step of the way.

While there were some rough patches, we all walked away feeling good about the activity, and what the women were able to learn, accomplish, and take away.  It was bitter-sweet for me, as it was our last workshop with Maucau before I leave for the U.S.  At the same time, however, I know that because of the process we all went through, the Maucau family greenhouse owners will be just fine without me. ~Chris

With all this talk about mulch and ecological agriculture practices, it’s easy to get caught up in the mumbo jumbo of the things we do (… uh-hem, which we love). As with many agricultural systems around the world, Peru’s food system and landscape has been shaped by generations upon generations of farmers. The most well-known, the Incas, were masters of their harsh climate, utilizing local resources to create micro-climates and complicated irrigation systems. They were also intimately connected with the land and mother earth (or “Pachamama” as they say in Quechua). The spirituality – the delicate give and take – of people with nature and it’s a balance still remains an integral part of life.

In the Socially Speaking series, we will talk about the human side of agriculture – the people, their customs and practices, and their spiritual connectedness. We’ll also tell you about local agriculture movements and what’s going on in this region of the world in comparison with other global movements.

So, are you ready? It’s time to get personal.

~Cheryl

Sixto helps manage and maintain the Choquecancha primary school greenhouse. Ruben took this photo of Sixto in action, harvesting some giant cauliflower last week. His enthusiasm and hard work keeps the students involved. He works above and beyond to make sure the greenhouse looks good all the time too. We value the enthusiasm of community members such as Sixto who take pride in ensuring the continued success of the school greenhouse projects. Next year, we hope to work closer with Sixto, giving him even more tools for innovating and advancing the school greenhouse project alongside the students of Choquecancha.

Mulch! Who knew such an ugly word could be so beautiful. Have we stumbled upon the ugly duckling of farming? I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder but you have to admit, this lettuce, alfalfa co-mingling pictured above is pretty nice to look at.

 What is this Mulch thing?

Mulch is a simple, multi-purpose farming technique used worldwide. Mulch is any material used to cover the soil around plants in order to retain moisture, keep soil nutrients from burning off, protect against soil erosion, and even to add fertility. We’ve played around with a bunch of materials and finally today we tried out alfalfa for several reasons. First, alfalfa is widespread and accessible to farmers here – a perfect local, low-cost solution! Second, as it breaks down, the alfalfa will replenish nutrients that the crops it surrounds are taking out. Plus, it just looks good.

 Let’s get technical

Why am I sharing the marvels of mulch with you? Our demo farm lends itself to experimentation, knowing we’re not messing with a subsistence farmer’s food system. I’m excited to use this new blog theme to share some of the more technical farming practices we try out at the farm, such as different mulch materials. Even though we’re trying to adapt these practices to the region in which we work, a lot of them are applicable to other farming systems. Yep, that means you too can enjoy beautiful farming techniques.

Any suggestions for what we can experiment with next?

Leroy, AASD’s Director of Morale, definitely motivated everyone to work hard while strutting around the office in his “I’m with Awesome Shirt” all day. Thanks to Chris for lending him some sweet clothes for the day!

We all Need to Eat

Imagine if you had rely on someone else to get you some food every time you were hungry. I, for one, would be a very hungry angry person without control over how I accessed food. But people all over the world struggle to gain autonomy over their food systems, often relying on external aide, such as government food supplements.

Food systems and human well-being are inextricably bound. For this reason, securing sustainable food systems is a hot topic in the world of development. At the AASD, we’re working towards local solutions for advancing food sovereignty in the highlands of Peru (among other projects). We envision sustainable food systems as those that:

  •  enable individuals to gain autonomy over their systems of food production
  • sustain and even increase the health of the environment

How do We Achieve This?

AASD works to fuse the most relevant methods and philosophies from many schools of ecological agriculture (i.e. organic, agreocolgy, permaculture, biointensive) in order to find the most effective manner in which to work the land. Effectiveness is determined by available resources, cultural norms, and the goals we are trying to achieve with the subsistence farmers we collaborate with. We strive to increase access to food diversity through a fusion of old and new technologies. The hope is that individuals will be the drivers of their own nutritious food systems, and one day may even be able to sell and share the fruits of their labor. We’re delving deep into a region while simultaneously connecting these remote farmers with the global movement for food sovereignty. Pretty exciting! Stay tuned for more nitty gritty on how we put our philosophy into practice.

Most importantly, we need your feedback: What type of things can AASD do to share our localized work with the global movement for sustainable food systems? ~Kat