Updates from the Field: January 2016

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The high-lows of wet season: lush landscapes, abundant fruit and flowers, cooler evenings, biblical thunderstorms, knee-deep mud, moldy clothing, and all. Fall was full of hard work in the annual fields, an ever-growing appreciation for the lush diversity of this place, advances in projects both old and new, a close-knit family of volunteers, interns, and student groups, and an utter captivation in how quickly things have the capacity to evolve in this environment. We had more than 40 volunteers pass through our farm this season. Some staying only a couple weeks, and others making this place their home for a few months. We hosted 3 student-groups from gap-year education programs, Carpe Diem and Leap Now, which always have the capacity to re-invigorate life and work on the farm through the increase in numbers and upbeat energy of the programs.

For a brief while we basked in the beats of a farm-grown band, Tin Roof & the Corner Kids, whose albums may never be shelved, but whose memories will live on for quite some while. Being the tail-end of the planting season in this region, our fall also saw big pushes to get our annual fields planted. We filled 5 of our annual fields, estilo alley cropping, with Sorghum, a drought- and heat-tolerant grain that is especially important in food security conversations in arid and drought-susceptible regions. It’s also the star ingredient in farm fresh banana pancakes! We also planted fields full of Quequisque, a local variety of Taro, that produces a pink, potato-like, and absolutely delicious veg.

In just this last months, we’ve seen a huge shift in the climate and it’s clear the dry season is upon us. The air is drier, nights are cooler, and we haven’t seen rain in weeks. Drier weather also means an up-kick in tourism on the island and we’ve shot up from a solid 7 to a steady 25 people on site. As our numbers rise, we’ve been kicking ass in the fields, clearing land for new structures, and getting creative with farm-decor. Bananas are coming into abundance once again, grapefruits are ripening on the tree, and fresh-squeezed limeade is a daily treat. We’ve officially reverted back to one of our favorite farm fitness activities- BUCKET WATERING! Aka sharing lots of labor-fueled love with small trees and plants in zone 1 of our farm. We’re also less than 2 weeks out from our 11th annual Permaculture Design Course.

Project Update: Farm-to-Clinic trials its first farm-made medicines!

While the land below continues to be planted and cared for, our Natural Medicine Intern, Lynda Lawrence, has been working hard to process medicines from our farm’s bounty. On site at Project Bona Fide, we have always put an emphasis on and held workshops and courses in natural medicine. With the initiation of the Farm-to-Clinic project we’ve begun a trial of more fresh-from-the-farm potions and give bi-weekly workshops in natural medicine to educate our on-site community about the power and uses of the herbs all around us.

The workshops include an overview of natural medicine and results and the making of one’s own tincture. Tinctures are liquid extracts that are taken orally by mouth. They are most often extracted by alcohol. Alcoholic tinctures are a combination of plant matter and alcohol with an ethanol percentage of at least 25-60%. In our first batch of medical-grade tinctures, we’ve sourced our alcohol from a local supplier located just outside of Managua. The tinctures are sealed in an air-tight container (reused Flor de Caña bottles in this particular case) and allowed to sit for at least one month so that the medicinal properties can be extracted into the alcohol. The tincture dosage normally entails a few drops beneath the tongue 2-3 times per day.

Lynda, Project Bona Fide’s first natural medicine intern, has also been working in Natural Doctors International (NDI)’s Integrative Healthcare clinic in Los Angeles, Ometepe, once a week to observe their needs and where Project Bona Fide can continue to plug in as the project expands. Just last weekend, she gathered a bunch of Bona Fide volunteers and headed out to the clinic to build their first herbal garden bed. We used abandoned Spanish tiles to make the raised bed and planted it full of lemongrass, aloe, chile, basil (criolla, lemon, and holy), vetiver, and nopal. The bed will be used for demonstration purposes and for patient treatment at the clinic. We are looking forward to continuing to collaborate with the clinic, trial our farm-made medicines, and educate individuals on the power of plants!

Infrastructural Updates: Tent platforms, aula crash pad, upcycled houseplants, new signage, etc.

