Today was a very soil-centric day! Last night after Dahoon’s post we watched the Documentary Dirt, an excellent film about the importance of dirt to our planet, food, ecosystems, and personal lives. When I woke up this morning, the hills were covered in clouds. I’ve been living in a little outdoor loft, so watching the sunrise is always beautiful. We did eight sun salutations with Teacher Alan, meditated while listening to the birds and chickens, and then did our chores.
We have ten chicks right now and they are adorable! They’ve been eating multiple bowls of feed a day and are growing rapidly!
After chores we returned to the house and ate breakfast cooked by Gloria and Alba, two amazing Mexican cooks. They brought their granddaughter/daughter Maite with them today as well and gave us the gift of amazing eggs, tortillas, and beans.
After breakfast we walked down to a field to meet Angel the farm manager and learned that we were going to be making dirt! We used machetes to cut down an entire row of Flemingia. Flemingia is a windbreaker plant that is cut-and-come again, meaning that even though we cut it down it will grow back in the future. It is especially important because it is a nitrogen fixer. Once it is cut, all of the nutrients in the roots go into the soil, while the top pieces are used in compost piles.
After we cut the Flemingia, we met Mauricio and Eduardo, two campesinos about our age. We all worked together to build square compost lasagnas with layers of Flemingia, dried grass, earth and water. We added humus from previous years’ compost piles to introduce bacteria. This was the most beautiful compost I have seen it my life! I was paired with Eduardo, so we had a conversation about compost and compared the fertility of the soil at Westtown Mini Farm, the soil at other farms I have worked on, and the soil at Las Cañadas. I was so impressed by Eduardo’s physical strength, kindness, and ability as a farmer. It was great to practice speaking Spanish and make some new friends.
While we were composting, Eric Toensmeier walked by! He is a visiting lecturer at Yale School of forestry, and he talked to us about carbon sequestration, compost, and nitrogen cycling. You should look him up! Here is the link: http://www.perennialsolutions.org/
After the compost project, we went down to the bamboo bridge to go for a swim. Teacher Alan was a very impressive swimmer because he just jumped right into the cold water. The rest of us were a bit more hesitant. I was attempting to boulder on the side of the pool when a rock broke and I fell in! I am happy to say that this was my first (pretty shallow) deep water soloing fall as a rock climber. I also found some roots to climb on. The water was cold, but refreshing. After our swim we went back up to the house and ate some amazing rice, salad, beans, and malanga patties prepared by Alba and Gloria. We took a short nap, and then it was time for Teacher Alan and I to catch the chicken!
Our dear chicken friend has been eating ants in the blackberry patch for several days. It was time for her to come back to the coop, so Teacher Alan and I headed down the hill to collect her. She did not want to come back, however. We spent twenty minutes herding her around through the blackberry rows. The bushes were prickly, so I nudged her with a stick to chase her to the corners of the field. After a very long time Teacher Alan finally grabbed her and I carried her up to the coop. We decided to name her Zarzamora for her blackberry-like personality. After the chicken adventure, we all went on a tour of the sewage system.
The sewage system is made of compost! We learned about several different types of composting toilets, as well as the mechanical, solar and wind laundry system. All of these processes use zero fossil fuels, while the sewage actually contributes to the soil! Every factor of the process is taken into account, from air circulation, to solids and urine separation and fly capture. I was completely blown away by the beauty of these processes. After our tour and a short walk through the food forest, we returned to the house and watched an amazing TED Talk about humus. We learned about the importance of living soil and how it can help our nutrition, reduce climate change, filter and store water, hold the soil together, and sequester carbon. We discussed steps that individuals and communities can take to promote humus cultivation and solve climate change, and how we can apply these ideas to our own lives. If you haven’t seen this TED Talk, you definitely should! Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q1VnwcpW7E Overall, today we learned a ton about humus and living soil, including how to create it, integrate it with the waste from our bodies, and how it could save the Earth. I can’t wait to see how we can use this knowledge to improve sustainability at Westtown. Thanks so much for reading and remember: compost is important!