aventurero

this is a collection of images and stories from my year abroad in nicaragua. I am working with AsoFenix, a Nicaraguan NGO, and Green Empowerment, a partnering NGO based in Portland, Oregon. My program is through IE3 global Internships and the University of Washington. It was made possible in part by the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, the GO! Global Scholarship, and the IE3-OUS Chancellor Scholarship. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about these programs or scholarship opportunities.
home sweet home
I have a bunch of videos and more photos to sort through that I will continue to post, but the Central America adventure is over. For now…
I really want to give a HUGE thank you to all my teachers and advisors who were an incredible help and source of support for this time abroad.
AsoFénix and Green Empowerment, two organizations that are doing incredible work in Nicaragua. Thank you for your dedication to the families and thank you for supporting me and allowing me to feel like I was a useful part of your organizations!
The University of Washington, Oregon State University and IE3 Global Internships, thank you for giving me this opportunity to expand my educational, professional and cultural horizons while working towards my academic degree.
The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, The GO! Global Scholarship and the IE3-OUS Chancellor Scholarship, without your financial support, this trip would not have been possible. Thank you so much!
Last but definitely not least, my dear family and friends. Thank you for your love and endless support. I would have been lost without you. I don’t know what else to say.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

home sweet home

I have a bunch of videos and more photos to sort through that I will continue to post, but the Central America adventure is over. For now…

I really want to give a HUGE thank you to all my teachers and advisors who were an incredible help and source of support for this time abroad.

AsoFénix and Green Empowerment, two organizations that are doing incredible work in Nicaragua. Thank you for your dedication to the families and thank you for supporting me and allowing me to feel like I was a useful part of your organizations!

The University of Washington, Oregon State University and IE3 Global Internships, thank you for giving me this opportunity to expand my educational, professional and cultural horizons while working towards my academic degree.

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, The GO! Global Scholarship and the IE3-OUS Chancellor Scholarship, without your financial support, this trip would not have been possible. Thank you so much!

Last but definitely not least, my dear family and friends. Thank you for your love and endless support. I would have been lost without you. I don’t know what else to say.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I came across this scene while looking for the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.

Getting to see Mexico City was one of the highlights of my 11 months in Central America.
Mexico City is incredibly rich in culture, architecture and art, all of which seem to jump to life before your very eyes. If I could compare it to something familiar to me, it would be New York City, but with a bit nicer subway that you can take across the seemingly ever expansive city for only 3 pesos- roughly 25 cents.
In Mexico City, and Central America in general, people are so willing to have a conversation with you. There is an openness and ease to speaking and sharing that has been a great source of comfort for me over these last 11 months.
These are some of my favorite pictures from Mexico City, a city I have dreamt of visiting for as long as I can remember.

Oaxaca!

I stayed with my friend Edwin in Oaxaca for nearly a week. Edwin worked for AsoFénix before he earned an incredible scholarship to study in Oaxaca for two years. On my bus trip through Central America, my longest stop was with him. We explored Oaxaca together visiting Monte Albán, Hierve el Agua, Árbol del Tule (the widest tree trunk in the world!), and more.

During my bus trip through Central America, I spent three nights in Guatemala, spending two days on Lake Atitlan. The scenery was stunning, and it was an incredible feeling hearing the indigenous Mayan languages being spoken and seeing the beautiful traditional dresses. Guatemala blew my mind. I would really like to go back and spend more time there.

While in Guatemala, I visited a permaculture farm called IMAP. They have some incredible projects that assist local farmers and communities. One of my favorite projects was their seed bank. Here they are preserving ancient varieties of corn and other crops. They also sow and harvest using the Mayan calender, one of the many strategies employed by IMAP to preserve their Mayan cultural heritage.

This visit was inspired by a blog post from friends of mine I met in Nicaragua. They are traveling through Central and South America and volunteering with permaculture farms and community projects. They are keeping an incredible blog filled with great information and stories. I would encourage everyone to take a look at it!

I left Nicaragua in late July and made my way up through Central America by bus until finally flying home from Mexico City a couple days ago. These are not the last photos from Nicaragua that I will post. They just summed up my last couple of months so well…More to come!

Last weekend I went to visit a small wind turbine installed by AsoFénix and the community of Cuajinicuil. This is where my friend Bryam grew up. Back in April, I made a post about Bryam and his bicycle and briefly described how AsoFénix trained him as an electrical technician who would have the technical skills necessary to maintain the wind turbine and the community’s electrical system.

Last weekend, I got to see him in action as he led his community in taking down the wind turbine to perform the routine maintenance required every 6 months.

Bryam is only twenty years old, but he is clearly a leader in his community. The energy that powers the lights, radios and televisions in his village is due to Bryam’s strong practical skills in electrical engineering and his ability to organizing and teach his peers.

It was also inspiring to see the entire community working together to take ownership of this wind energy project. AsoFénix and Green Empowerment were critical in supplying the technical assistance, trainings and financial credit, allowing the community to purchase all the materials for the project over time. AsoFénix was particularly involved in organizing the community to set up leaders and technicians to maintain the project and collect money from residents that is dedicated to the project’s upkeep.

But now it is up to the community to work collectively to keep wind energy powering their homes. And they do, and it’s amazing to see. I came away from this experience knowing one thing for sure:

The community of Cuajinicuil powers their own homes.

Community members in Cuajinicuil pull up their wind turbine after taking it down and taking it apart for routine maintenance.

The change in landscape from dry to rainy season is quite stunning.