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Due to low occupancy and its relevant distance, we’ve lost our coconut alley dorm to a war-on-termites. It was quite the loss for a high occupancy wet season, but we made due with turning our aula (classroom) into a temporary crash pad. We added hammocks and built some new bamboo beds that housed volunteers and student groups when our numbers were high. While the aula crash pad made for increased sleeping spaces, a mega-bed movie theater, and additional seating for workshops and Friday meetings, we certainly missed having its wide-open space for yoga and the like. Having entered into the dry season, the ideal time for construction projects, we’ve cleared land for a new tent/bamboo bed platform off the pathway towards the Loveshack, where the single-space tent platform was located before. It should be finished in just a few weeks and will be able to house 6-8 people!

One of our long-term volunteers, Grace Dennis, has been on a succulent house decor binge for the last few weeks, improving ambience and table settings, and also making good-use of discarded bottles and cans. A huge fan of succulents, she’s been utilizing the nopal, aloe vera, and espíritu santo found on site (pictured below). Another couple of long-term volunteers took on making a new garden bed located right next to the kitchen for easy access. Full of rosemary, lemongrass, tropical oregano, oregano menudo, and long beans, it’ll be ready for pickin’ in just a month or two more! The potential for projects is endless on site and we’ve been truly lucky these past months to have had volunteers who are really psyched to go above and beyond to get involved in the farm.

It also came to our attention this month that the sign at the bottom of the property has broken in half. We apologize to anyone and everyone who has had a harder time at finding our farm entrance. We have a newly painted sign, thanks to the Rousseau sisters, that just needs a few more weeks of paint drying before it’ll be nailed up down below. There are also new signs on the property differentiating trails that lead to private property from those that lead to the farm kitchen… another improvement we hope will help get visitors where they need to go!

Plant Power: Andrographis

Androphraphis (Andrographis paniculata) is an annual herbaceous plant in the Acanthaceae family. Native to India and Sri Lanka, it is widely cultivated in southern and southeastern asia where its traditional usage is to treat infections and disease. The herb grows erect to a height of 30-11 cm and has a slender, dark green stem and lance-shaped leaves. The herb is extremely bitter to taste and is referred to as Maha-tita, “the king of bitters” in parts of India. As an Ayurveda herb, it is known as Kalmeg or Kalamegha, meaning “dark cloud”. The herb has a number of reported medicinal usage for treating symptoms of upper respiratory infection, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatic symptoms and has primarily been studied to support immune system health by supporting healthy levels of immune cells in the blood. On-site it’s been successful in its treatment of bacterial infections and parasites. Due to its strong medicinal quality and its treatment of common gut infections, it is one of the 2 plants we’ve begun propagating on the medicinal land. Through one of our on-site medicinal workshops we produced our first batch of Andrographis tinctures which we’re already using on site and in the clinic. While it isn’t the tastiest of herbs, it does do the trick! 

A Day in the Life: Lynda Lawrence, Natural Medicine Intern:

DSC079805:30- I wake up in my hammock in the Aula by a combination of our farm dog, Leila, squealing and licking my face and the soft growl of howler monkeys in the nearby trees. I quickly throw on whatever cleanish clothes I can find as I am greeted by Noor, Leila’s brother who walks me to the Aula every night and sleeps on a yoga mat next to my hammock. Then, with unbrushed hair and sleepy eyes, the puppies race me to the kitchen to start the fuego for my morning coffee from our head cook’s farm, so yum.

6:30- Coffee in tow, I settle myself into the hand built cob bench in the kitchen reading my latest books about natural health and wait for my co-volunteers to settle in and fill me in about some scary creature they encountered the night before.

As the sun seeps in the kitchen, I help Paula in the kitchen to make my early breakfast as I will be headed to the clinic for the day and need to catch the early bus. The clinic is run by a naturopathic doctor from Portland, Oregon who moved to the island two years ago with his family.

7:30- Paula prepares me a plate of her amazing gallo pinto, maduras, huevo frito and an assortment of fresh fruit. She sends me off with a tupperware of goodies for lunch and I’m ready to embark! I leave from the back gate and try to escape without the puppies seeing me so they don’t follow me to town.

8:30- Over the river and through the rice fields, I arrive at the bus stop. I patiently wait for the bus with a perfect view of people watching. An array of pigs, dogs, and chickens stroll by looking for scraps while parents walk their children to school.

