Yesterday, our family went on a tour of one of the farms that provides produce and milk products to my grandparents' CSA (Community Supported Agriculture-a group of people who support local farms and receive regular baskets of products.)
The farm is part of what used to be one of the huge Haciendas, perched between deep quebradas (ravines). Back in the day, Ecuador was full of Haciendas like this one, which was more than a thousand acres and "owned" towns full of people. By now, most have been divided up, and some have even returned property to the local people. We ate lunch in one of the big old houses, which is now falling apart, but still very beautiful with white plastered walls, neat old doors, tiled roofs, and a big open courtyard. It could have been a museum with all the old furniture and door nobs, but people still work and stay there. (Below is the cute little kitchen, what lights they have area all solar powered)In this case, part of the hacienda (over two hundred acres) is still in the family, actually owned by an uncle in the States and operated by his brother and niece. The brother had been mainly cattle farming for years, and had soon depleted the soil completely. Also, a lot of the property had lava or stone very close to the surface which became exposed, and therefor unproductive. So, the niece (the woman who gave us the tour) who studied ecology in school and was a total convert to sustainable and regenerative farming practices began working with her dad to heal this piece of land and transform it into an incredible example of beautiful alternative farming.
One of the great things we saw in practice were rotational grass-farming techniques (if any of you have read , The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, or heard of Joe Salatin of Polyface farm -http://www.polyfacefarms.com/-this is right a long those lines.)
Essentially what I mean by "grass-farming techniques" is methods of working to revitalize pastures in a way that produces healthy soil, animals, and grass. In action, this involves series of short visits by many different animals across a field in certain rotations. For example, maybe fifteen cows would cross the field first, pooping and eating the grass in a way that does not rip it up from the roots. Then, groups of twenty or so chickens (in five or six little chicken tractors, shown above) are moved daily in patterns across the field, sorting through the cow poop and taking out parasites. Then next, maybe pigs would be sent across to turn the chicken droppings (high in nitrogen) and the cow poop into the ground while loosening compacted soil. And so on.
Along with great animal husbandry practices and grass-farming, they were also doing some beautiful vegetable farming. In several lots, they were employing permaculture practices, experiments, and great composting methods to beautiful results. Growing everything from carrots to spiky trees from the Oriente (jungle), they had several different kinds of raised beds, companion planting trials, and aromatic pest control. It was great to see.Lastly, something exciting to me, was the somewhat radical (by Ecuadorian standards) way the niece's little family functioned. Here's a picture of the dad (her husband) carrying their (eight-month old) baby on his back! He was a super loving dad, and after mentioning my studies in midwifery, he got really excited and told me that I have to visit the little clinic where they had their birth. They had a beautiful water birth, and he caught his son in his hands. He kept telling me, it was just so amazing. Moments like those make my day.