La mitad del mundo

19 02 2010

Hola!

We are currently in Ecuador, near a small town called Malchingui. It is right next to the equator, meaning we are in the middle of the planet, or la mitad del mundo in Spanish.

We are staying at the Comuna de Rhiannon, located an hour away North of Quito in a volcanic desert. It is a very particular community since there are only two permanent members, Helen and Nicky, and all the others are volunteers that are passing by (currently there is 14 visitors). Volunteers stay between a couple of weeks and a year, making this place a living laboratory of alternative techniques.

Imagine a place where each person is free to create what he or she believes could be useful for the community and gets all the support needed to achieve the project… As a result, for the first time ever, we have witnessed a blender that is activated by a bicycle!

We would like to tell you more, but we´re in an Internet cafe in Malchingui (there is no electricity in Rhiannon) and need to go back to the community to water the plants.

Thanks for all your comments and support. We´ll write to you soon with more on the Rhiannon experience!

Much love,

lisa and juan : )

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Excuse me, may I have some coherence please?

11 02 2010

Our journey exploring alternative ways of living has taken us to an ecologically-oriented farm near Bogota, Colombia. They were hosting an event to celebrate the full moon with kundalini yoga, sacred healing fires and lots of uplifting spiritual vibrations. The purpose of this evening was to heal the Earth and ourselves. Curious about this invitation we prepared a vegetarian dish to share, as all attendees were asked, and decided to go and check it out.

 

Context

As we can read in its mission statement, this place is: “a green-oriented farm, retreat and educational center […] we want to set an example of how to live in harmony with nature by recycling, using alternative energy, responsibly managing waste and water residues, and implementing organic agriculture and farming […] we offer a unique space for contemplation and self enrichment, filling a void in Colombia’s ecoturism market while contributing to outreach programs in the local community.”

Once there, we were very impressed by the imposing colonial house and the more than 2 centuries old tree in the front yard. We were offered some tchai and ginger tea to warm up a bit. And guess what? They were being served in one-use plastic cups. Then, followed the styrofoam plates, the plastic forks and the paper towels.

As conscious individuals we were gathered to sing hindi mantras, light sacred fires and heal the Earth, yet at the same time we were leaving behind paper, plastic and styrofoam! So, on one level we were participating in a healing ceremony for the Earth and on another level – simultaneously – we were polluting it. We cannot say that our actions on one level are more important than the other, we believe both are as important. Far from wanting to judge this place, we want to use this experience to address a general issue:

Conscious people: let’s be coherent!

 

If we talk green, let’s do green

There is a lot of talk about protecting the planet. International organizations have come up with the concept of ‘sustainability’ in order to enforce holistic thinking and the respect towards nature. As a consequence, it has become ‘cool’ to be green. Riding a bicycle to work, cutting-out our meat consumption, and even taking care of ourselves by doing yoga or practicing meditation is seen as trendy. That is great! Now let’s make it more than just a matter of fashion. Let’s make it real!

Courtesy of mortimer - mortimeriadas.com - all rights reserved

In our trip, we have been to eco-zones that use toxic soap directly in the river, ecovillages where there are more water-polluting toilets than dry ones, and lots of ‘holistic’ stores where plastic bags and containers are used systematically. We have come up with the conclusion that such concepts as ‘green’, ‘healthy’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘eco’ have become very popular, and that the market is fulfilling those needs. It seems we are consuming those concepts without paying attention to what they mean. How can we heal the Earth by chanting and meditating if at the same time we are destroying and polluting it?

“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.” – Carl Sagan

 

What can we do?

In a previous article, we discussed the importance of reducing our consumption of plastics and changing our consuming habits. More than recycling and managing waste, the point we developed was to avoid wasting. When hosting an event like this, organizers can easily ask the attendees to bring their own plates, glasses, forks and reusable napkins. Another possibility is to provide all necessary dishes and utensils, if one regularly hosts events like this. If worried about cleaning, we can set up a washing station and ask people to clean their dishes after using them. Two or three bassins with water and vinegar are enough. Not only will we be reducing the environmental impact of the event, we will also be creating a sense of personal responsibility amongst the participants. If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment!

 

Spiritual beings in a concrete world

Yes, we are spiritual beings. Which means we have a spirit, an essence or spark that makes us unique. That spirit (or however you want to call it) is capable of being conscious and thus choosing, which is called ‘free will’. But, we live in a material world where our actions have consequences. So, our free will is to be used in this material, concrete world.

