A cool Dominican breeze sweeps across Rio Yassica. River grass twists and bends with the slow moving currents as the sun bursts through the streaked cotton clouds. The power of the land is all around you. This amazing scene was during my reprieve from work. After a strong morning of hoeing weeds, building a pumpkin and melon plot with three layers of different organic material and bringing sticks and large pieces of wood to the wood chipper, the hottest part of the day is yours to take advantage of in any of the intriguing and stunning areas included in the farm’s property or nearby in Los Brazos and the Cabarete region.

Taking a break from farming to swim and then practice juggling beside the Rio Yassica

Taino Farm, only a 30 minute jaunt from Cabarete, is a mini paradise behind a red gate. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but as soon as you step onto the property and take a walk around, you feel what’s occurring – a transformation of the existing soil, turning the fertile, life-giving nutrients in the ground into a sustainable, organic farm. Food forests including moringa and mango trees, exotic fruits galore, aquaponics systems, chickens, sheep, turkeys, and more, are all nurtured under the sunny Dominican sky. Good vibes with some Romeo Santos blaring from the local colmado only add to the feel that you are here on this beautiful, unique island for a reason.

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Transplanting delicious curry leaf trees with Genevieve

So, how did I find myself here at this very moment in time? My friend Genevieve and I had been traveling through Republica Dominicana for about 3 weeks, recently stopping in Cabarete for a couple days to check out what this well known beach area had to offer. At some point earlier in the trip, due to our mutual interest and past experience with farming, we did a Google search for ‘organic farms in the Dominican’. Taino Farm was the first result. As some of you may realize, the Taino were the original peoples who inhabited the island of Quisqueya and Ayiti (their name for Hispaniola) before the Spanish “discovered” the new world. They cared for the Earth, respected her and nurtured all that which inhabited this beautiful gift we have been given. The fact that this farm had named itself Taino had intrigued me.

We emailed and had very rapid correspondence, for farm standards, from the current manager, inviting us to stay and work for as many days as we felt. Great! So, after two days in Cabarete we jumped onto the gua-gua (mini bus) from Cabarete to the Sabaneta intersection (25 pesos per person) and then settled onto a moto-concho (motorbike) to Finca Taino for 50 pesos each. Not a bad time and fee, about 30 minutes and $1.75 to get here from Cabarete.

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Enjoying a meal made up of eggs and greens from the farm along with lots of much needed agua after working in the heat!

It is up to all of us to contribute to maintaining a loving planet for future generations. From my experience, working on farms can be some of the most important and rewarding work you can engage in regarding this task.

Whether it is meeting like-minded people who inspire you, learning of old and new sustainability practices or just laughing and spreading smiles, it is of the utmost importance to gather and create. However, like all rewarding things, it does not come easy. It requires self-determination, realization of intention, communication with your farm family and, of course, a lot of sweat. If you are interested in learning more about yourself, the culture here in Republica Dominicana, as well as our planet’s beauty and grace, Taino Farm would be a great place to start.

Peace ‘n Love ~ Ryan.

 

Tranquilo honey bees at Taino Organic Farm.

Tranquilo honey bees at Taino Organic Farm.

Everyone has heard the term “busy as a bee” but did you know it takes bees roughly 10 million foraging trips to make the equivalent of one jar of honey? (International Bee Research Association).  Honey bees play a vital role both in our tropical ecosystem and in the world as a whole. They also produce what we consider at Taino Organic Farm to be a form of liquid gold: fresh, raw honey.

Slides of raw honey comb collected from our ten hives at Taino Organic Farm.

Slides of raw honey comb collected from our ten hives at Taino Organic Farm.

At Taino Organic Farm, we harvest honey from our bees three times a year. I was lucky enough to be present for our January harvest.

How is honey harvested? When dusk fell on Tuesday, Taino Organic Farm’s apiarists Victor and Nao went out in full gear to retrieve slides from our ten hives. When harvesting honey, there are two main tools used to avoid upsetting the bees. The first is smoke, which is used to lull them into a more dormant state. The second is clothing. It is best to wear white colored clothing, as wearing colors close to their natural predators (such as a bear) triggers a defensive response.

After the honey slides have been retrieved from the hives, they are carefully opened using a knife and placed into an extractor. The extractor is hand cranked and spins the raw honey from the comb. It is then poured from the extractor through a cloth filter and into storage container. Voila! We have honey and the remaining honey and comb goes back to our happy sleepy bees.

 

Victor preparing the honey comb to harvest raw honey.

Victor preparing the honey comb to harvest raw honey.

