The past year has seen many new developments at Project Bona Fide. As the volunteer, service learning, and international educational programs have grown rapidly, we have added a lot of new infrastructure to keep up. With more people, we need more and better spaces for people to live, sleep, eat, play, shower, and, occasionally, have dance parties. In the past year, we have built or are in the process of completing a revamped kitchen, two new volunteer houses, showers, a freezer, and a well with a solar pump. We’ve also begun integrating animals into the systems here, and now have pigs, chickens, and pelibuey. The animals and increased infrastructure help expand our capacity both as a learning environment for Nicaraguans and international students and travelers, and our attempt to model sustainable, local permaculture systems.
We completely revamped the Bona Fide kitchen. The old stove was knocked out, which created a huge amount of space, and we built a rocket stove in the corner. The super efficient rocket stove will save us lots of firewood, and with a chimney, it eliminates smoke inhalation for the cooks.
We stoned the floor of both the kitchen and added a roof and stone floor on the adjacent area, doubling the size of the kitchen and living area. We built a new tables, benches and lockers out of local wood to utilize the expanded space. The extra size came just in time – with our volunteer program full with 20 people in January, and over 35 people signed up for the permaculture course, we may have 60 people eating lunch at Bona Fide in February.
To keep with the ever-growing popularity of the volunteer program, we added two new volunteer housing spaces. The Casa del Sol is a traditional thatch structure, built out of wood, bamboo, and stone harvested from on site, and roofed with local grass. Lower down on the property, we built a six-person dormitory from our own stone, wood, and bamboo, nestled in the middle of our oil production plot. These combine to give us 10 more housing spots for future volunteers. We are finishing construction on a new, larger, more private shower as well.
As the farm continues expanding, with ever growing orchards, gardens, and food forests, our water requirements keep increasing. This is somewhat offset by taking trees and bamboo clumps off irrigation as they mature, but, still, we need a lot of water. All our water currently comes from the same small pipe like every other household in Balgue, and, as anyone who’s been to the farm knows, water in the dry season in a big issue. To fix this, we recently dug a 5 m deep well at the bottom of the property, and installed a solar-powered pump that sends water up to the water tank in front of Chris’ house. This has multiplying benefits – not only do we have more access to water, we have multiple sources of water, increasing the farm’s water resiliency, and we will use much less water from the community water system, which is already stressed.
The other new construction projects are for the newest additions to Finca – domestic animals. Over the past year we have begun integrating pigs, pelibuey (short-haired tropical sheep), and chickens into our permaculture systems. These animals will play a very important role on the farm, recycling wastes, building fertility, weeding, and providing an abundance of products like meat, eggs, and milk.
The pigs were the first animals to arrive at the farm, and live in an enclosed stone pig pen with a wallowing pit. We started with a pair of piglet siblings, eventually slaughtered the mature male, and replaced him with another male piglet as our now gigantic female goes on a series of romantic dates with pigs from town in an attempt to get pregnant. With a steady diet of fish bones, grains, leftovers, jackfruit, and mangoes, our pigs are pretty happy.
Pigs are perfect permaculture animals for us. They are great recyclers – converting food and crop waste into high-quality meat and fertilizer. Besides a small amount of sorghum, everything they eat comes from the farm. They give us a lot of meat – the pig we slaughtered produced over 100 pounds of pork, and we had pork roasts on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and for Clemencia’s birthday.
A pig forage area is currently developing – a mixed fruit and nut orchard with a madero negro (Gliricida sepium) living fence border. The bottom layer will be filled out with taro, providing grass, fruit waste, and tuber forage. A movable electric fence system will also allow them to be pastured in different areas with abundant food depending on the season – during jackfruit season, they will be rotated through our jackfruit orchard, and during mango season, through our mangoes. Once we begin rotating them, they will become literal pig tractors – rooting, tilling and fertilizing land that we can then plant directly into.
We also have two pelibuey – hairy sheep from tropical Africa that can withstand the intense heat here. They are rotated through pasture with a solar-powered electrical fence system at the bottom of the property. During the wet season, a month or two into the dry season, there is plenty of ground cover for them to eat. However, pasturing animals here is difficult here because for the final three months of the dry season, there is no groundcover. No pasture. To prepare for this, we have planted large forage banks of Taiwan grass and created an alley pasture system lined with ojoche (Brosimium alicastrum) and moringa trees. This system will take a while to mature, but in the short term we have plenty of leguminous trees and Taiwan grass as dry season animal fodder.
The peliguey require little maintenance in the wet season – watering twice a day and rotating once a week. However, once the dry season hits, they time required to feed them twice a day begins to add up, and we are starting the think that the pelibuey outputs (meat) do not outweigh the labor and space needed to help them thrive. So, we are thinking about getting a cow and calf at the start of the next wet season. They’ll require the same amount of labor, and more food in the dry season, but give us fresh milk daily and a huge amount of long-term meat. As they rotate through the pasture fields, and through our rice, corn, and sorghum fields after grains are harvested, they constantly fertilize the soil. Short rotation animal grazing is one of the most proven and productive methods of building soil fertility, which would not only help our annual fields regenerate more rapidly, it would also provide a model of regenerative cattle rotations to the local area.
The chickens will spend most their time in our new chicken coop, built with materials from on site. We are currently finishing building their cob nest boxes. As our animals mature and are slaughtered, we are going to have a plethora of meat here. While we plan on experimenting with different drying and preserving methods, we are also building a a new structure at the bottom of the property to house a meat storage freezer.
The introduction of animals at the Finca has been a lot of experimentation and a lot of work. As our understanding and talent with animals keeps developing, the Finca will be that much closer to meeting its goals of modeling sustainable, local food systems, minimizing off-farm inputs, creating high quality food, and developing potential sustainable business options for both the farm and local community.