The word concrete comes from the latin roots cum and crescere literally translating ‘to grow with’. As spiritual beings we need to be aware that our inner growth is achieved through concrete actions, we need to grow with matter. Ideas, words and wishes have an impact only through action. So, it is great to talk about the environment. It is great to raise awareness around us about protecting the planet. Now imagine how powerful it is to act according to such values.

We don’t mean that our inner realities do not count. They are crucial, and being in touch with them allows us to be in harmony with ourselves. But that interior world has to generate actions in the exterior world in order to be expressed and fully lived.

Our thoughts have an impact on ourselves and they determine the way we feel. Our words have an impact on each other and they determine the way we are perceived by our peers. But it is our actions that have an impact on our planet, and we have come to the point where they determine our future. The more we find a balance between our several facets, the more coherent our lives become and the easier it is to create our realities.

 

21st century: consuming and… what else?

Let’s think about our interactions in society. They are mostly gravitating around consumption. Even the most personal individual-to-individual interaction is linked with consumption. Dates happen in bars, coffee places or restaurants. Birthdays involve food for the guests, gifts, and special clothes. Newborns have become extremely expensive these days, and even passing away is a great business. Those are just a few caricatural examples, but think about all the things we consume in one day. Our everyday actions have become consuming habits. The challenge is to make those habits conscious.

Courtesy of polyp.org.uk (all rights reserved)

 

T.T.A.

Our goal with this post is to encourage all of us to act according to our values and principles. To simplify things, we have come up with T.T.A. which stands for think = talk = act.

1) Think: In advance. Our current consuming habits involve buying, using and throwing away, without even worrying about our garbage and what happens to it. Let’s have it in our minds at all times that we need to reduce our impact on the planet. Even better, let’s remember we can have a positive impact on our environment. Let’s think in advance of what we need. Are we going to need bags for shopping? Did we put our reusable mug in our bags? Will we need plates, utensils and napkins at the event?

2) Talk: When necessary. Our speech is a very powerful tool when used appropriately. Often, we tend to criticize and judge and we get lost in long explanations and debates where different opinions try to overpower each other. We loose our power. To help us, we can privilege words that invite us to action. As Ghandi said, let’s “be the change”, not talk about it.

3) Act: Consciously, so we brake the habits we have created through time. Every action is an opportunity to have a concrete impact on our world. When our actions reflect our values, they give us strength. It’s simple, if we go against our values we are sending the message to ourselves that they are not important. By acting according to our principles we are sending the message that “Yes, our values are dear to us, and yes, we can do something about the issues we’re concerned with”. We can act.

 

Judge a tree by its fruit and a human by its actions

How many times do we hear people say something and do the opposite? How many times have we said something and done something else? Many, and we all do. So the best way to stick to our word is to say as little as possible and act. How strange is it that we need to talk about the things we are going to do… Doing them is enough!

To finish, here’s a quote we find to be very valuable:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” – Author unknown

 

Take it further!

To estimate your personal impact on the Earth, also called ‘ecological footprint’ go to: myfootprint.org/en/

There several movements that want to rethink our relationship to consumption. Here are some links to learn about the most popular ones:

To learn more about actions, habits and how to brake them, try it for yourself and please let us know how it goes!





Gabeno, the dynamics of biodynamics

7 02 2010

We got back from Gabeno, the biodynamic farm we mentioned in our previous post. In this article, we did our best to put together our learnings on biodynamics, or as we call it ‘conscious farming’. Our purpose is to present the basics of the biodynamic method, and to generate curiosity about the subject. At the end of the article, readers will find several links to further their knowledge.

 

A look at space and time

Gabeno was founded 20 years ago by a German man who was deeply interested in Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy. His goal was to create a place where biodynamics could be explored, and let the project evolve on its own. Located one hour away from Bogota, near Tenjo, the weather allows all-year-long production in a wide variety of vegetables. The farm also has cattle, and produces milk, yogurt, cheese and compost!

At Gabeno, enthusiasts study and apply the principles of biodynamics. In order to share their approach with interested individuals, they welcome interns and host weekly study-groups that are open to all. We find it important to mention that the people working and living there have a sincere will to teach and learn, and their approach is so human and humble that it makes the experience at Gabeno out of the ordinary. As William says, concerning the deeper aspects of biodynamics: “We are all students”.

 

Biodynamic agriculture, the works of Rudolf Steiner

Born in Austria in the late 19th century, Rudolf Steiner influenced several aspects of society. Philosophy, spirituality, education, arts, and agriculture are all subjects in which he left a significant trace. He is best known for being the founding father of Anthroposophy, also called ‘spiritual science’ (source: click link).