As I hear honking in the distance, I spring up because I know the bus is coming. It rolls up decked out in bright colors, tassels, shiny rims, loud reggaeton and the name “Priscilla” across the windshield accompanied by a Jesus decal. The bus barely slows down as the money collector holds out his hand and pulls me into the bus- I’m on! The bus is filled with people, children, farm tools and a large TV with a reggaeton music video playing. The bus takes us through the island with a beautiful view of playa Santo Domingo , lush green forests, and endless banana trees. People come and go and finally I arrive in Los Angeles where I have to yell “Espera!” as I push my way through the bus and the money collector once again makes sure I don’t just fall off the bus (which has happened).

9:45- I walk down the street of the clinic accompanied by a parade of cows. I enter the colorful clinic where Dawson is talking to a patient. After an exchange of “holas” I head to the back of the clinic and I enter the magical world of herbal medicine complete with every book I could ever imagine reading on natural health and herbs. My day includes researching usage of herbs for recurring ailments, helping translate Spanish and occasionally giving 84 year old women massages. Being “la ayudante” I have learned so much about health in general and how much lifestyle plays into it. It’s been really interesting to see how the culture of Ometepe plays into their health and how to effectively help them change their lifestyles for better health.

3:30- I say my goodbyes to Dawson and run to catch the bus. I pass the cows and stop at the pulpería for some chocolate milk in a bag. It may sound unappealing but when you are tired, sweaty and waitIng for a while it is absolutely refreshing. I hear honking in the distance and in rolls ” Vanessa”. The bus slows and a hand from the back of the bus extends and I hop up into the sea of people crammed into the bus.

The bus takes us through the banana tree forests with stunning views of volcan concepcion and Maderas that remain breathtaking no matter how many times I’ve done the drive. I watch the sun set behind Maderas and The entire sky turns a pink that contrasts the green landscape under it.

5:30- I arrive in Balgüe just as it’s getting dark and I hurry off the bus to get home. On my way through the forest I run into at least 5 people I know. I see Marina, our head cook, who is sitting in her front yard with her daughters enjoying the last seconds of sun. I get home in time for a dark cold shower and a homage meal cooked by my co volunteers. We end the day telling stories from our day and making bracelets under our solar lights. Buenas  noches.

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Inspiration: “Our bodies are not distinct from the bodies of plants and animals, with which we are involved in the cycles of feeding and the intricate companionships of ecological systems and of the spirit. They are not distinct from the earth, the sun and moon, and the other heavenly bodies. It is therefore absurd to approach the subject of health piecemeal with a departmentalized band of specialists. A medical doctor uninterested in nutrition, in agriculture, in the wholesomeness of mind and spirit is as absurd as a farmer who is uninterested in health. Our fragmentation of this subject cannot be our cure, because it is our disease.” Wendell Berry

Updates from the Field: September 2015

By Sabrina Kerin, Program Coordinator

The past three months have been full of the buena onda (good vibes!) and awesome visitors and volunteers that this place tends to attract, as well as some monumental steps for new projects at Bona Fide. We had the pleasure of hosting some 35 volunteers from around the world, we had our first student group from Madison University join us on-site, we welcomed the arrival of our new Animal Husbandry and Medicinal Garden Interns, and we hosted a one-week visit from one of our favorite gap-year programs, Where There Be Dragons.

We’ve also had a BIG team push to get our new Farm-to-Clinic Ometepe medicinal herb project funded, off the ground, and running. The medicinal herb garden plot is located at the very bottom of Bona Fide’s property, across the main road near the lake. We had a very successful June Fundraising Campaign on GlobalGiving.com that raised nearly 70% of the projected budget for the project’s first full year and rewarded us a permanent listing on Global Giving’s website. We’re still feeling the gratitude for everyone that played a role in this fundraiser’s success.

To stay up-to-date on the Farm-to-Clinic updates, check out the project page:
Farm-to-Clinic: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/farm-to-clinic-ometepe/

Sacuanjoche, the national flower of Nicaragua

September is moving fast, the rains have returned after a longer-than-usual canícula (brief mid-wet-season drought), and the farm is blossoming in every corner. This is a majestic time here on the farm and on the island in general. It’s a low season for tourism and a high season for rainfall, making this island’s wild lushness evermore present. With lower numbers of volunteers and interns on the farm, it’s an ideal time for increased self-reflection, assessment of current and pending projects, and infrastructural maintenance that’s accessible with lower site occupancy. Mango and avocado season has come to an end, starfruit and calala (passionfruit) are dropping all around us, and we’re anxiously waiting the ripening of the citrus that are poppin’ off all over the place!

