2 Volunteers on an Organic Farm

June 19, 2011 § 4 Comments

2 hour hike from civilization? Check. “Trash” sorted into 6 different bins? Check. Compost toilet (glorified term for a bucket)? Check! Welcome to Sacred Suenos (Sacred Dreams), the organic farm in Ecuador where we paused our travels to volunteer for a week.

2 ready volunteers, poop bucket and machete in hand

The Mission. Sacred Suenos aims to (1) Improve the land and (2) Educate people on sustainable agriculture. The owner selected the most undesirable plot of land for his farm, where decades of unsustainable practices such as burning for cattle grazing had left the steep land exhausted of all resources, and undesirable for purchase by any local (or sane!) farmers. The remedy was a long term, minimum 10 year plan to improve the soil inch by inch. Since the farm was not yet sustainable, we did pay for our food costs. But hey, our $25 got us a week of food and use of the work clothing and tools. I was pleasantly surprised by the selection in the clothes closet consisting of donations over the 6 years of the farm’s existence!

What are we getting ourselves into? We headed out on a recommendation from a couple in Chile 3 months earlier and we were luckily able to show up for work after calling at the last minute…then the panic set in. Would we be “crunchy” enough for these hippies? Could we actually contribute? The 2 hour hike up a muddy hill carrying all of our 82 Liters got me huffing and puffing, but when we arrived, I turned around to enjoy the view and really lost my breath.

The Farm. Everywhere you turned, quite literally, there were amazing views of the valley below: from the kitchen, the porch, the dorms – even the shower and toilet! The open building plan meant no windows or doors, and few walls. Mud and leftover plastic were combined to create cob material buildings that were similar to adobe but reinforced with the shredded plastic. The result was a basic residence for up to 12 that was breezy, comfy and environmentally friendly.

Clockwise: The Farmhouse, 2 hours from town, Hangout area, Kitchen

Daily Chores. Each morning we picked out a small chore to supplement our main task, for a total of 6 hours of work per day. Options included:
  • Checking the water reservoir and filter
  • Feeding the cats, dogs, and chickens (our last day we were suprised with some eggs!)
  • Cooking lunch (Daunting, as there were 8 of us, and no kitchen conveniences like “electricity”…or even refrigerators, ovens, and labeled spices)
  • Cleaning the kitchen and washing dishes (I took this task more seriously at first, before my idea of cleanliness was redefined, er…abolished.)
  • Watering plants in the greenhouse and nursery

The Task Board!

So much learning! Since we only stayed 1 week, we were assigned simple day-long projects which allowed us to rotate through many tasks. Joe spent one morning wielding his machete and his muscles to clear a field for goat pasture, while I was stuck got to scooping donkey poop for the compost pile. We learned about permaculture and dynamic accumulators. In the garden we transplanted comfrey, weeded around a kiwi plant and harvested and replanted white carrots. One day I measured land plots for the chicken tractor – a 10×3 ft cage which rotated to allow the chickens to scratch and fertilize the gardens. Honey harvesting time came during our stay, and the African bees (more aggressive than European bees) lived up to their reputation. Hours afterwards the bees were still chasing the harvesters who were marked with the bee scent.

Compost Toilet, Shower View, Solar Heated Water, “Bathroom Sink”

Exciting Plumbing! For the first time in South America, we were able to drink the water (from a nearby spring), and put toilet paper in the bucket! Rainwater was harvested and filtered back into the grey water system. We happily adjusted to using the “loo with a view” – the compost toilet. After each use we used a coconut shell to scoop sawdust on top. When the bucket was full, we took turns emptying the contents into a ditch and covering with ferns to keep animals out. After 6 months of rest, this “humanure” was put to work fertilizing the trees in the orchard (and not on the edible plants due to the risk of parasites). The open-air shower was solar heated by looping the black tubing into a coil on the roof of the shower. Getting naked with a nice stream of warm water while looking down onto the valley below was a unique experience!

Mmm mmm good. Oh man the food – the fresh vegetarian meals from scratch were always inventive and YUMMY. I’m not sure if it’s because we were just so hungry from the hard work or if the rustic environment put less pressure on the cooks. We always enjoyed fresh juices made with local fruits like tomate de arbol and naranjilla. On my lunch day I rolled 25 giant tortillas for enchiladas. Joe even took a turn cooking and came up with some amazing empanadas with a samosa-like filling. After lunch we set about the task of sorting the trash into the 6 bins.

Trash Bin Hierarchy:
  1. Food edible by donkey and horse
  2. Lunch scraps suitable for chickens
  3. Other compostable items
  4. Burnable (paper) items
  5. Clean, reusable plastics for cob making
  6. Unusable items (mostly contaminated plastics – we never used this bin)

What about fun? Lunch was usually 1-2pm, after which we would usually work for one more hour. In the afternoons, we took advantage of the yoga platform in the dorm area for resting and reading. I enjoyed browsing the in-house library and flipped through such books as “Worms eat my trash”, “Fermentation wonders”, and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” – one family’s quest to eat locally for 1 year. The people were a lot of fun and we shared evenings getting inventive in the kitchen by candlelight (crepes with caramel sauce, rice pudding!), playing charades, and listening to hours on end of music via the solar powered speakers.

Check out our week on the farm in pictures here.


§ 4 Responses to 2 Volunteers on an Organic Farm

  • Joe Bedford says:

    Hi!!! This is Joe! I was on the farm with you guys. Great to read this; takes me back. Im back in Babylon at the mo but saving to head back south in 2013.

    And I love the pic of Joe with the machete. I quickly learned not to try to talk to him when he was busy macheteing!

    Well all the best. Keep the dream alive guys!


  • nicole lopez says:

    wow…so nice to read about your experience, i was there last year and it changed my life!!! lONG LIVE THE NEW ADAM AND EVE, JEN AND YVES…

  • Anna Maria Zehnder says:

    that was most interesting, thanks for sharing….
    I am Yves mom and always glad to take part in his live in some way or other. Hope to visit him this summer or early fall.

  • kaseyda says:

    Fun to see other Sacred Sueno-admirers found our story! Joe hope you are doing well back in California – we are back in the San Francisco area. Nicole I am glad it was a great experience for you as well. Anna Maria thank you for having an amazing son who taught us so much during our 1 week there – his knowledge and drive to improve the land and world is inspiring!!

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