At the beginning of the 20th century, Steiner was approached by a group of farmers concerned about the deterioration of the soil. As a result, he gave a series of conferences, known today as the “Agriculture course: The birth of the biodynamic method”. Through his conferences he describes the principles of biodynamics as being the balance of all forces influencing the growth and development of life.

Nowadays, the depletion of the soil as a consequence to the ‘Green Revolution‘ is obvious. Farmers from all over the world are asking for alternatives, such as organic farming, ecological agriculture, permaculture and biodynamics.

 

The farm as an organism

The farm is more than a piece of land used for growing vegetables and having cattle. Seen through the eyes of biodynamic farmers, the farm is a living organism in the sense that each farm is unique (source only in Spanish: click link). The challenge is getting to know the land and its specific qualities. Biodynamics has it clear that all aspects and areas of the farm are connected. We cannot influence one specific area without affecting the organism as a whole. The coherence and harmony in our actions will determine the quality of the crops.

 

Working with cosmic forces

Most of us are aware that plants react to several factors: weather conditions, the amounts of sunlight and water, and the nutricious quality of the soil. But  there are more subtle forces that also influence the development and growth of plants. Such forces are ‘cosmic’, meaning they depend on the position of the Sun, the phases of the Moon, and the interaction between the different planets in our system. The Biodynamic method pays attention to all forces and takes into consideration the fluctuations of the cosmos to create a balance.

Several experiments have been conducted regarding these influences. Based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, Maria Thun has been studying the growth of plants for over 40 years (source: click link). One of her first experiments was to plant radishes every hour for several days observing clear differences in their development. Since all radishes were being planted in the same type of soil, getting the same amount of light and water, and being taken care of in the same ways, she concluded more subtle factors were responsible for such differences.

Her research has established specific days for specific labors, giving birth to the “Maria Thun’s Calendar“. According to her experiments, some days are appropriate for sowing, others for doing maintenance, and others for harvesting. Yet, this varies depending on what crop we grow: roots (like carrots), leaves (like spinach), fruit (like beans) or flowers (like calendula).

At Gabeno, we tried to apply the calendar as much as possible, yet it is very hard for a productive farm to be able to work exclusively according to the appropriate dates. This is mainly a consequence of the market and its pressure. Imagine going on Monday to buy our carrots, beetroots and radishes, and coming back on Sunday to pick up spinach, leek and parsley… Not yet, simply not yet!

 

The preparations

Another important aspect of biodynamic agriculture is the use of what we call ‘preparations’. Just as homeopathy uses very small amounts of plants or other extracts in order to ‘boost’ specific parts of our body, the preparations are small amounts of plants, mineral or animal compounds. Applied to crops, nearby greens or to compost, they are intended to drive natural forces and stimulate their effects. They are numbered, going from 500 to 508.

We helped spraying preparations 500 and 501. Preparation 500 is made out of cow manure fermented in cow horn and buried from September until April to absorb the energies of the Moon, strongly related to water and associated to the roots of plants. Preparation 501 is its complement, made out of powdered qwartz packed in cow horn and buried from April to September, attracting the energies of the Sun, linked to light and heat, and acting on foliage.

In order to use the preparations, we first need to ‘dynamize’ them in water. We mix a small amount of the preparation in abundant water and we stirr it for one hour. The purpose of stirring is to give life back to the water, by giving it movement. Preferably we use rainwater and we always begin the process by stirring to the left, then to the right, and then we alternate directions for one hour. Once this is done, the preparation is dynamized and ready to be sprayed.

While we were at Gabeno, they were having issues with the weather. In fact, the season has been very dry with cold temperatures in the mornings. This usually happens around February, but it seems this year it happened earlier than usual. Temperatures went down to -7 °C which is very cold for the tropics. So, preparation 500 was spayed to activate the water forces and generate a humid environment, protecting the plants from the early cold temperatures, since plants resist cold temperatures better when moist. On top of spaying the preparation, we also watered the garden everyday. As a result, we created an appropriate environment for fungal diseases to develop…

That’s why the nest morning, we applied preparation 501 on young and leafy crops. This preparations stimulates the energies of the Sun and its heat. The purpose was to eliminate the excessive humidity and control fungus on leaves. It was great to be there to understand how both preparations are used to regulate each other’s actions. Again, the principle is balance.

 

Giving back what we have taken

“The art of making compost consists in using whatever you have. The point is to give the necessary nutrients back to the Earth”, says William, as he was teaching us the art of composting. Indeed, the Earth feeds us through the fruit and vegetables we take from it. Somehow, we must give it back all the nutrients we have ‘used’. Else, we will empty its reserve and slowly but surely, we will end up having a depleted, unhealthy soil.

