Two months ago, I lived in Miami and felt like I was ready to make a change. I’ve had that feeling before… seven years ago when lived in New York and moved to Miami; but this time I was ready for a different type of adventure – a more conscious one.

I had been taking care of my mom on and off for the last three years when she was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disorder. My mom to me was like Superwoman: innovative, athletic, businesswoman, beautiful, charming, caring – I could go on and on. Going from that to someone who can’t take care of herself was shocking to say the least. If I could sum up what I think about the medical system in the U.S., the word would be Disgusting. I decided I was gonna Do Something.

healthy healing

healthy healing

I knew my mom owned some land in D.R. And decided I was gonna learn how to grow my own food and take my health and the health of my family in my own hands through holistic medicine and agriculture. That’s how I found the 8 day Intro to Permaculture Course in Los Brazos at Taino Farms.

 

Tree Identification with the kids

Tree Identification with the kids

One of the best decisions I’ve made in a while. While I was learning, I started teaching a handful of neighborhood kids how to speak English. I now have over twenty kids who are like sponges for knowledge. While learning English they also learn about permaculture principles, art , math gardening etc … I’ve never seen kids so eager to learn. They come in early and wanna stay late. I’m amazed and inspired by them everyday. We have very limited resources but manage as best we can. Some of my friends have donated a couple of old notebooks and pencils. You would be surprised how valuable things are when you are low on resources. Maybe you can help! Email me at estefani.vidal@gmail.com to see what simple things can make a huge difference.

 

After a break for the holidays, we are back on the farm to apply a weeks worth of knowledge development to a real life case study. We are creating a Permaculture Farm Design for the future of Taino Farm.

With a head full of permaculture principles and various new theories and practices, I am starting to see how different areas of the farm will develop and how we will grow into the project that we dream to be.

design team

The envisioning process involves very high tech devices (joke). Get your pencils out ladies and gents! its time to go back to grade school 🙂

So what is it that Taino Farms aspires to be? The answer to that question is evolving. It changes with the seasons and with the people that influence us here. One of the attitudinal Permaculture principles says to seek the least amount of change for the greatest effect. To me that means “working with what you’ve got”.

And what have we got? We have a beautiful location on the river with the ability to house workers and tourists alike. We have an abundance of tropical fruit and a good water source. We also have the infrastructure in place to raise poultry, goats, and bees. Our nursery is always brimming with rare tropical trees and plants because we’re obsessed with making cuttings and saving seeds.

So in the near future what can you expect to see from Taino? Here’s an idea:

  • Honey
  • Hot salsa
  • Tropical fruits
  • Salad ingredients
  • Dairy (Cheese, yogurt, eggs)

We have all of those things already started on our farm, so it’s just a matter of getting slightly higher yields and producing the end products. As Victor, our head farmer says, we’ll get it done, little by little, every day (except he speaks Spanish, so its actually poco de poco, todos de los dias)

farm

Morning View

We are always guided by our vision, which is “to live and promote a lifestyle that is sustainable for our environment and our bodies. To foster growth in our community, environment, and society harmoniously with the existing ecosystems and cultures.”

If you’re interested to learn more about what’s going on at Taino Farm, or would like to take an educational tour, or a recreational river float, contact monica@ecabarete.com for more details. We love to share our knowledge, and are friendly to big groups. Ask about the Dominican lunch that can be included in your experience, or resources on organic gardening and permaculture.

How to get here? Check out our map with directions.

So We’ve just finished our week of intensive permaculture learning. At the start of the week, I never thought that I would learn so much, become so dirty, eat so much good food, and make the amazing friends that I did.

 

Some of The Team

A great group!