Biointensive Agriculture

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Manor House Agricultural Centre (MHAC), Kitale, Kenya

Biointensive agriculture is a method of growing as much food as possible in the smallest amount of space. The method draws upon a variety of intensive agricultural methods practiced thousands of years ago in China, Greece and Latin America, as well as French intensive techniques practiced in the 1700’s and 1800’s, and Biodynamic techniques developed in Europe in the early 1920s.  

The culmination of these techniques has developed into what is now called GROW BIOINTENSIVE sustainable mini-farming. It’s a method adapted to address the unsustainable nature of the global food system, which nearly all of us depend on.

The method was designed to provide food security for those who practice it, while continually building and developing the soil and conserving natural resources. The result is producing safe food year after year in the same small space.

Practiced in over 130 countries across the world, this method has proven that a complete diet can be produced by people in any climate where food can be grown, with very limited resources.

I was first introduced to this method of agriculture by during my sustainable agriculture internship at the University of Washington Student Farm. My advising professor, Beth Wheat (who has since started SkyRoot Farm on Whidbey Island, Wa. with another former UW student) assigned a reading about double-digging, the practice of preparing deep growing beds (loosing the soil to a depth of up to 24 inches, or 60 cm).

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Look how deep vegetable roots can go! Each square represents 1 square foot (How to Grow More Vegetables, Jeavons).

Deep growing beds with loose soil allows plant roots to grow deep without interruption. This allows plants to continually consume available nutrients in the soil, making them less susceptible to disease and pests (as long as the soil has sufficient nutrients for the plants!). Because deep soil provides space for roots to grow vertically, plants can be spaced closer together without competition for nutrients from horizontal root growth.

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Above: Cross-sectional view of biointensive growing bed vs. planting in rows (El Huerto Sostenible, Jeavons).

Below: Bird’s-eye view of biointensive growing bed vs. planting in rows. Notice there are more plants growing on the left (How to Grow More Vegetables, Jeavons)

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In addition, the close proximity of the plants creates a “miniclimate” in the growing bed. Below is a picture of two biointensive raised beds made by one of the producers in the community of El Bálsamo, Teustepe. The tomatoes are densely planted, allowing the leaves to serve as a “living mulch”. Their thick, low canopy shades the growing bed which helps the soil retain water and also slows weed growth.

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Of course, all of this depends on having ample nutrient levels in the soil that are readily available for plants. Building up healthy soil can be a long process depending on the type of soil the grower is dealing with, but any soil can be improved through cover cropping and composting, both principles of biointensive agriculture.

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compost!

Before I came to Nicaragua, I read the complete book from which my advisor Beth selected our double-digging reading: "How to Grow More Vegetables" by John Jeavons, a book detailing the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method (free PDF here!). 

I read this book because I have a personal interest in providing food security for myself and for those around me, particularly those who have been systematically denied access to healthy food. After spending a week out in the field working with farmers, it became clear to me that their current farming practices will not provide them with continual yields without a dependency on expensive chemical fertilizers.

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The soil is compacted and susceptible to erosion, it is very heavy in clay and low in organic matter. The soil needs a lot of work, and results from a 30-year trial study by the Rodale Institute found that chemical fertilizers deplete organic matter in the soil. Most of the dry season crops were suffering from nutrient deficiencies and attacks from pests and fungus.

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After this visit, I found the Biointensive Center in Nicaragua (CCID), a training center for agronomists and small farmers in the biointensive method adapted for Nicaragua. The training center is still in the developing phases here in Nicaragua, but AsoFénix and the CCID have been working closely together since the biointensivistas facilitated a two-day, hands-on, workshop in the biointensive method back in March, 2013. The workshop was held for small-scale farmers and patio gardeners out in the communities where AsoFénix works.

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compost!

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participants behind one of the double-dug raised beds made during the biointensive workshop.

The workshop was a great success, and many farmers have taken advantage of the information provided and started producing food in double-dug, raised beds with positive results.

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AsoFénix and Biointensive Center in Nicaragua (CCID) are currently in the process of signing a partnership agreement, which means these workshops and the technical assistance the CCID provides will continue after my internship is complete.

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The Biointensive Center in Nicaragua is also in development phases. This plot of land is turning into the center’s demonstration farm, which will serve as a research, demonstration and training center for small farmers, agronomists, student groups and organizations.

I am also excited to report that Socorro, the farmer I have been working closely with, has been hired on by the CCID as their first apprentice technician. This means he will be paid for three months of full-time work at the CCID’s demonstration farm. His role is to maintain biointensive growing beds for demonstration and research. While doing so, Socorro will receive one-on-one, hands-on training from the vice president of the Biointensive Center, Federico Gómez. After three months, Socorro’s role will shift to being an on-site, biointensive technician for AsoFénix in the communities where he lives and where AsoFénix works. 

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In just under a month Socorro has already used the knowledge and resources available to him at the training center to make improvements to his own farm. Once his training is complete, he will play an integral role in AsoFénix’s sustainable agriculture program as a rural agriculture promoter and technician. In other words, he will be the go-to person for farmers and patio gardeners in the communities who need technical assistance or who simply wish to learn more about organic agriculture.

I have been working on developing this agriculture program for AsoFénix for the last few months under the leadership of Águeda Ordeñana, the wonderful agronomist hired by AsoFénix. She has a great deal of technical and leadership experience. Working with her has been an amazing learning experience. More on Águeda and the AsoFénix sustainable agriculture program in a later post…

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