Composting is a natural way to close the cycle, and give the Earth the nutrients it needs to keep on feeding us. Nowadays, most of us know what composting is. But biodynamic composting is quite unique. It is made out of organic left-overs and cow manure, but it also incorporates the above mentioned preparations. On specific dates, according to the calendar, small amount of the preparations 502 to 507 are put into the pile. On our first visit, we helped with this procedure. The preparations are put into fresh manure balls, like dumplings, and then put into the compost pile, in the center of it. Following homeopathic principles, small quantities are enough, and act on the entire compost.

We do not know much about why such preparations are used, other than “to reconnect the compost with the cosmos”. What we do know, is that the result of implementing such preparations makes a difference in the quality of the compost that even skeptics can notice. As told by Oscar, one of the workers at Gabeno: “When I first arrived here, I used to laugh at the preparations and their weirdness. But I remember once we didn’t use the preparations properly and our compost was still not ready in the center. The manure was still fresh. We applied the preparations and left the pile for another month. At the end of it, the compost was of excellent quality and worked great!”. We do not have enough knowledge to determine how accurate this is. We are just able to transmit what we saw and heard. One thing is clear: he who knows, knows. And usually, farmers know best about their land and procedures.

 

Conclusion

Entering Gabenos’ everyday life was a very fulfilling experience. We had a hands-on learning process where we discovered the beauty of farming and the challenges it represents to do it naturally. We were also able to appreciate the power of the biodynamic method and see for ourselves why it can be called ‘conscious farming’. With a down-to-Earth approach, we shared with you our experience in order to present an alternative to the artificial products we are using all over the world in our farms, our crops, our food.

This situation is not only our farmers’ issue, it is our issue too, as consumers. By being aware that alternatives exist we are better prepared to make our choices. Let’s choose health for our Planet and ourselves!

If you have any comments, ideas or suggestions please do share, we appreciate it : )

 

Take it further!

To learn more about the ‘Green Revolution’ and its current consequences visit www.foodfirst.org/media/opeds/2000/4-greenrev.html

To learn more about Biodynamics visit www.biodynamics.com/biodynamics.html

To learn more biodynamic preparation, its uses and further readings on the subject go to page 3 and 4 of this article





Off we go! / C’est parti!

19 01 2010

As of today we will be volunteering in a biodynamic permacultural farm in Colombia called ‘Gabeno’, not far from Tenjo. In a nutshell, biodynamic agriculture considers a farm as a living organism. It puts a strong emphasis in the conservation of the quality of the soil. The key is to seek a balance between all forces acting on growth and development: soil, sun, water, nutrients and more subtle factors such as the influence of the cosmos. Described as “homeopathy for agriculture”, we are very excited about learning its principles and sharing our discoveries with you!


Even though we won’t have lots of time to spend online, updating the blog is one of our priorities. Please leave us a comment (or two) and we will get back to you when possible.

Also, if you share our interests in alternative ways of living and earth-conscious techniques remember to subscribe so you get notified of further posts.

Thanks for reading, thanks for being, thank you for believing!

Write to you soon,

lisa and juan : )

 

Take it further!

To learn more about biodynamic agriculture go to: http://www.biodynamics.com/biodynamics.html  

To learn about Rudolf Steiner, considered as the father of anthroposophy and biodynamics go to: http://www.rudolfsteinerweb.com/

 

——————————

A partir d’aujourd’hui nous allons séjourner à ‘Gabeno’, une ferme en Colombie près de Tenjo qui travaille la permaculture avec une approche biodynamique. Pour la biodynamique, la ferme est un organisme vivant et son principe de base est de préserver, voire améliorer, la qualité des sols. Pour ce faire, il est essentiel de maintenir une harmonie entre toutes les forces qui agissent sur la croissance et le développement des êtres vivants, y compris les plantes. Nous considérons comme forces la terre, le soleil, l’eau, les nutriments, ainsi que des facteurs plus subtils tel que l’influence des astres. Décrite comme “l’homéopathie de l’agriculture”, la biodynamique nous intéresse énormément et nous sommes très heureux d’apprendre ses principes et de les partager avec vous.

Bien que nous ayons peu de temps pour être en ligne, une de nos priorités est la mise à jour de ce blog, notre fenêtre virtuelle sur le monde. Veuillez nous faire part de vos commentaires auxquels nous répondrons avec plaisir dès que possible.

Par ailleurs, si vous partagez nos intérêts, abonnez-vous pour recevoir des courriels lorsqu’un nouvel article sera publié.

