Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I've been a fan of permaculture since the late 1970s when I learned about the concept from the work of Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.  It's a concept that calls for designing with, not against, the natural condition of the land; for agriculture based on trees and perennial shrubs instead of cleared land; for respecting and incorporating biodiversity into farmland design.  I've always wanted to see permaculture in action, and at last I have, not more than 10 miles away from my Suchitoto house. 

I'd seen the sign about a permaculture site on the highway, but had just been hoping that somehow I'd connect up.  The time for connecting came when one of the volunteers for our health mission in San José Villanueva, Tomás Chavarria, turned out to work there and visited me to tell me about the farm.  Through Tomás I met Reina Mejia, the coordinator, and arranged a tour for Andrea, Judith and me.  In the photo above, Reina is introducing us to the farm's rabbits, whose pellets become fertilizer for the crops, a typical permaculture natural recyling.

The permacultura farm is on a very steep hillside, which I'd have thought almost impossible to adapt for organic permaculture.  I would have been wrong.  The entire site has been designed very carefully with dikes and catchponds and tree rings to hold rainwater and allow it to soak in, so the ground can continue to be moist even during the dry season (now).  When the NGO acquired the farm, it had been used for a monoculture of citrus trees.  The citrus are still there, but now other trees are planted among them that will eventually create the high canopy that is the natural condition of land here.  The land is further enriched by compost, mulches of dry leaves and plant materials, and the contributions of rabbits, poultry, and composting toilets.  They've been working on it for only five years, and already it looks amazingly fertile by comparison with nearby lands.  The group of men and women who work with this land - I think about 12 people - have all been through a year-long course in design, and are all committed to teaching others how to use the permaculture principles in El Salvador. 

The planting areas, around and under trees, included corn during the rainy season, and now includes beans, but there are a myriad other plants, medicinal or nutritive, planted in small patches, with butterflies dancing among them.  When the group has built structures, they've been simple and ingenious, like this shelter for seedlings, shaded with a thatch of grass.

Here's work that brings the hope for all our futures, and for three years I've been driving by and saying "I've got to visit someday."  Thank God that day came at last.  I know I'll be back.

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