Saturday, March 28, 2009

Organic Garden, Cotacachi Ecuador

Cotacachi, Ecuador is a great spot for organic gardens. The volcanic soil is rich, the rainy season brings the necessary moisture, and the sun shines almost every day. On our recent trip to Ecuador, we visited a new demonstration Ethno-Botanic organic garden that is being created near Cotacachi.

This organic garden is being developed by local farmers in conjunction with UNESCO, with the objective of retaining their traditional food and medicinal plants as well as training others in the farming methods. Above, UNESCO volunteer, Kenji, tells the group about the garden's layout, where each plot contains typical plants that are grown together.

The garden will keep alive the historic foods of the Andes, preserving the biodiversity of this highland nation. It is worked by volunteers from the community and abroad, as well as employing locals. Once developed, eco-tours will help support the garden. Here, barley and beans grow side by side in one plot.

The 2 hectare plot contains a medicinal and herb garden, where traditional medicinal herbs such as mint, oregano, cedron and manzanilla are being grown. Alongside it, a pharmacia has been constructed where traditional recipes for salves, tinctures and ointments are used to create products for sale. These sales will help support the garden. Here is the Pharmacia, with Merri and Alberto discussing the plantings of lemongrass, one of the herbs used in various recipes.

Alongside the medicinal garden is the food garden. Ecuadorian farmers have always practiced companion planting, and that's evident here. Plants are grouped by the altitude that they thrive in. At the lower elevations, peas and wheat are planted together. Higher, barley and beans (similar to broadbeans) grow side by side. Next, corn and climbing beans grow, the tall cornstalks supporting the bean plants. Finally, a plot of quinoa and amaranth, shown in the foreground below, two of the ancient cereal grains (or seeds) grow together. Note the tall reeds in the background. These reeds are used by musicians to make the indigenous flutes and reed pipes.

In another section, kale, white and black carrots, peppers and cabbages are grown. Fig trees, tree tomatoes, blackberries, and Chinese gooseberries are some of the fruits found here.

Several indigenous trees are being re-introduced. The leaves are used for compost and the root systems help conserve water in the soil. The idea here is for these native trees, which balance the soil's minerals, to be re-forested eventually, and perhaps replacing some of the introduced eucalyptus, which depletes the soil as it rapidly spreads.

A small pond is fringed with reeds, which is used for thatch and weaving of floor mats. Nearby, a juice bar is being constructed, where organic, natural juices will be available. A music hut (shown above) and a shaman hut are being built, with plans for musical training and concerts and shamanic ceremonies.