Merci de nous lire, merci d’être, merci d’y croire!

A bientôt,

lisa et juan : )

 

Allez plus loin!

Pour apprendre plus sur l’agriculture biodynamique visiter : www.bio-dynamie.org/presentaion-agriculture-biodynamique/definition-agri-biodynamique.htm

Pour apprendre plus sur Rudolf Steiner, considéré le père de l’anthroposophie et de l’agriculture biodynamique vister : http://www.ecolesteiner.free.fr/bio.html





DoGood: Good ads, good mood

17 01 2010

"Everyday I wash my brain with ads" (source: Brigade Anti Pub)

The advertisement industry bombards us everyday with thousands of messages. Ads want us to buy, to try, and sometimes make us cry.

While we cannot say exactly how many ads we see a day, we estimate that for an average American the range is between 400 and 3000 ads (sources: click here). We didn’t find a statistic for the number of ads we see online but it’s clear this reality does not exclude the world-wide web. Think about how may advertisements we see while checking our inbox? Or how common it is to see ads on our favorite websites?

Whether we want it or not, we are permanently adding all kinds of information into our brains. Usually that information is relatively unnecessary for us as individuals. Their goal is to associate a product with an emotion or feeling. For example, cars have been associated with power and freedom the same way shampoo has been associated with happiness. Ads are made to create a need, and feed us the illusion that by purchasing a product we will be happier. According to this, it is hard to imagine they can make us better people. Until now. 

Thanks to a motivated group of individuals trying to do good, we now have an alternative to all those generic messages. They have developed a plug-in application called DoGood that automatically changes the generic ads into positive and inspiring ones. DoGood also contributes financially to charitable organisations giving them 50% of their profits. Sounds good? It’s even better! According to their blog, firefox users can submit their own ‘good ideas’ and the team “will be regularly updating the good ideas being viewed each day”.  

Their slogan “See Good. Do Better” clearly reflects the importance of what we feed our minds with.  

They got it, now it’s your time to get it!

 

Take it further!

To download the DoGooder browser plug-in click here

To learn about other forms of advertisement activism visit these websites: Ads Monkey or the anti-advertisement agency   

Any ideas or thoughts? Your comments are welcome : ) 

 





Plastic World

15 01 2010

Everyday our lifestyle produces tons of waste. We consume unnecessary things, sometimes unwillingly, such as free-trials of many sorts, informative flyers, and lots of packaging. Have you ever opened a bag, that was in a box, that was in another box protected by plastic paper that you brought home in a shopping bag? We all have, then we all know what this is about.

Ideally, this should not exist, but it does. Sometimes, we can give this waste a second life. In other cases, just as many other types of unrecyclable waste, it ends up polluting our environment. Indeed, it’s been around 10 years that our wonderful planet has a “7th continent”, made out of plastic… This post is about reality and how to change it!

Here’s some things we can do:

First, avoid!

Avoid unnecessary plastic and any other material. Everyday we get lots of it: shiny business cards, plastified flyers, shopping bags, extra shopping bags, bottles, tetra-bricks, coffee cups… You name it. Most of the time we know these things will end-up as waste. The easiest thing to do is to say “no, thanks” and/or have your own alternative. Also, when shopping, look for big sized-containers or ideally buy in bulk. Some stores allow you to bring your own containers in order to buy all kinds of things: nuts, dried-fruit, cereals, rice, beans, herbs, soap and shampoo, etc. According to wasteonline, a UK-based organisation, 35% of the plastic used is for packaging (source: click link).

Second, replace.

Make it a point to always have an alternative with you, in your school bag, in your purse, or in your vehicle. If you are a coffee drinker, get a reusable mug. If you drink lots of water, get a water bottle you can refill anywhere. When going shopping bring your own bags, hopefully made out of long-lasting materials (ideally natural fibers). When offered a bag, you’ll be able to smile and say “thanks, I’ve got one already”.

Buying in bulk also allows you to replace unnecessary wrappings and containers by bringing your own. This is a tendency that is starting. By increasing demand, we encourage it. In Spain, milk producers have ‘gone back to the future’ by installing milk vending machines in gas-stations, allowing people to bring their own bottles and buy their milk straight from the producers. Other countries have followed, like Slovenia offering raw milk!

Third: reuse.

In a previous post about aldeafeliz, we commented on a technique that consists in filling-up plastic bottles with all kinds unrecyclable waste (plastic that is not recyclable in your city, cellophane, styrofoam, already-used adhesive tape, bags that can’t be reused, etc). In some communities, people use these bottles as bricks to build houses, schools and many other structures.

