December 01, 2013

Permaculture and Farms in Vinales

Oxen preparing the soil.
Typical Vinales horse cart heading to town from the countryside.
We had our first experience on a permaculture farm in Cuba when we were staying in Vinales. Vinales is reportedly home to some of the world’s best tobacco farms but we were more interested in the fields of black beans, corn, rice, and wheat. The farms cover every inch of the valley floor butting right up against the dramatic jungle topped Mogotes. The town pulsed with farming life. Farmers in cowboy hats and rubber boots pedaled their old single speed bicycles along main street. Horse carts and oxen competed for road space with tractors and tour buses. Somehow despite the huge amount of tourism passing through this quiet valley the locals carry on with their lives.

It was on one of our long wanders through the countryside that we came across La Chiquitica Organic Farm. Miguel Veliz Collazo welcomed us in for a tour of his permaculture gardens and food forests. With Meghan as a translator we learned that he has been teaching and farming for 25 years and that he works with kids and has hosted UBC students. He took us to feed his pigs that lived alongside turkeys and chickens in a forest of banana and citrus. And then with great enthusiasm explained his HuManure composting system! I was bursting with things that I wanted to say but poor Meghan could only translate so fast. Our tour moved on to his herbal compost tea concoction for combating against pests. We left with mouths agape and hands filled with bananas and citrus. In exchange all he wanted was for help share what he does online.

We met anything fascinating farmer while wandering near Vinales. Raul Reyes has an organic farm on the path to the Cueva Vacca at the base of a dramatic jungle covered Mogote Mesa. Which also happens to be an amazing rock climbing crag. Raul was a weathered old man that you could tell was really proud of his farm and what he grew. He had bananas, pineapples, peanuts, wild honey, home roasted coffee, handmade cigars, and fresh squeezed unsweetened juices. His produce was far fresher than what we’d find on the produce carts in town and we’d always come away with a few freebie bananas.

Cows are protected in Cuba. Killing one could land a Cuban 7-12 years in jail! 

Everywhere we went we saw Cubans in clean crisp clothing. I love this photo. The red dirt road, dog, baby clothes, and trimmed grass. 
Miguel the farmer, philosopher, and teacher. I'm holding the fruit he gave us in exchange for sharing his info online. 

Feeding the pigs in the food forest. I like food forests that include animals for meat :)

Noisily chowing down on some soaked banana (grown overhead). A chicken awaits scraps. 

On one of epic country walks near Vinales. Off the tourist path you see the life unfold. Moments later we watched as a frustrated young man tried to drive his oxen down to the water hole and got stuck in a rut. 

Our smiles hide our weariness from hours under the hot sun…lesson learned. Bring two broad brimmed hats!

Finca Raul Reyes market stand. The best place to stop for a juice after a day climbing in the mountains surrounding Raul's fields.

A caballero and his horse.

November 27, 2013

Farming in Cuba

Wandering through the country and jumping fences
After having spent the past six months around farms in Vermont, Meghan and I were really interested to see what the farming was like in Cuba.  We spent most of our trip looking for farms and talking about what we saw. Meghan’s Spanish allowed us to navigate the sometimes complicated paths to the outskirts of town and to chat with farmers.

Farming was in action all over the country; from the Organiponicos in Havana, to the Finca la Chiquitica in rural Vinales, and alongway oxen plowing fields, tobacco farms, greenhouses, and wild vegetables growing in the streets. But this was a vacation after all and so despite seeing lots I haven’t done the research to really understand and explain what’s going on in Cuba. I thought it would be fun to share some observations.  

Trekking through the backroads of Vinales
Some of the surprising and eye-opening included:
-Even in another country and climate the organic vegetable farms look the same and even in Spanish the farmers we met spoke the same language as us.

Cuban Urban Farming: Vivero Alamar Organiponico (Havana)

I had heard about Havana’s urban farms in the Power of Community.  The film left me with the impression that after the 1990’s Special Period, Havana was covered in gardens. Well, it’s not quite what we saw but the Organiponicos that we found were really big and really cool!

Finding Havana’s Organoponicos was a good little adventure. When we asked our intelligent Casa hosts about Organiponicos in Havana they looked puzzled and told us that there weren’t any urban farms in Havana. With enough prying we heard of one Boyeros. Although this area was off our small map we set out anyway. Meghan expertly hunted down the correct city bus and we squeezed on with standing room only. It must have perplexed the other bus passengers but they were still eager to help us find our stop. One young man with excellent English eventually chimed in and assured us that they would tell us where to get off. He learned his English, he said “from videogames”. And when I asked him what he did for a living his eyes lowered and he said he didn’t have a job.   

