There’s nothing like hopping on a plane, sitting for a few hours in mid-air and BAM stumbling off in a new country a thousand miles away that can make one realize how small the world is and how much it has morphed and is morphing. In the matter of a day, I transplanted myself from the cosmopolitan sprawl of Houston, Texas to the beautiful, slow and mysterious island known as Ometepe.
It didn’t take long to realize as the new Volunteer Coordinator just how much really goes on in this unique place. When I first arrived in February, I was able to catch a glimpse of Project Bona Fide’s Permaculture Design Course that took place right here on the farm. An influx of over 50 budding permaculturists from all ages, backgrounds and parts of the world came to listen, design, and learn from the impressive likes of Chris Shanks, Michael Judd, Jackie Pitts, Doug Bullock and Dave Boehnlein. Over the course of these two weeks, they walked properties, discussed plans, made kimchi, grafted, and presented designs of their own permaculture farms leaving with a transformed perspective and an excitement/exhaustion that only two intense weeks of learning in a place like this can bring.
And it didn’t really slow down after that. In these last few months, the farm has been anything but static. With volunteers constantly coming and going, the feel of the farm can shift from a buzzing business to a quieter determinedness. The farm has had anywhere from less than ten to almost thirty volunteers staying with us at any one time. And it’s with much gratitude that I’ve been able to see the hard work, time, energy, love, and support of our over 50 volunteers from all parts of the world. I can’t say how appreciative I am for the growth and impact they have had on me, the farm, and the island. So thank you ALL and please make your way back!
We are also thankful for the return of Greg Courmier with a group of students from West Vancouver High. For the past five years, Greg has been bringing groups of students to experience life here in Balgue. Between their homestays, workshops, and work in the community and on the farm, this group has left lasting impressions here. We are thankful for their time and hope to see them again in the near future.
They were shortly followed by students from the LEAPNOW One Revolution gap year program. They spent their week here in Balgue, learning about permaculture, Nicaraguan history, and life on the island. They danced, baked, dug, and practiced their spanish over a jammed packed week of new experiences. Thanks again, happy travels, and hope to see you again.
And all the while, we have watched and worked on a variety of projects completed and ongoing, transforming piece by piece, plant by plant, person by person the look and feel of this farm.
We’ve completely redone our three terraced Volunteer Garden. In January, on our first terrace, we constructed more permanent raised beds with a shade structure to keep the sun from frying more sensitive plants. We are currently in the process of redoing the design and beds on our second terrace using all recycled materials, and have taken advantage of the full sun and wind of the third terrace to put up our new clothesline.
Chickens are now running around, pecking, scratching, and laying eggs here on the farm. Our chicken coop was completed here in February and nine happy chickens have moved in with lots of space for more. Besides laying eggs for us, they help us deal with the vast amounts of termites on the farm. Turns out termites are quite a tasty and entertaining treat to the chickens.
Construction on our new fire wood shelter is nearing its end.Complete with a stone floor, this structure should give us the space necessary to store and keep dry all the fire wood we’ll need for the soon to be rainy season.
Given the go ahead to turn our “Aula” into a communal space, volunteers have taken on the initiative to change the feel and look of this awesome building. Hammocks and volunteer constructed furniture will add a more laid-back feel to the new ceramic tile floor that should be put down within the next few weeks.
And at last, a new Royal Palm roof! Our old roof has given us five good years, but work is about to begin to replace it. The replacing of the roof is also allowing us to redesign the setup of our kitchen, too. We’ll make sure to pass on pictures once it’s completed!
The farm has also added two future guard dogs, Noor and Lilah. This cute brother and sister combo has added lots of life and energy to the already bustling farm. They’re still learning the role of guard but it’s hard to be unforgiving once you see them.
Project Mano Amiga
And our work goes way beyond the barb wire borders of our farm. For the local community center, Kim, our Community Coordinator, along with some other volunteers have helped raise over $7000 to fund the construction of a new space (designed by farm interns Maria and Marco) devoted to the community’s sewing co-op . Thanks to the support of friends, family and benefactors all over the world, this awesome group of women will soon have an area to expand their growing sewing business. Construction will be starting soon.
Further, we’ve started a garden intern program with Mano Amiga. Four times a week we send down volunteers to help grow and maintain their garden. With the supervision of Juan Gonzalez, a native from Balgue with over ten years of experience working on organic farms across Nicaragua, the community garden has turned from a space over grown with weeds to beautiful beds full of beets, beans, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and more.
Intercambio de Semillas
And coming up at the end of April, we are having our bi-yearly, seed exchange, Intercambio de Semillas. This year we plan to have over 50 varieties of tropical trees and shrubs, medicinal plants, native and exotic fruit, and edible perennials to share with anyone willing to trade. With the inclusion of workshops and vendors, we forsee this being our largest exchange ever with Nicaraguans and ex-pats from all over the island coming to trade seed and share genetic diversity for the mutual benefit of all involved.
And as I try to make sense of the vast and varied changes taking place on the farm and in the community, I can’t think of a better word to describe it all than PERMUTATION. Here in these four months, I’ve watched the ideas of permaculture and permaculturists transform the land and people involved with it. It’s hard to walk around and not be impressed by the real alchemy of seeds into full fruiting trees, a foundation into a solid structure, a barren patch of pasture into a forest of food, and a hodge podge of travelers and locals into a community. All the while experiencing in myself and those around me some awesome shifts in thought about farming, living, community and our own place in the world. This piece of land and I have successfully been permutated and I hope that the others who pass through and have passed through get to experience this same change.
And, now, only as I’m starting to get comfortable in the routine of dry season am I beginning to notice more clouds rolling in and more bugs swarming around, volunteers leaving and more coming in, projects ending and focuses shifting, all the tell-tale signs of the impending rainy season. And I can’t help but looking forward to more of the same.
Goodbyes and Congratulations
P.S. One last special thanks to Liz and Jim and congrats to Mitch
Liz was the Volunteer Coordinator for the Project the 6 months prior to my arrival. Besides the huge amount of time spent helping manage the day to day tasks of farm life, she designed and help build our very own chicken coop that now houses our first batch of laying hens!! She’s back in the states getting ready for law school.
Jim spent close to a year on the farm working on probably every project and farm task in some way but most notably with the jackfruit, hence his nick name Jackfruit Jim (see last Post) His presence, knowledge, and energy was an awesome resource to the farm and volunteers. He’s left us for the colder shores of Orcas Island, working at the Bullocks Brothers’ homestead.
In January, Michael and Chris added on Mitch Haddad as an additional Co-Director. With the dramatic growth of the farm and volunteer program over the past year, Mitch has been brought on to help support and expand the development of both. Having spent the last two and a half years working in Nicaragua with a variety of NGOs (including the last year and a half here at Bona Fide), Mitch was the perfect candidate having experience in community activism and organizing, sustainable construction and farming, and a resourcefulness and drive endemic of the Nicaraguans here on the island. Already, many of the projects completed so far this year are thanks to his extra support, guidance, and presence on the farm. Congrats to him.