Again, if you buy in bulk, you can use and reuse your containers. Do the math: if you buy detergent every two weeks, that means by buying it in bulk (and reusing the container) you’d be saving 26 plastic containers a year. Think of it as a way of living and you’ll see the enormous impact one has over the environment. As a general rule, before putting away any waste, ask yourself what can be done with it. Can I use it for the same purpose it’s already been used? Can I use it for something else? The key is to be creative!

As a last resort: recycle.

Recycling is an important step in taking action, yet is far from being the best solution to our over-consumption problem. Socially, it is very easy to feel satisfied thinking we are improving our environment, when in reality we are not doing so much. In fact, recycling often requires considerable amounts of energy and is not free from toxic by-products. But hey, companies are running out of raw materials, they need our help to keep producing!

The more we think about it, the more it seems that buying stuff in bulk is a pretty efficient way to reduce the amount of waste we put into the environment. Given the amount of people living on this planet, if we want to keep on satisfying our needs from trade this is the next step. It requires a little extra responsibility, that is true. But don’t we owe it to our future? To our children? To our planet, our home? We think we do.

Take it personal!

We have reached a point where it’s crucial to be very conscious of our individual influence and impact on the world. We have been the ones polluting our eco-system by over-consuming all sorts of goods. We are the ones that can make a difference. Being responsible (response-able) regarding our consuming habits involves paying attention to our everyday actions. Why is that important? Because we do it every day!

We want all of us to become conscious and responsible of our consuming habits. It’s time to become actors in making this world cleaner and nicer. Let’s take that extra time to find a store where we can buy our goods with less packaging!

We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Please share your comments or ideas on how to reduce our impact on the planet 🙂

Take it further:

To get inspired and start transforming your plastic waste into usefull items check out these links:

http://earth911.com/blog/2009/08/31/8-ways-whys-to-reuse-plastic/

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/368582/reusing_plastic_bags_ideas_for_the.html

To learn more about plastic, the different types and the impact on the world go to: http://www.wasteonline.org.uk

To learn more about the plastic continent go to: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/12/are-there-reall.html

To see an example of building with plastic bottles in Guatemala click here





Aldeafeliz, Colombia

31 12 2009

Aldeafeliz is an eco-village, located one and a half hours away from Bogota. Surprisingly, the climate changes drastically between the big city and this flourishing community, allowing its members to enjoy a warm tropical weather and a significant range of home-grown fruits and veggies. Aldeafeliz translates to “Happy Village” making a clear statement about the community´s goal. All of its members come from Bogota, where they were seeking a solution to the stressful and less fulfilling life in the city. As one them says: “We were all computer junkies, trying to save the world behind a computer screen.”

 

General Context

“The project started online, says Silvio, there were about a hundred interested individuals attending meetings and contributing towards the idea. Once the time came to put some money together and buy the land only a quarter of them were left!”

The three-year-old community established itself in three and a half hectares (35 000 m²) of land and counts with nine members, eight tortugas and one aspirant. Amongst the many natural benefits, it is important to mention the clear waters of the San Miguel river, the delicate balance between sun and rain and the rich native biodiversity.

The land is owned by thirty people, or associates, eight of them live there (the tortugas) and the rest keep close ties with the community and are called escarabajos. According to Julian, one of the founding members, these categories were born in the spirit of making it easy to understand who we are taking about. Through time, more categories were created, such as colibries who contribute with knowledge, and libelulas who donate funds and goods or volunteer with time and energy. Hopefully these categories won´t create too much of a difference between people and will be used only in order to better understand ourselves. 

To become a tortuga one has to go through specific stages. First, one is encouraged to spend a minimum of two weeks as a volunteer, fully participating in the community´s life. This period is both for the volunteer and the community to get to know each other and see if they are compatible. If everything works out, and the aspirant is still interested in living in Aldeafeliz, the community has a meeting and decides whether they wish the aspirant to stay with them or not. If yes, the aspirant begins a one-and-a-half-year trial period, living in a tent (as in the picture). Once officially accepted as a resident, one has to pay for the land and the right to build his own eco-house (25 m² per person). Considering all common areas (kitchen, bathrooms, shower, office, etc) the established surface is more than enough. They are limited by the law to build only six houses. So they have come up with the idea of making six “neighbourhoods” or residential units as they call them, all connected through shared spaces, such as a dry toilet or a vegetable garden. That way they respect the legislation and are able to accomodate enough people to build a strong community. Currently, their maximum capacity is set to eighteen people, with possibilities of expanding themselves by buying more land nearby.