Though the process seems simple, it takes bees the equivalent of traveling three times around the world to produce one jar of honey (International Bee Research Association). Most of the honey we buy in supermarkets is actually dyed fructose syrup, in fact US melissopalynologist Vaughn Bryant found that 75{f2973bc577a195c35cdcad3730db5f6ced97ed67eb120151c538413472fe3d08} of honey on US supermarket shelves contained no pollen at all having been through an ultra-filtration technique perfected by Chinese producers. (Bryant). The other 25{f2973bc577a195c35cdcad3730db5f6ced97ed67eb120151c538413472fe3d08} is made primarily by commercial honey producers that feed their bees artificial sweeteners and process their honey with heat, taking away many of the incredible benefits such as it’s anti viral, fungal, bacterial and carcinogenic properties. You can find a full list of the benefits and differences of raw honey and pasteurized honey here. Though it is cheaper this way, honey is also vitally important to bee’s immune systems and helps them defend themselves from pesticides. There is a major shortage of raw honey in the world due to colony collapse disorder, which is caused largely by commercial farming and pesticide use. This is a major problem as honey is essential to bees and bees are essential to human life. Albert Einstein one said “If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live”. Which brings us back to the importance of organic farming and tropical permaculture! Genetically modified crops, pesticides and diseases (that spread rapidly due to bees with weakened immune systems) are killing off our bees and if we do not look out for them through sustainable farming, we will soon be without our best pollinators and a very valuable resource: raw honey.

Raw honey comb is delicious and has many health benefits.

Raw honey comb is delicious and has many health benefits.

Raw honey has endless benefits, it is great for dietary and external use for humans as well as an amazing resource to perpetuate all of the environmental benefits bees provide. Taino Organic Farm has a limited amount of raw honey available for sale, if you would like to buy a bottle you can contact the farm through our Facebook page, buy from us directly on a farm tour or through eXtreme hotel or Lynsey Wyatt at 849-343-6041. Prices range from $300-$500rd.

At Taino Organic Farm, the biggest portion of our learning is through doing, which just so happens to coincide perfectly with permaculture principle number one: observe and interact. Instead of our usual classroom style permaculture lesson on Tuesday, the whole team decided to put permaculture principle number one into practice by going on a field trip into the mountains. All of the volunteers as well as our permaculture designer and teacher Charlie Durrant and our farm manager and guide Victor hopped on moto conchos towards Sabaneta.

Taino Organic Farm volunteers Karin and Honza on a moto conch riding over a bridge into the mountains.

Taino Organic Farm volunteers Karin and Honza on a moto conch into the mountains.

After the bridge, we cut left and went up a dirt road (or maybe I should say rock road, it was a bumpy ride) and after about ten minutes, got to a path we could walk.We thanked our moto drivers and began our meander through the forest jungle. As we walked, we observed and interacted with our surroundings, stopping often along the way to discuss different plants/wildlife and their purposes. We picked a couple of guanabana (also known as sour sop) fruits to eat and replant.

 

Taino Organic Farm volunteer Peyton Stanley holding a guanabana fruit.

Taino Organic Farm volunteer Peyton Stanley holding a guanabana fruit.

 

Eventually we reached the top of a mountain that overlooks the whole island. To the left in the distance we could see the ocean and below us the Yassica River that we swim in everyday, as well as the dirt road we live on. It was a truly incredible view and allowed us all to step back and realize how incredible it is that we live in a place where we are able to cultivate such diversity.

Piñon trees flowering pink dot the mountainside alongside other lush, diverse foliage and the Yassica river behind.

Flowering piñon trees dot the mountainside alongside other lush, diverse foliage and the Yassica river behind.

On our way back to the farm, we stopped and chopped some branches off a large piñon tree to plant back at the farm and diversify our area. Unlike many other trees, piñon branches (as well as moringa) can be planted directly into the ground to become a new tree. They are the most commonly used fence post in the Dominican Republic because you can “chop and drop” them once they grow large enough and feed them to the cattle. Fence posts into food in just a few months!

Taino Organic Farm volunteers as well as permaculture designer Charlie Durrant and farmers Victor and Juan Carlos atop a mountain overlooking Los Brazos, Dominican Republic

Taino Organic Farm volunteers as well as permaculture designer Charlie Durrant and farmers Victor and Juan Carlos atop a mountain overlooking Los Brazos, Dominican Republic

 

The longer I am here, the more I appreciate not only the world around me, but also all of the pieces that allow it to function. We see the permaculture principles in action all around us. The community at Taino farm experienced permaculture principle number one by observing our environment and interacting with each other to learn about what I consider the most important subject of all: the interaction of life in nature.