Traveling in Cuba

Havana's decaying downtown

Street scene in Trinidad
Tabacco plantations in Vinales
Cuba's mountainous countryside

Meghan and I just got back from two weeks in Cuba. Like so many Canadians we flew into Varadaro but didn't dally there. We spent time in Havana, Vinales, and Trinidad, with a brief stopover in Santa Clara. It was an eye opening and fascinating place to visit. And also a perplexing place. We came away with so many questions about how the country functions.

I still don't know where I sit in regards to my views on Cuba. Before visiting I probably had a rosy image of the country. There are after all many lovers of Cuba; Canadians embrace it’s beaches, rum, and cigars. Permaculturalists and Peak Oil observers upheld Cuba as a leader and living example of a sustainable low-carbon future. And yet human rights violations are systematic. To complicate matters there is a humourous cultural mash-up of the gunslinging-freedom fighting Che Geuvara with bikinis and rum All-Inclusive Resorts. Confusing? Yes.

It would be impossible and useless for me to provide any real analysis of what’s happening in Cuba. I haven’t done my homework and I know that such a complicated country can’t be summed up after a two week vacation. But I can express some of what we did see firsthand – surprising, beautiful, and humourous. 

October 09, 2013

Farmer Training Program Update

I've got to say that Vermont is different little state. I often compare it to Nelson in BC's Kootenays or Vancouver Island- in both looks and character. The mountains, ski culture, subaru's everywhere, and especially the big dramatic views over the lake remind me of the the Georgia Strait or Slocan Lake. I read that years ago, the Burlington business association tried branding Vermont as "the West Coast of New England" didn't catch on.

Vermonter's seem to have a unconventionally "common-sense" attitude about their environment and economy. I'd say that in Vermont, right wing and left wing have wrapped so far around they’ve met in the middle and are carpooling to the farmer’s market.

Vermont has the highest percentage of organic farms by state in the USA and also the highest consumption of organic and local food in the country. So it's a good place to learn about food and farming.

My program has been going really well. I have loved the emphasis on producation, planning, and running a farm businesss. The teachers are solid and the students bring a diversity of past experiences and lots fun to the farm.
A typical week includes three days working on our student farm where we grow 40-50 varieties of vegetables that are sold at a farm stand, through weekly food shares (aka CSA), and wholesale to local grocers and cafeterias. I also spend one day a week working other farms in the area. And each week we have a classroom day with lectures on various farm topics that have included pest and disease management, business planning, crop rotations, soil science and much more. Learning lots from experienced farmers and specialists from the Extension Service (that's UVM's public farm consulting agency, it's fantastic).
 There's such a great diversity on the farm - from harvesting bouquets of flowers to discing fields with a tractor. At times we've taste tested four types of melon in our field, with juice running down our chins, and on some early mornings I've helped milk on a dairy farm. 
Thankfully, food and farming is such a rich, satisfying endeavor - it has to be, otherwise the tiredness and tedium at times would erase all pleasure. 
Fall spinach in its glowing green glory

Discussing the finer points of turnips

Back from the Amaranth harvest


September 23, 2013

Sunflowers & Cabbage

On the UVM Horticulture Farm - where I've been spending my summer learning to grow veggies and flowers.

June 04, 2013

CSA Update #1 from the UVM Farm

We've got a small CSA this season, just 10 members, that us until you count the 28 program students and staff. Along with that we have some wholesale accounts and are selling at a farm stand on campus Thursday afternoons.

Here's an update I recently typed for our CSA members:

As cool spring weather dragged through the month of April and we waited for warm weather, our greenhouse filled to the brim and our transplants yearned to be outside. In early May hot weather arrived along with 24 students taking part in the Farmer Training Program.

It was a beautiful chaos for the first couple days as we learned each others names and rushed to plant potatoes and beets. With spring turning to summer in a matter of days, the fields had dried out and we were able to get in there with the tractor to cultivate and plant.

While the tractor took care of preparing long rows for onions, leeks, and other large crops; we used muscle-power to prepare the garden for a diversity of small and specialty crops (over 60 different varieties). A winter cover crop of Rye grass had bounced back and was thriving in the heat. We pulled it out clump by clump in what became an arms race against the Rye’s desire to spread seed. Now it’s in a great big pile of compost that will be added back to the soil. Its part of a balance on the farm to not only grow great food but to practice less impactful ways to work the land by hand.

There’s a special buzz on this farm that’s apparent in the enthusiasm brought to simple tasks like weeding the fields and technical lectures on greenhouse management. The sheer number of us together on the farm, learning and working is a sight to behold.  Now the gardens are looking good and the fields are growing well. Our first harvest is coming soon and we hope you’ll enjoy the food. 