 

Everyday life

Everyday life is divided between community work and personal time. Mornings start at 8 am with breakfast. Then, all members spend some time cleaning the common areas and making sure everything is in its place, what they call “karma yoga”. Next, they take care of their weekly tasks and daily chores until 1 pm when lunch is served. The afternoon is dedicated to personal time, yet some will choose to keep on working for the community. As they all come from the city and are currently at a learning stage regarding agricultural work, it is common to see Don Pedro in the fields. He´s been hired to help them with the physical work and is regularly trained on permacultural procedures by the community. Their goal is to be able to take care of the land on their own.

Most of the members telework from the office located in the aldea while others actually work in the city. But all of them need to go to Bogota quite often making it pretty complex to keep a schedule and make sure things get done. So they came up with the role of “Captain Planet”. Each month, one person is chosen to assign roles and tasks for all the members of the community. Until now, it is the best way they have found for making things work, they say. Some tasks change weekly like taking care of the chickens or managing the water system. Other chores change every day: cooking, dishwashing and cleaning the toilets. 

We´d like to comment on the efficiency of their dishwashing system. They use three basins full of water. The first one is for washing with their home-made soap, the second one is for taking off the soap, and the last one has lemon in it and is used for a final rinse. Only the first basin, the dirtiest one, is completely emptied and washed and becomes the third one, the cleanest. This process is done after every meal and assures that a minimum amount of water is thrown away by rotating the position of the basins. Quality and availability of water is a main concern in a community that wishes to live sustainably and respecting the Earth.

Aldeafeliz benefits from a river, a lake and rainwater making the community privileged in this sense. John, a Canadian volunteer we met over there, was in charge of developing their water management system. He´s been there for the past six months and his work consisted mainly in establishing a list of priorities regarding the community´s vision of water. But he was also developing a water filter to stop using gas in order to boil water and a solar-heating prototype to make warm water accessible for showers without the need of electricity. His focus was energetical self-sufficiency. “The community has everything it needs to make its own electricity and even sell the surplus back to the grid”, he said.       

Amongst other projects, they are currently building a maloka, a space for sharing amerindian knowledge and traditions that will benefit the community and its bioregion. To discuss ongoing and future projects, weekly meetings are held and assure that all members share a clear vision of their development. They also have a weekly circulo de palabra to share their feelings and let others know about personal issues. This common practice in this type of communities is seen as a time for intimacy that generates brotherhood amongst the members. They say that “in the circulos de palabra one speaks from the heart, while in the planning meetings one uses its mind”.

 

Impact on the bioregion

By bioregion we understand the naturally defined geographical area, including San Franciso, the nearby village as a main actor. Aldeafeliz´s mission statement is “to be a school for community life and for a holistic development, where voluntary work and the desire to share lovingly with nature and other people allows the expression of our inner source of peace, love and creativity” (free translation by the author). 

We can identify three major aspects in which this community wishes to influence the bioregion and all visitors:

1) Cultural & Spiritual Influence:

  • The aldea is an open space, welcoming all to experience and learn about alternative ways of living. We were there when a neighbour from San Francisco came to visit and was positively inspired by their progress.
  • Counting with three generations, Aldeafeliz is an example of respect towards individuals of all ages. All members are supported by the community. The elders´ participation is welcome and their wisdom is taken into consideration. Pregnant mothers are supported and advised, respecting their needs. For the new-born, growing in a peaceful atmosphere with vegetation and clean air to breathe is a true gift considering the current circumstances in most cities. 
  • The maloka, once finished, will also be used to host amerindian rituals that will be accessible to all and specially to neighbours.
  • The community is known in the surroundings and villagers respect and appreciate their presence. They think of them as happy people who play music every night! This was told to us while trying to get there.   

2) Environmental Influence:

  • Their home-made soap is made out of recycled oil that they get from the restaurants near the village. This reduces the amount of waste of this otherwise polluting substance (1 drop of oil contaminates 25 liters of water, source: H2O, Oxfam-Quebec). It is important to mention that even though the soap they fabricate is less polluting than commercial alternatives, it contains caustic soda which they are trying to replace by natural compounds. Also, the instructions to make your own home-made soap are available in the website.
  • For each automobile they have in the village a specific number of trees must be planted every year in order to neutralise their emission of carbon dioxide (learn more).
  • Descriptions, pictures and professional 3-D designs of the eco-houses are available in their website, allowing interested individuals to learn form their experience.
  • In the nearby forest, they have put wooden signs to encourage the respect and love towards nature.

