Volunteer Experience – First 3 weeks

My name is Rebeca Gaona, I’m from the south of Ecuador, a city called Loja. Almost three years ago I was accepted at EARTH University, in Costa Rica for studying agronomy. There I have learned many things, not only about agronomy, I have learned about different cultures. Different ways to think of the seeing things. Therefor I’m more tolerant with people who think different than me. EARTH University has a different way to see the education. We see and learn in the fields first and then we have the theory. So it’s much easier to understand. I have learned that all the things are related and there is a balance that we need to keep up, and if we don’t, there will not be an efficient system for the nature of for our farmers.

Currently I’m in the third year of the study and I’m back in Ecuador, doing my pre professional internship in an organic farm in Zamora-Chinchipe. Permatree is a farm located in the south of the ecuadorian amazon region. Like the name suggests, it is an organic farm based on tropical permaculture, which means a permanent agricultural system, respecting the native species and the balance of the land, recovering the damaged ecosystems. For example to reduce the erosion of the soils they use vetiver grass, which has very long roots to activates the microorganisms and also helps to fight soil erosion. 

Here are many crops like cacao, guayusa, tumeric and bamboo, but the biggest crop is soursop. It is not sold as raw fruit but its transformed into an added value process to obtain fruit-pulp and something like raw-ice cream. 

I started my internship on september 9, 2019 and it ends on december 20, 2019. Now I’m ending my third week, and everything has gone well. When I started talking to my host, he gave me some information about the work in the farm. My expectations about the farm and what I was going to learn and to do in here are not so different from reality. I knew that some things were going to be hard at first, like food, climate and waking up early. Getting used to the food here was hard, because I’ve been living two and a half years in Costa Rica, and there the food is different – rice and beans. Here we care about the traceability of our food. If we don’t know where the food comes from, we don’t consume it. The climate is similar to Costa Rica, humid tropical forest, the difference is that here the temperature changes fast between day and night. And finally waking up early was a little bit hard because before starting my internship I was on vacation so I woke up late for almost three weeks. Now, those things are just part of my daily routine. I like the focus of the farm because it’s sustainable and efficient, and that’s how all farms should be.

Some of the things I’m working are: My personal project about the Black Soldier Fly. This fly is used in the larva stage to feed animals like chickens and fish. We are just starting with the fly-trap and trying different food-wastes and excrement to see which one is better to attract the flies. In a few weeks we will have results and we can teach this to the local community, so they have a much better organic way to feed their animals with proteins.

I’m not only working in the fields, I’m working in the added value process of soursop, as fruit and with the leafs for tea. Also guayusa tea leafs, and with experimenting with dehydrated bananas. We try different ways to dehydrate the leafs 1.) using an artisanal adobe oven 2.) with an electric dehydrator 3.)  with the sunlight and wind under a roof. 

I worked with “Don Rey”, the man who works in the fields. We started a new orchard of turmeric. Forgetting all the work, we talk about many things like the situation of the community and how was that he came from Colombia to Ecuador. I think that talking with the people who live in the community and know the issues of the local community is the best way to know how we can help.

The farm is very holistic, so “Tipikas” Coffee Shop is part of PermaTree project. Here they sell their products like guayusa and soursop leaf teas, the pulp and the ice cream and the main product is the coffee. The coffee is produced in the community  with the unique origin system and it’s organic, and it’s prepared in different ways, so people can learn more about the importance of coffee and can taste a coffee of high quality.

Until now I have learnt a lot not only about the career. I have seen how do the farms work in a holistic way and how this can be helpful for the farmers and for the environment surrounding the farm and increasing the quality of the crops.

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