A Day in the Life

By Lee Cherry, Animal Husbandry Intern

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At Project Bona Fide there never is a dull moment. My day starts around 3:30AM when our naked-neck rooster starts his cockadoodledoo-ing letting everyone know he’s awake. I usually fall asleep half an hour later, just to be woken up by an eerie growling echo coming from the volcano. It sounds like the mixture of a T-rex howling, Tibetan throat singing, and the volcano rumbling.  This sound belongs to all the troops of howler monkeys that populate the biosphere, and the way the landscape is makes this sound even more the strange. I swear this sound is what gives me some really crazy dreams.

By around 6:30AM my alarm sounds, but I often sleep through it. Luckily, before the morning meeting at 6:45, Sabrina my coordinator wakes me up to get me out of my hammock. Morning meeting consists of the chores we will be doing until breakfast at 8:00. I am an “intern,” which has come from a long line of evolving positions starting with “the bee intern” to now the “animal husbandry intern,” to solve the problem of the chickens not laying any eggs. So my morning starts with my search for termite nests to get some protein for the chicks and Harold the female turkey.

I start by walking down the trail behind the garden with a bag for the termites and a machete. I usually stop at a coconut tree, twist one off, and open it up and get my daily vitamin dose from some coconut water and meat. Then I continue on until I find some termites, stopping only for the occasional melocotón (starfruit) or mango snack. I chop off a termite mound and head back up to the chicken coop, accompanied by some banana leaf plates to feed the chicks.

Breakfast comes around and we are fed with gourmet farm food, where about 60% of the food comes from the farm. Recently the chickens have been giving some eggs, and we also get some from local farms in the area, mainly Las Cuchillas, a nearby farming community completely devoid of roads where everyone rides horses or walks. So we get homemade sorghum pancakes and a fried egg, coupled with gallo pinto and a plethora of delicious tropical fruits like guanabana (anona) or papaya. Tea is also often prepared with lemongrass, cúrcuma (turmeric) or ginger, and our incredible farm honey.

The rest of the day can consist of digging swales, planting fruits to moving around bags of sand. Here we like to call this “Farm Fitness,” because each bucket of dirt you carry is an incredible workout, but you don’t realize it until the next day when your abs and shoulders feel like you were in the gym for 4 hours.

After work we get an equally amazing lunch, sometimes of the locally caught fish, guapote or sábalo. We often have veggies like chayote and carrots simmered in homemade coconut milk, fried plantain chips, and a plethora of other magical concoctions the cooks think up.

I usually spend the time after lunch napping or researching things about permaculture, and learning new songs on the banjo or jamming with fellow volunteer Phil. Then around 4:00 I head down to the high school soccer field to go to soccer practice. The trail there is awesome because I walk through rice and corn fields and get to watch all the campesinos plant and harvest and have an amazing view of Volcán Concepción the whole time I walk.

As I walk into town I go through the neighborhood and see Don David, one of the coolest guys in town. He is a builder who works down on Chris’s property and is in charge of constructing Chris’s new guest house. I also pass by the house of Marina, the head cook, and get an “Hola Barraco” every time I walk past.

Once I get to practice I see all of my Balgüe homies. There are about 17 of us on the team, several of whom work on the farm. The soccer field is filled with people playing baseball, other men’s and women’s soccer teams, pigs running around, chickens pecking the ground, and street dogs passing out in the middle of where we are scrimmaging. Here I get to practice my Spanish and soccer all at once; it is awesome. We usually do some ridiculous exercises like leap frog and some inefficient stretching exercises for a couple minutes, then go immediately into scrimmaging for the rest of the practice. I get to watch the sun set over the volcano on the soccer field, which gives a great hue pinks and bright blues over the active volcano, which often has sulfur smoke surrounding it and making it look like a flying saucer.

After practice I walk back with some of my teammates and then walk back up the trail through the woods and fields, often using the light on my watch to find my way. I have pretty much learned to memorize the trail by now, because I am pretty much doing it blind. Once I arrive back at the farm, a volunteer has cooked dinner and it usually is pretty awesome unless someone puts in andrographis into the stir fry, which is a medicinal plant that’s so bitter you would think you just ate tree sap.

After dinner we might drink some wine brought up from town and jam, or do some reading. Then clean up the kitchen area, and get some sleep by 8:30pm.

Copyright © Project Bona Fide 2015