Lessons from the Tropics - Part 3 of 3
Guest post by Lindsay Wilson, reposted from her Trout Lily Farm blog.
That weekend, we took some days to explore the area. Katie suggested that we go to El Palmar, a beach between Anton and Panama City. We back-tracked, took a bus and walked down to the beach for the day.
At the start of the next week, we were off again. This time — a community water wheel project and a visit with the cacao tree. This water wheel was being constructed to provide water to the garden beds during the dry season. I’ll also visit the water wheel again in a later portion of this blog entry, as another site had a water wheel and tank system, as well.
And, regarding the cacao visit… We visited a woman and her family… She had probably three or four cacao trees. They were a different variety from the ones in the mountain she told us. She said the mountain varieties were more bitter. When we asked if we could taste her cacao, she literally ran off in enthusiasm to gather her beans and share them with us. I can’t explain to you how wonderful it feels to be given something with such enthusiasm and from someone who doesn’t expect anything. Maybe cacao does this to a person???
And, sticking to the topic of awesome abuelos, we also visited Magdalia’s father’s farm — Lorenzo. He had a terraced area behind a gravel processing plant (newly developed and sometimes kept him up at night — grrrrr). The project that day was to water the land and cover the area with bagaso (squeezed sugar cane, ‘waste-product’ from making raspadura), a great mulch in the tropics! Lorenzo had a way with birds and could swim like fish. In a country filled with ‘macho, macho’ men…this was a relief — to be around a mellow, light-stepping, bright-eyed abuelo. Here’s a picture of his small farm.
We then visited El Valle, the site of a huge caldera. After a teeth-shattering, dust-kicking, cliff-hugging ride up and down the edge of the caldera in a bus (of sorts), we arrived in the lovely town of El Valle. They have a rather good farmer’s market and craft market (and they have recycling!). El Valle, obviously, holds a very ancient place in Panama’s heart; however, recently it has become a ‘hot’ tourist destination and homes and land have been bought up by mostly Europeans and folks from the US wanting to live part-time or relocate to Panama. None-the-less, we visited a rock with beautiful indigenous carvings…we hiked around the mountains…and soaked our feet in its streams…and admired El Valle.
And now, it’s time to get a little more funky. Near the end of our time with SHI, we visited a few more families that were near the second and third level of the SHI five-phase process (mentioned near the beginning of this article). At this phase, the families have introduced small-scale, chemical-free farming and are ready for a composting toilet and a water filtration system. Indeed, it is VERY important for composting toilets to be a part of the culture in Panama. This returns precious nutrients back to depleted (deforested) soils and keeps fecal matter out of the waterways.
And, a little on soil health in the tropics… Basically, most of the nutrients in the tropical forests are in the trees and canopies of the jungle. It’s not in the soil. It’s really held above ground. So, deforesting the tropics is just devastating to the soil — soil erosion, nutrient depletion, etc. etc. That is why SHI focuses on Nitrogen-fixing plants, compost and soil production, and yes — smart use of poo. Luckily, Panama is a tropical place — it gets super hot. And, this is the perfect variable for frying your poo and killing pathogens.
We had an amazing time with the folks in Tranquillo and with SHI. In a country that is so complex — from a rich, indigenous past to Spanish occupation – to the deepening divide between the ‘have’ and the ‘have-nots’ – to the remaining wild tropical forests and the heavily grazed, clear-cut lands for cattle — SHI, I believe, is providing the means for everyday-people to work with the land instead of against the land…to maintain family security and to ensure people that they can be self-sufficient.
Thank you to the many people that opened the doors to their homes with us and shared food with us. Thank you for the stories you shared and thank you for listening to our stories.
May you all be nourished.
May you all be protected.
May you all know loving-kindness.
May we be nourished.
May we be protected.
May we know loving-kindness.
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