Saturday, September 26, 2009

Llano Grande

One beautiful morning, when snow capped mountains towered wreathed in thin white clouds, my Grandad took my dad and me to Llano Grande. In the early 1940's, the Church of the Brethren started a mission in this little community, and through that mission and the resulting establishment of a church, my grandparents (who were Protestant missionaries in a different community) became friends with some of the community members. Through these networks, now decades strong, my Grandad heard of this little farm of people interested in growing organic food.

The farm started out with some twenty members, but it is now down to four hardworking, enthusiastic souls. They explained to us their challenging history, beginning with a mediocre training by the town which taught them how to plant, but not in rotation, nor sustainable methods of harvesting and marketing. They had to experiment to figure out alternatives to chemicals to deal with pests, how to keep the neighbors' dogs and chickens out, that fresh manure on beds results in grubs, and the best ways to irrigate.
Upon our visit, the place looks beautiful and vibrant, especially compared to the sad, dry fields of monoculture corn and pig houses that neighbor their small plot.

They have a detailed rotation, so that each bed goes through a cycle of leafy greens, root vegetables, and nitrogen-fixing plants. As everything is seeded and harvested, they record it all in a large binder (below), which will also serve to prove the years that they have been fully organic. They need to be fully organic for at least three years to get certified.
One of the most important things these folks are working on, is creating and nurturing high-quality soil. Along with several kinds of good manure, they have a huge compost set-up in the woods down the road. (Below is my Grandad, and two of the four members, admiring some rich black compost.)
Below is the little dog that followed us around. They told me he's the watch dog these days. He watches out for spare scraps of food.

On our way out, we saw fields covered in white feathers (below). Why would you cover your fields in feathers? and where would you get so many feathers?? Well, you would cover your fields with feathers because they provide nitrogen and calcium to your soil when they decompose (if they don't all fly away, and after they smell horrific.) And in Llano Grande, there's a big chicken production business, so what's left...lots of chicken feathers.

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