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A tour of the Farm and introduction to its critters

Written on: Wednesday March 19th, 2008

A journal entry from: North America in our Camper Van!

When we arrived at Granja Tixib we were promptly toured around the site by Jack and Ellie, the two Wwoofers we were about to replace. Ellie is from Scotland, and Jack from New York. They were travelling around the world by Wwoofing at various farms, had started in Canada, now in Mexico, on their way to Belize and then off to Japan and then Europe. A wonderful couple, we got to know them quite well during our one-week overlap.

The farm itself is roughly an acre and covered in vegetation and trees. In fact, at first glance, one may ask ?Where?s the farm? What are they growing here??. Permaculture farms are unique in that they resemble more of a ?food forest? then the traditional mono-crop agriculture that we commonly see today. A slightly closer look reveals numerous fruit trees (apple, pear, lemon, banana, peach, orange, grapefruit and more) planted throughout the yard among herbs and medicinal plants (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, mint, gordolobo, bay laurel, sage, estafiate, fennel, dill, lavender) raised bed vegetable gardens (tomatoes, limitless lettuce, kale, amaranth, garbanzo), abundant aloe vera, lemongrass and many many more plants that I don?t know or recognize.

Being accustomed to what I call ?straight-line? agriculture it was odd to see curved beds and crops spread out (i.e. sage was planted here, there and everywhere instead of all together). Also, a large portion of the farm is actually covered in native plants, shrubs and trees and could be labelled as ?un-productive?, but this couldn?t be further from the truth. These native plants provide habitat, shelter and shade, mulch for the gardens, firewood for the property, increase the overall drought tolerance, increase diversity, attract predators (including scorpions, wasps, birds, lizards, snakes, etc) to deal with pests and also the forest provides inspiration. And most interesting of all is that the site has been specifically designed based on the relationships that exist and can be created between plant species, animals, landscape, resources such as water and wind, structures, and even pests. The intent is that by thoughtfully observing and working with nature we can create systems that are closed loop (i.e. no pollution or waste), ecologically sound, provide for their own needs and thus sustainable in the long term. Hmmm? I really like to sound of that. Best of all, permaculture provides a framework for not only our agricultural system, but for how we should organize, design, establish, and manage ourselves and thus achieve a permanent (sustainable) culture.

Back to the Farm? the site is beautifully designed taking advantage of all of the contours to capture sun heat, light and rain water. There is a 70,000 litre cistern which harvests rainwater during the rainy season and provides irrigation to the farm through the dry season (or as long as possible). There is a chicken coop, with four hens and a rooster, a ferocious guard dog named Seewa, and Pinky is the very friendly cat.

The owner of the farm is named Guillermo, or Huile (Willy) for short. Huile is a helicopter pilot in his fifties and he works two weeks of every month in Veracruz, a city some 200 kilometres away. Interestingly he explained to us that his Farm Manager had just quit and therefore he would be spending the next two weeks with us and then hoping that we could run the farm for him in his absence. We absolutely agreed and were thrilled at the thought of having our own little permaculture farm in Mexico to hang out at for a couple of weeks.

We vacated our van and moved into a small one-room cabin on the property, which we have started calling the tree house. Ellie and Jack warned us of scorpions and other creepy crawlers that they often found in their bed and so we wasted no time in putting up the mosquito net that we had brought. A few days later we learnt another important lesson. I woke up one morning, grabbed a shirt off the floor and just as I was about to throw it on I saw a little scorpion clinging for dear life on the sleeve. Surprised, shocked and scared (my first ever real scorpion encounter) I screamed and flung the shirt off the deck. ?Rob, can you pass me a sweater??, and Rob kindly grabbed his zip-up hoodie and I put it on, still despairing from my encounter. I went on doing a few things around the cabin and after a few minutes, suddenly felt something crawling up my back. Although somewhat confident that I was simply paranoid and likely imagining things, I turned my back to Rob and quickly flung open and off the hoodie. ?Oh my god, Oh my god, Oh my god!? Rob exclaimed, ?Don?t move?. By this time I?m freaking out? there?s something crawling up my back, I don?t know what it is (probably a good thing) and Rob can?t say anything except for ?Oh my god?. But before I knew it, Rob had grabbed a piece of paper and flicked the little critter off. ?It was a giant scorpion? he claimed. I still think (hope?) that he is exaggerating just to freak me out. In fact, writing this blog is sending shivers up my spine. Luckily, since then, no third encounter?. third time lucky or unlucky? I hope to not find out. The mosquito net check is now part of our nightly routine. Teeth brushed, check. Floss, check. Set alarm, check. Pick up clothes, check. Mosquito net, check, and check again, and check one more time. The morning routine consists of shake, shake, shake.

Back to the Farm again? part of living here means pitching in to the daily tasks. Right now we are in the heart of the dry season, and so a big part of the daily chores is to water the plants. As the water during the dry season is scarce it is also important to ensure that the water is used as effectively as possible. We?ve also been doing a lot of earthwork (building up soil berms) around the plants and trees to ensure that the water does not drain away. Also, to limit evaporation permaculture relies heavily on mulching, or the placement of dry material (typically high in carbon) around the stock of the plant. We use corn stover, straw and leaves from our forest as mulch. The mulch keeps the humidity in the soil, reduces the water requirement, creates a habitat more conducive for worms and bugs (excellent soil builders) and eliminates weeding. What a great idea? inspired by nature of course! Have you ever walked through a natural forest and noticed all sorts of needles, leaves and naturally occurring forms of carbon all over the ground? Permaculture at its finest.

We are certainly learning to be better gardeners: reading leaves for dryness, testing soil, making soil, transplanting seedlings, harvesting plants, managing a small nursery, building up beds, etc. We are both thoroughly enjoying working with our hands and being outside (especially coming from desk jobs). There is also something wonderful about the senses one experiences in the garden, sight being the least of them. The aromatic smells, the sounds of the bees and hens, the taste of the sage (I just can?t resist tasting all the fresh herbs), it is all soooo? invigorating.


From Kristin on Apr 21st, 2008

Very cool guys. I would have loved to come with you the rest of the trip. I love this kind of stuff. Maybe not the scorpion in my clothes, but all the gardening... love it. hmm yummy fresh herbs.