Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Like any negligent blogger, I've been letting the background info, fun farm facts, pictures, annecdotes etc. pile up for weeks. The pile is becoming ever more enormous and unruly, making the task of updating more and more daunting with time. But here's a start. Before the beet's big day at the Rutland parade, I did in fact move onto the farm. So for some background here's what I've been up to:

On May 15th, I moved into Hemlock House, one of the two residential volunteer houses on Overlook Farm. Since then, I've been living and working on the farm as an Education Volunteer, facilitating groups who come to learn about farming, global hunger and poverty, and the work of Heifer International. Like any good volunteer, I'm very excited to give you a tour.

First off, here's the adorable farmhouse I've been living in with 6 other 20-24-year-old housemates from all over the country. It's like The Real World, but with more Iron and Wine, goat's milk fudge, and herbal tea. And none of the regular activities or general social behavior.

Next stop: the Resource Center, where a lot of our educational programming takes place. Also the location of my mailbox, which is getting lonely. Just sayin.

Finally, the Global Village! This is a really unique feature of the farm. It contains 9 sites, all of which represent different regions in which Heifer works. When groups do anything more than a day trip to the farm, they spend a night in one or more of these sites. Where they stay and how they are divided is chosen randomly, and they're responsible for purchasing their own food ingredients at the global market and cooking dinner over a fire pit. They're also responsible for doing whatever garden and livestock chores are relevant to their sites, which always has interesting results.

Stop 1: Thailand! Traditional raised bamboo house of the indigenous Akha people. Fun fact: Mosquitos generally hover no higher than 8-10 feet above the ground, so having a raised house in warm, wet parts of the world significantly decreases instances of mosquito-born illnesses like malaria. Thailand projects involve water animals like ducks and fish, both of which live in this site's pond.

Another Thailand favorite: pigs! Used not only for meat, but also for rooting around fields to loosen soil and fertilize it for planting. Efficient, economically realistic, and much more environmentally friendly than using diesel tractors. Woo!

And finally, the water buffalo. Although these are undomesticated, they're generally used for draft power in underwater rice cultivation. If you spend enough time talking to them they start to recognize your voice and look up when ask how their day is going. Another fun fact: guess where authentic buffalo milk mozzarella comes from? These lovely ladies.

Stop 2: The Andes mountains of Peru. The walls are made of thick mud bricks for insulation from the wind and cold temperatures, and participants who stay here are horrified to see that they will be sleeping on a dirt floor. Although cooking is usually done indoors to trap the heat from the fire, it's estimated that cooking over a wood fire in an unventilated area three times a day leads to as much smoke inhalation as smoking 6-8 packs of cigarettes. Yikes.

Peru livestock animals...llamas and alpaca! I tell them apart by size (alpaca are smaller), texture (alpaca are woolier, llamas are hairier), and facial expression (alpaca have a pronounced brow bone, making them look perpetually pensive, whereas llamas' foreheads slope straight back). They're great pack animals because their hooves are well adapted to steep, rocky mountainside terrain, their respiratory systems allow them to breath really efficiently in high altitude areas, and they refuse to stand up when they're carrying too much weight, thus avoiding injuries.

Finally, there's nothing quite so difficult as looking into the sparkling eyes of a Daisy Troop and explaining why this site contains Sassafras, the friendly guinea pig...

Here is Peru's beautiful terraced garden, the structure of which prevents erosion and distributes rainwater evenly on mountainsides. Thanks, Incas! Yesterday my group was able to harvest fresh carrots and onions for their quinoa stew. Awesome.

On to Guatemala! This is the house I stayed in when I did the Global Village overnight as part of my orientation and training. It was the first site built in 1989, and I've been told that the first group that ever stayed there had to slaughter and cook their own chicken for dinner. Health codes have since changed.

Unlike our Peru house, Guatemala has a functioning stove... run exclusively on goat manure that is processed through a bio-gas digester. Gross? On first impression. In practice, using a methane stove is just like any other gas stove... tasteless, odorless, and smokeless! It also prevents deforestation due to firewood use, and saves a lot of time and labor. Besides, you'd be using your goats for meat, milk, income etc. already, so it's essentially a free and renewable source of fuel.

This is also the site where we teach goat milking with groups, which is always an adventure.