 3) Economical Influence:  

  • By giving work to Don Pedro and the other workers that help with the construction of their houses they generate work and create links with the villagers.
  • The coffee beans collected in the aldea are processed and packed by a family company living in San Francisco, thus contributing to their economic well-being.
  • As a source of ecotourism the aldea attracts many visitors that have an impact on the economy of San Francisco.

All in all, it is clear that by just existing this community shows that there are alternatives to our mainstream way of living: be it the way they wash their dishes, the dry toilets they use, the products they sell  in their shop, etc. By visiting this place, one is invited to re-think its current habits and own life in general. 

 

Our involvement

While we were there, they were having a minga de aseo. Which means everyone was needed for a major clean-up of the common areas. “Thanks to the mice, we have finally done a task we´ve been delaying for ever!”, says one of them with a smile. In a very holistic approach and looking at it symbolically, their close relationship with nature made them realize that instead of eliminating the mice that had appeared in the office by killing them, maybe the mice were there as a sign of neglect. Thus, they decided to go through and sort all the things they had been accumulating in the past three years. We were there to help them out, on top of contributing to everyday chores: cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning of toilets. 

By helping them, we learnt the importance of choosing what items are welcome or not in an eco-village like this. Because of its location and the close ties to the city, it’s very easy for things to come into the community either brought by members thinking it´s needed or left by visitors. The result is a large amount of things that have no owner and are not really needed by anyone. An extreme example of this situation is a bunch of roof tiles someone accepted as a gift thinking they could be useful. It turned out these roof tiles are full of asbestos, and they don´t know what to do with them now. We suggested that every time a member wants to bring something into the community, there should be some sort of “circle of acceptance” and the community as a whole should give its approval. To some extent everything can be useful, the question is: what is really needed? As for the stuff already in, lots of clothing was washed and put together to be donated to San Francisco, the main village nearby. Most of the unused electronic equipment was not working, so it was discarded as waste and taken to Bogota. Paper, glass and metal are somewhat easy to be sold, so they were kept aside, but plastic is not. Their answer to plastic waste and all other waste that cannot be recycled or reused is to be put in a plastic bottle and compressed. They call it “relleno sanitario” which means sanitary fill. Once full, these bottles can be used for construction, replacing bricks. They have great insulation properties for noise and temperature! It´s true that not everything fits in a plastic bottle, and it´d be better not to have any waste that can´t be treated, but this imaginative idea gives a second and useful life to otherwise polluting garbage. 

Besides the minga de aseo we also participated in making granola, one of their best-selling products. The process consists in taking the moist out of oat, corn, barley and wheat mills so that the product doesn´t rot. Then we had to mix it all together, add sesame seeds, nuts, peanuts and raisins without forgetting the secret touch! We also helped Vincent making some wooden boxes to protect the merchandise and learnt how to build them.

All in all, it was a great experience and turned out to be the best place to start our journey in Latin America. Being very talented with computers, the community has taken the role of networking with other eco-villages in Colombia and the Continent. For instance, they have launched and manage the website for all eco-aldeas in the country (ecoaldeasdecolombia.org) and actively participate in the yearly event called El llamado de la montaña, where members and enthusiasts of alternative forms of living come together to share their experiences and set common goals for the year to come. This year, the gathering will take place in El Retoño, a natural reserve which was our second destination.

 

Conclusion

This young eco-village has lots of potential in becoming very close to self-sustainability. For now, their major challenge is to start working the land and implementing a serious permacultural production for their own consumption. It is important to mention the priority for now seems to be the production of goods for selling. “We are selling a way of life”, says one of the members in a meeting we attended. Indeed, Aldeafeliz has it in its mission statement to be  “a school for community living” and uses the shop and the selling of their carefully and lovingly produced goods to achieve that mission. They want their customers to think differently about their consumption habits by consuming different goods in a different way. For example, they want their loyal customers to keep and give back their empty pots of jam in order to be refilled instead of just throwing them away once finished. A beautiful project, yet we find it a bit dangerous to focus too much on the shop and the selling of goods. We hope they keep a balance between the commercial activity and the fulfillment of their own needs. 

So thanks again for all the info and the great times we had at Aldeafeliz. One thing we forgot to mention is that these people do actually look happy!

¡Adelante y gracias aldeafelicianos!    

   

Take it further:

To learn more about Aldeafeliz visit: www.aldeafeliz.org 

To learn about Colombia´s network of eco-villages go to: www.ecoaldeasdecolombia.org

To learn about construction with plastic bottles go to: http://www.basurillas.org/construccion-a-partir-de-botellas-de-plastico-pura-vida/