Inline image 1
Farm students and seed flats in the hoop house.

Inline image 2
Onion planting extravaganza!
Inline image 3
Head lettuce successions 1 and 2. A couple weeks from harvest.

June 03, 2013

A Canadian in Vermont: Bumper Stickers

Wow, they love bumper stickers here. I've seen more bumper stickers in the last week than I've seen in my entire life in Canada.

It's not only a Vermont phenomena, though this state does have a wonderful diversity of them.

This leads me to wonder my Vermonters, and Americans, are so fond of bumper stickers? It's hard to think about this without my mind filling with stereotypes. Who cares really! I must admit that I appreciate the honesty that it takes to slap on a political sticker that may outlast the candidate or loudly proclaiming your love of bluegrass music. Sure, it's going to be a pain in the butt to peel it off someday...but who's planning to sell their car anyway, right??

Here's a few photos that I've taken:

Sticker overload!
Whoa Whoa, you had me at bluegrass. Local food is sweet too.
For the outdoorsy type. I like it.
Satire. I love it.

Just awesome.

April 25, 2013

April is Awesome! in New Brunswick

Meg and I had a great couple weeks in New Brunswick with my parents...Who says April has to be a sit-inside-watch-the-rain kind of month?? There's lots to do! We collected maple sap for syrup, ate fresh salads from the greenhouse, backpacked along Cape Chignecto, rock climbed at Welsford, and saw so many great folks!

My dad collecting maple sap from trees in their hedgerow.

My mom covering her spring salads for the night to protect them from frost.

Meghan on the Seal Cove Beach near our campsite while hiking Cape Chignecto.

March 16, 2013

Grotto Falls and Chickadee Valley

Chickadee Valley. A beautiful half day ski in Kootenay National Park.
Wish I had known about it a couple years earlier!
Challenging wax conditions as the temperature hovered around 0'
 in the Chickadee Valley.

March 09, 2013

Biking on the Sunnyside Bluff


It's that time of year. Spring fever hits. 

Despite the cold, Calgary can be pretty friendly to winter bikers.

 The snows are light and short lived, it's almost desert after all. The river valley through downtown is flat and there's a good pathway system. And best of all Chinooks come through, regularly drying the streets.

But I know it's nearing spring when I go biking with no destination in mind. I left the house late in the afternoon, after the temperature had already dipped enough to need a toque and gloves. I ran into Meghan just down the street then proceeded to the Sunnyside Bluff. This particular piece of the Bluff is one of my favourite places in Calgary. The other being Edworthy Park. I stayed there till dark filming my bicycle and  runners and wind in the grass. I'll watch it in a few months and be amazed that amid the summer lush, even the mud and dry spring grasses are beautiful to behold.

March 01, 2013

How to Use "Labels" to create Topic Pages

Time to get nerdy about Blogs!

When I started this blog I wanted just one platform to write about my various interests - the outdoors, food, and bicycling. I didn't want to frig around with separate blogs for these topics. So I faced the dilemma of a non-specific blog - and the issue of various topics cluttering and hiding each other. For example if my Mom :) came to read my recipes I wanted her to be able to focus in on just those posts and not wade through photos from climbing and hiking.

Over the course of a year I fiddled around with blogger, wordpress, and tumblr to find a way that I could separate out my topics into different pages. At first I tried setting up actual "Pages" but I found these to be static. I wanted each topic page to be look and act like blog.

I figured it out first with Wordpress and then just recently with Blogger. I chose Blogger in the end because of how easy it was add photos through Picasa and online albums. Wordpress has a sleek look but it's painfully clunky in the photo department and has limited space. 

So here's a step by step way to get your Blog Topics to act like Pages:

** I added notes to the screenshots. You may need to open them to read more easily.

The "Labels" you select will show up like Pages below your header. Each will take the reader to a list of all posts fitting into that category.

When you write Posts give them Labels. You can create any label you'd like to fit your topic. Think of them as categories/topics/ or tags. The Labels that you create here will be available as links below your header (you choose which).

Go to your "Layout" page and add the "Labels" Widget. You can place it along the bottom, sidebar, or top. I prefer putting it at the top so that it mimics "Pages". 

In this dialog box you can select which Labels you want to appear. You may find it cleaner to select only a few primary Labels to display (so that it's not messy with 2 dozen different labels).  For instance I chose generic labels such as "Outdoors" and "Food" to display on my main page.

But you needn't be limited to just those principle labels on your posts. When I gave something the "Outdoors" label I also further identified it with "climbing", "rockies", "winter".

Happy blogging

Posted by Picasa