A finca with some differences – Verdenergia

Wow time flies when you’re having fun…. Class was ongoing all week except Sunday …which was Fun day…
(and boy, these guys sure know how to party – work hard, play very hard!!)

I’ve not been able to upload photos which are ssssoooooo much more interesting than words, but will have to tell my story somehow or miss posting this week….

But lookout for a photo gallery or two, we’ve done some fieldwork and this is a very photogenic place so I’ve taken some great images.

Every day has been quite different but there is a kind of rhythm… every morning after 1st breakfast of costa rican coffee and some tropical fruit at 5:30, we meet for permaculture class in the yoga studio at 6 or 7, while every one else goes to the fields or to work on the construction of John and Kylie’s cob and bamboo house, or Chris and Marie’s wood, bamboo, cob house.

In class, we’ve been working our way through the bible of permaculture, Bill Mollison’s 800 page tome, “Permaculture, a designers manual”, a chapter every morning,  with very practical exercises on how to do it,  as the farm tries to implement permaculture concept as purely as possible or affordable.

Saturday we covered trees and their role in the water cycle, so to keep concept close to practicality, we clambered down a rocky path through the really moist, lush area around the creek next to the tribe’s house where the forest is still naturalised (it’s illegal to cut or clear, although not unknown in Costa Rica,  15m and closer to water sources, although not well-policed except maybe by neighbours).  We took soil samples there, and then at the total opposite –  a steep grassy slope, which was  cattle pasture before and the tribe is now trying to reforest with puny quick growing small unfussy trees, which will hold the soil and create shade and humus for the next group to be planted –  taller more hardwood forest trees.   At the moment however it looks like a tree nursery on a steep lawn.

What’s amazing is to take a simple soil sample from each area and compare – very similar base clay red soil – but so much more organic material in the forest soils, insects as much as brokendown plant material.  And we see the incredible diversity of plants and tree growing along the stream, under the tall tree canopy. This is so obviously the best way for plants to thrive!  The main plant nursery/ greenhouse is in a small sunspot in the middle of the jungley forested bit of the farm, taking advantage of all the benefits of the tree cover and rich soils.

Friday we discussed water- collecting rainwater and runoff with swales and dams, and recycling grey and toilet water.  There are so many possibilities, and using kilolitres of fresh drinking water to wash our toilet bowls clean is a really mad thing to do.  Biogas from humanure could very easily drive cooking stoves across the city of london and save the world a load of drinking water by not washing all that valuable matter away (and, as you soon realise in Permaculture, where exactly is “away” anyhow?

There are some serious challenges to be overcome in developing sustainable agricuture here, the climate is fairly extreme with hot and harsh equatorial sun, and monsoon rains, and there are zillions of unfriendly insects and plant  diseases. On the positive side there is a lot of water, but much of the available agricultural land was previously farmed with cattle, and has been  seriously degraded, compacted and cleared, and eroded, during that time, it’s only now with ‘gringos’ coming to settle in Costa rica and bringing views on organic, bio-friendly, permaculture to farming, that things are changing.

We eat exceptionally well here.  There is early breakfast of fruit, homemade yoghurt and amazing costa rican coffee, at 5:30, I’ve been helping with that as my little room is over the kitchen and whoever’s chopping pineapple wakes me up, so I may as well do it myself.

At 8:30 we have a main, later breakfast – eggs and veggies and usually dosa ( made with beans and rice dough, and fermented for at least 24 hours to make it sticky, absolutely delicious).  Lunch at 12:30 ends the mornings work, usually quite a substantial meal with yukka, chinese potato, rice, sometimes beans, cheeze, salad and a ton of veggies. We have had shakes – milk, fresh and unpasteurised from a local farmer, whipped with bananas, homemade cane syrup, cinnamon and slices. Yummy.

Dinner has been everything from sushi (Chris is a wizard and they have all the makings and seaweed and stuff – papaya and cucumber and banana make for amazing fillings) to delicious tomato, cheeze and homegrown basil pizza made in a fabulous handmade cob pizza oven that does really huge pizzas. Joshua the tribe leader is a very inventive chef, one meal he made a sauce for dosha with avocado, banana, garlic, yoghurt,  pepper, and some other secrets from the leftovers in the fridge, which was possibly the most amazing dressing I’ve ever eaten, bar none, I took a photo but it doesn’t quite capture the amazingness.

All the cooking duties take most of the day and keep the kitchen humming, there are usually 2 cooks and a cleaner upper per meal,  as we are 10-20 people per meal.  The farm is all about happiness and ‘pura vida’ – the pure or good life, so much of what is done here revolves around food – from growing it to preparing it, they dry and grind their own flour, collect local honey, eat dried herbs from the garden, make sugar syrup from cane, make yoghurt from start, teas from flowers and leaves out the gardens, eggs are collected from their own chickens.  They’re not 100% independent foodwise, but are happy to buy local veggies, bananas, and products created by their neighbours like milk and a lady dropped about 30kg of pinto beans at the farm 3 days ago, enough for months, we had to haul them onto sacks to dry in the sun, and have been grinding them for dosa batter.

Its really fun to see things turn into meals, didn’t enjoy the skinning of one of the rabbits for what was apparently an amazing rabbit stew, but otherwise its fascinating.

10 days left here, to finish working through the topics in the Permaculture book, take two field trips, and come up with some sustainable ideas for Jim’s farm as our group project.

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