The most surprising part though, is how I look at plants now. Walking down the street, there is no longer just a sea of green in front of my eyes. I see each plant as an individual element in a complex ecosystem. Each of these elements performs many functions, and I find myself listing them off in my brain, logging away questions to research later. The other night – out for drinks with a friend I ended up scurrying around the base of a large Ficus tree looking up into the big leaves under the guise of the night sky. I could see bats fluttering in and out of this tree and I wanted to get an ID on it. Bats eat mosquitoes, mosquitoes eat us. Therefore I want what type of tree this was in order to kill off our teeny tiny predators. I picked some of the leaves and some of the fruit and brought them back so Doug could tell me what type of plant it was.

 

tree

Tree!

Making this kind of mental shift is exactly what Doug wanted us to get out of the course. All the nitty gritty soil biology, plant names, and nutrient information can be looked up at the crack of a laptop. The fundamental concept of biodiversity, harmony, patterns, and improving efficiency are what we really needed to take away from the course.

 

The week was dedicated to learning these theories, then applying them out on the farm. Breaking the earth and really getting in there, the plants and the dirt almost seem to talk back to me, reinstating their intentions and their roles. My mind made connections between the slide shows and the techniques we learned outside. Plant propagation, worm bins, hot composts, swales, sheet mulching, chop ‘n drop, nitrogen fixing … these are all a part of our vocabulary now.

digging and planting

getting our hands dirty planting a banana circle

I wont go into the details of everything I learned, because I’ve written about it already below, and Doug’s educational permaculture site also contains everything you need to know. But I will give a nice big e-hug to everyone who came together to make this experience possible: Gandi, Victor, Nao, Doug, Robbie, Clare, Aurora, Nate-Dog, Kathryn, Justine, Estefani, and Patricia & Benajin – Thank-you all!

 

Check out more photos from the course on our facebook page!

leafs of a nitrogen fixing plant

Dendrite patterns in leaves

 

the top of a bamboo shoot

Patterns in a new bamboo shoot

 

flower

spirals in nature

 

flower in black and white

dendtritic patters in a flower

 

palm leaf

Interconnectedness

 

patterns in water hyacinth

 

cacti

the last of the suns rays illuminate this cactus family plant

 

Today was yet another great (but long) day of Dominican Republic tropical permaculture. We spent the morning outside the house soaking up the morning sounds and sites of Los Brazos as the town started to wake up. Doug got right to it and had us apply what we had learned yesterday by placing out main elements in a mock site plan. We debated and moved stuff around, put showers on top of banana circles, and rabbits on top of worm bins.

 

taino River

Taino River

Back in the classroom, we discussed Accelerate Succession and Evolution. A principle that promotes building your own climax species in a shorter time. It encourages you to observe what invasive species are coming into an area that’s recently experienced some kind of disturbance. This disturbance could have been slash and burn, intensive clearing, a wild fire, or a windstom. In permaculture it,is suggested that you work with these pioneer species, and plant other varieties of plants that will keep them at bay to help your other bigger plants eventually win out in the root battle. You are basically looking to create an agricultural system that puts back in what it takes out and keeps water onsite instead of letting it run off (with more mature trees- roots increase in depth and width).

 

Before we headed out to build our banana circle in the field, we talked quickly about Diversity. A banana circle (or in our case, a papaya circle) is a great example of this principle. “The sum of the yields in a mixed system will be larger than in a monoculture system. Stability is produced when elements are cooperating.” Planting in a circle allows for more papaya plants. By using your space in height and ground cover effectively, you design an area that produces high yield and also gives nutrients and biomass back to the soil around it.

 

Group of permaculture farmers walking to their site

Heading to build our papaya circle – a force to be reckoned with

So, out in the field, we put our knowledge to work and chiseled away at the clay ground until we had hole that was 1 m in diameter and 3 ft deep. We then filled it with biomass (dry cana leaves, wood chips, and horse manure). The mounds around the outside of the hole are built up about one foot and are planted with root veggies, grasses, papayas and anything else you wish to fill in the space and time while the bigger plants mature. Check out Doug’s more in-depth description on his TreeYo Permaculture Site.

 

To top the day off: a fresh coconut and a swim in the river 🙂