Biodiversity in Tropical Permaculture

Biodiversity in Tropical Permaculture

Biodiversity is an extraordinarily important aspect of tropical permaculture and creating a sustainable organic farm. This week at Taino, Charlie (our permaculture designer) and Victor (our maestro farmer) took us on a meander through Los Brazos to collect native seeds.

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Victor’s daughter, Nicole and her friend collecting seeds.

 

Increasing biodiversity by planting a variety of native flowers and legumes is beneficial in many ways, not only do they attract native wildlife like birds and lizards, they also help to create a resilient ecosystem. For example, there are thirty varieties of the Moringa tree, if we were to have only one kind, a disease could come along and wipe out one of our most important crops. Biodiversity also helps to provide us with a more reliable/sustainable yield of organic food because different species and varieties of plants produce at different times. We may have an avocado tree that produces fruit from September to October and another variety that goes from October to November. In doing this we both maximize our yield and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

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A cup full of guandule and other native seeds

Flowers and plants like Sunhemp are beneficial because they are short lived, aerate the soil and fix nitrogen for the other plants (and they feed our bees!). Part of Charlie’s permaculture lesson this week was on companion planting. In the tropics, there is no shortage of pests so strategies like companion planting help us to deter them without having to use harmful chemicals. Whether it means planting a tall plant next to one that likes shade or a plant with a strong odor like basil next to one that is susceptible to pests like tomatoes, we want to plant crops together that will be mutually beneficial.

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Caption: These blue flowers are beautiful and edible!

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Charlie showing us how to identify nitrogen fixing roots.

We are blessed to be in an area where plants and people thrive and benefit from each other’s existence. Many of the seeds we collected were from Victor’s Mother’s house and at the end of the day we were invited to share a cup of coffee and meet the whole family. Four generations are living in their lovely home, including a two year old boy and his 104 year old great grandmother! We were all touched by their kindness and I left feeling so grateful to be planting seeds that were given and will be planted with love.

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Charlie with Victor and his family

… and other fast changes on a permaculture farm on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic

When you see something daily, it is usually hard to spot the change. However it is different on a farm in the tropics where you can see visible changes every day. Even you as a person can ‘grow’ here. You could almost say “plant in the morning, harvest in the evening”.

Fast growth in the tropics

Fast growth in the tropics

Unfortunately not only things you have planted grow and that is why the weeding lovers are always welcome :-). However, when we get the permaculture going in full power, we won’t have to worry about weeding any longer.

One of the most potent and exemplary designs in tropical permaculture is the banana circle. Building a banana circle in the tropics can be really fun if you get some friends involved. In order to make a banana circle you need to dig a hole in the ground, usually 2 metres wide and 1 metre deep using the middle as the composting area. When constructed correctly, it serves mainly as a spot to cycle the constant flow of organic matter. The earth that is dug is drug outwardly with hoes and shovels to form a mound about 60 cm wide. This gives plenty of planting space for the bananas themselves and the subsequent guilds. The mound will support five to seven bananas equidistantly planted around the edge on top of the mound. Bananas are very hungry plants and will thrive off the abundant cycling of organic material as well as the moisture inherent in its design. From there, a myriad of plants can be inserted but the main ones used in this guild still are providing physical shelter, nutrients, assist in pest control, and reduce root competition. And on top of this the guild will also produce food!

building a banana circle on taino farm

building a banana circle on taino farm

Apart from banana circles, we also make hot compost piles at Taino farm. Although they are slightly different than the ones we know from our grandmas’ gardens and which can take up to one year to mature. Materials that are used to make a compost pile consist of so called “brown” material such as cardboard, dried leaves, straw, branches etc. that are high in carbon and rot down very slowly. Materials that are high in nitrogen are typically moist “green” materials such as grass, fruit and vegetable scraps, animal manure and green leafy materials that rot down very quickly. In order to speed up the process we should turn the compost pile periodically. With the right care you can make a perfect compost in the tropics in 18 – 30 days which is incredible!

hot compost at taino farm

hot compost at taino farm

You can spot how everything is pulsating also when you see how quickly the coulour of the Rio Yassica changes after the heavy rain or when you notice the arrival of a newborn calf in the herd. Moreover, when you time your volunteering right i.e. autumn 2013 you get to experience a great opening party of the Mojito Bar restaurant at the Extreme hotel as well!

The Rio yassica changes colour

The Rio Yassica changes colour

Pregnant cow and baby calf at Taino Farm

Pregnant cow and baby calf at Taino Farm

And since we should not forget the local wood workers, we have to admit that they can do their job very well and are willing to try even the impossible for you :-).

Agro Tourism in the Dominican Republic

Our stilted huts floating magically