Possibly my favorite part of the Global Village: The Three Sisters farming technique in the Guatemala. It consists of corm, beans, and squash. The corn, a big nitrogen user, is planted first. In industrialized agricultural systems, corn is generally planted as a monocrop in fields stretching for miles before any other crop is introduced. This means that the soil quickly becomes degraded and artificial fertilizers need to be added. When beans are planted around the base of the corn stalks, they act as nitrogen fixers, and are able to pull nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that the corn can use. Additionally, the beans can use the corn stalks as stakes, eliminating the need for terraces to be built and maintained. Finally squash is planted, and it's huge leaves shade the base of all the plants preventing water from evaporating before it can be used by the other plants. The amount of water that is normally used to water corn alone is then sufficient to water all three. If that isn't cool enough for you, here are some nutrition facts that will knock your socks off: When eaten together, beans and corn (often in tortilla form) make a complete protein. Squash has every vitamin our bodies need. If you ate nothing but these three crops forever, you would be able to maintain a complete, healthy diet. Go teamwork!

Next stop, Tibet! This site represents the semi-nomadic indigenous yak-herders of the Tibetan Plateau. Here you can see our poorly constructed yurt, which is made of 200 lbs Of yak hair. This is the part of the tour where I generally give the disclaimer that our yurt building abilities on the farm should in no way reflect the competence of the yak-herders.

Fun fact: The yaks escaped yesterday and took a little stroll to Thailand while 25 members of a UCC youth group cowered in terror in the neighboring global village houses. They were eventually herded back to their pen thanks to gentle prodding by several bulldozers and my boss wielding a 2X4.

Next on out tour is the Colonias site, based on Ciudad Juarez on the US Mexico border. Due to safety codes these aren't quite as authentic as they could be, but the sheets of scrap metal nailed to the wall represent the kind of discarded building materials that the temporary homes in this area are made of.

Border issues make it impossible for residents to safely set up permanent housing, and this feeling of lack of control and impermanence makes livestock projects and community garden cultivation especially difficult. There is also very little government funded infrastructure, making for poor transportation, lack of access to hospitals and schools, and very high crime rates. It's estimated that 15% of the world's population lives off of found materials in slum conditions.

Kenya isn't quite finished, but I think it's looking lovely. The garden contains lots of peanuts, which are a popular cash crop. Also sprouting up is some kale and walking onions.

Next up, Poland! The Carpathian mountain range to be precise. Everyone's first comments on the tour are that this couldn't possibly represent a family that needs help from a development organization, followed by pleas that I assign them to this house for the overnight.

While seemingly spacious, this house would likely be home to two or three families, and double as a barn for livestock animals. This area is also heavily forested, hence the beautifully constructed cabin.

The Heifer Poland office is the second Heifer office to ever become autonomous, meaning that all the fundraising is done in-coutry. Woo Heifer Poland! Lots of bee projects here, as well as horses that contribute to income through the tourist industry. Scenic sleight ride through the majestic Carpathian mountains anyone? Additional site bonus: raspberry and blackberry bushes!

Next stop Ghana, a site that, upon my arrival, was a hollow concrete structure. It is now beautifully painted and furnished, and includes adorable Nigerian dwarf goats.

This shot is a special tribute to the blog title. Me and the kids, makin' magic.

See the pudgy brown one? That's as big as they get. AWW. Heifer's Ghana projects include snail cultivation as a source of income... apparently snail products are the defining feature of outrageously expensive soaps and lotions consumed mainly in the US and Europe. Huh.

Finally, we reach our final stop on the tour: Western Kentucky in the Appalachian region of the US. The house is a converted office trailer, sans electricity and running water, despite the existence of an air conditioner, television and stove. The idea here is that this family initially grew tobacco as a cash crop, back in the day when doctor's prescribed cigarettes as a way to treat the symptoms of respiratory illnesses. When the tobacco market plummeted due to more accurate medical advice, farmers were left with no way to sell a crop that couldn't be used for anything but income.

Heifer works with small farmers trying to gain experience growing food crops rather than cash crops, and these lovely rained bed gardens represent a great gardening technique on otherwise rocky, degraded soils. Raised beds allow you to control what soils your crops use to grow, overcoming the issue of poor soil quality. We also have our guinea hogs, Blackjack and Athena.

We recently dug them some beautiful wallowing pits, which they've been happily lounging in on hot days ever since. There's something very satisfying about watching a pig roll in the mud.

Coming soon: The rest of the farm! Baby goats, sheep, cows, camels, gardens and heaping mountains of hay!

1 comment:

  1. These photos so capture the global village, Beautiful job in many senses