Here’s a recent newsletter segment from the CIEE Service-Learning Program in Santiago, Dominican Republic. Our fellow Thai farmer, Mike Aguilar, is facilitating and organizing with study abroad students and farmers in the Dominican Republic. Mike worked together with the AAN to promote fair trade rice, organic agriculture, student activism and solidarity with peoples’ movements in northeast Thailand. Thanks to the CIEE students for their contribution. Farmers and eaters from diverse parts of the world can only gain from exchanging information and experiences.
During the month of February we had two rural community visits to gain a deeper under-standing of rural livelihoods. Our first trip was the retiro de trabajo or work retreat where we visited Rio Grande Abajo, a rural community located in the Puerto Plata province in the mountainous municipality of Alta Mira. There we collaborated with Brigada Verde, a formalized youth group with a focus on Sustainable environmental practices. Together we gave talks on disease prevention and sanitary practices. We also helped in providing a chispa or spark to build momentum and aware-ness around the group‘s new waste management initiative.
As another integral part of the program, we had our week long Rural Stay in an isolated community in the northwest region to learn with the Regional Center of Alternative and Rural Studies (CREAR). CREAR is the first organic school in the DR and its philosophy is to learn how to do things with what you have and that success in the task is as much a part of the process as it is the gusto or spirit you employ during the process. This sounds simple but the application of the philosophy was challenging during a time when many of us were stressed, tired and doubting various aspects of our work in our communities in Santiago, challenging our paradigm of ―good intention and international development. This lesson in learning to be a learner and then working hard with both patience and faith in our work was transformative and unforgettable.
We learned about organic farming methods, constructed ecological Lorena stoves and compared community initiatives that related to our work back in the Santiago. With new perspectives on both the city and the country-side this newsletter hopes to provide you with an expanded insight into how we invest our time stretching, challenging and relearning concepts of development through the grassroots perspective.
Making the Abono
By Marla Goins: Johnson C. Smith University
One of our projects during our stay in Rio Limpio was to make an abono. Before coming to make the structure, I didn‘t know what an abono was. We entered the farming fields and I saw a pig pen and a big block of dirt with a stick protruding out of the side. We were going to make one of those blocks—using the poop from the pigs. Disgusted, I thought ‗pig poop? Out of all of the poops in the world, you use pig poop? That‘s, like, the smelliest, dirtiest crap you could use. I mean, pigs eat their own crap, so it‘s probably even more—ugghh!—the second time around. I don‘t want to touch it.‘ My outlook on making the fertilizing structure didn‘t look too positive. I saw myself getting nauseous and bend-ing over, and the image looked pretty realistic.
Then I realized that, as the abono was composed of vari-ous layers of less detestable things, I might not actually have to touch the poop. I started to breathe again. I was happy that this wouldn‘t become a day in which I didn‘t participate in a group project. I‘m not much of a farmer, but I figured I‘d give it a try—after all, I didn‘t have a choice!
To begin the process of making the abono, the farmers measured and marked off a four by four foot square in the ground with sticks serving as the corners and our guide for retaining the shape and size. The base layer of the abono was tilled soil. Another layer consisted of chopped leaves and trunk of a chopped guineo (banana) tree. The leaves and trunks of the plant contain a lot of water, which flows throughout the structure to keep the fertilizer moist and nourish growing plants. We also used dried leaves of the guineo plant because, as the farmers informed us, the bacte-ria already decomposing the dead leaves would aid in breaking down all of the other fertilizer ingredients. Layer after layer was added to the abono in shovel scoops and dumped on from wheel-barrows. Tier by tier we spread the components and molded the large cube higher and higher. The leaves were mixed with the pig defecations (which were not gathered by me of course. I did how-ever manage to overcome my disgustedness enough to spread the layer around with my shovel). We used machetes to chop up the guineo leaves and trunk, which I was frightened of because I don‘t like knives unless I‘m cooking as they‘re so extremely dangerous. I‘m just saying, I would‘ve fainted if I had gotten nicked by that machete, but I still participated in the chopping! Trying to be as careful as possible, I repeatedly jammed the machete into the guineo tree trunks, splattering water into the air and leaving be-hind messy chunks. The farmers explained the importance of utilizing all of our resources. If something fell off of the structure, we put it back on. We didn‘t waste any leaf, scoop of dirt or piece of poop.
The importance of organic farming in Rio Limpio goes beyond the healthiness of the food. It‘s recognizing the potential of all local natural resources to aid in the cultivation process and to avoid wasting. Even the remains of leftover fruits and vegetables are preserved to aid in the fertilization. An impor-tant lesson that I learned was that all natural elements have a purpose, and that something which one might regard as ‗waste‘ may actually be valuable. When I didn‘t understand the significance of using the pig poop, the farmers explained that they could use any type of animal manure, but they took advantage of the fact that they already owned pigs; they didn‘t use any imported resources. The community is strengthened by its ability to repro-duce using only the resources of the land. They export, but they don‘t need to import; they recycle what they already have.
If the lessons taught in Rio Limpio were applied to other aspects of life during this growing era of consumerist socie-ties, where we are often dependent on the work of others to pro-vide us with necessities, wasting incredible amounts of resources and energy, we might live in a more inventive and ecologically responsible community. But that may not happen fast enough. Our consumption habits are growing at a rate faster than our ability to preserve our natural resources. Even through growing up as a big consumer (I love shopping!), I have developed methods that can counter my dependency habits. It started in Rio Limpio when I realized that if farmers can reproduce food using poop they happen to have handy, I can scoop it up!