Hey guys. I have been practicing permaculture for about 12 years, and organic gardening/permaculture for going on 20 years and i am just now signing up on Permies.com. Sorry for that. My permaculture and gardening is my number one passion in life and for that reason I avoided it as my profession. You have a tendency to put more energy into something you are passionate about, while work...is...well, just work. I kept the two seperate.
My idols are the usual guys: Sepp Holzer, Geoff Lawton, Masanobu Fukuoka and of course Bill Molson and of course moving up in the ranks is Paul Wheaton. Anyways, i have worked on/with various people on some projects over the years and I do the occasional consulting work for people, especially concerning vermiculture. A friend of mine had about 40 acres in Oregon and together we tried to implement most of the aspects of permaculture. Lots of hiccups along the way, but in the end we accomplished our goals. A self-supporting, nature friendly low maintaince system. It took us about 4 years to implement. We started this quite large project 12 years ago and it was one of my happiest periods of life. We never did let our failures bring us down. I do remember one of our biggest "oops" periods was our attempt at building swales and not building them on contour, lol. Erosion is not your friend. Luckily we had only put in a couple before realizing the critical mistake.
Well, 2.5 years ago I moved to Southern Ecuador where I still live. I originally arrived here thinking i was going to do some gold prospecting for some extreme adventure. 2 years ago I experienced the adventure I was looking for, but it came at a price...an attempt on my life. Long story short, I had an attempted murder on me. 2 men beat me down, and dragged me over to a cliff where they tossed me off. The idea was to remove the evidence and that would be me. I did survive not only the beating, but the fall and had to climb out as well. This was the worst day of my life. Some events that occured during the fall has been pushing me in a specific direction and that is south towards Peru.
In about 5 days I will be heading to Iquitos, Peru in which I will be working with one of the owners of an Ayahuasca retreat. We will be implementing full permaculture throughout the grounds of the retreat, which is 25 hectares of virgin, old growth jungle deep in the Amazon rainforest. This is going to be a rather slow process considering all earthworks will have to be done by hand due to the remote, off the grid location. We will be building swales, ponds and dams. Planning and developing food forests/edible landscapes. I have an idea for a soil amendment process using a combination of vermiculture and ground covers that I hope to test out. The open land(the land was purchased this way) consists of about 2 sections of 5 hectares(12.5 acres) each and another smaller piece of about 1 hectare. The remaining 14 hectares will be left as is, which is jungle and will consist of the already developed animal sanctuary. This center consists of two parts. One is the Ayahuasca and natural healing aspect while the other is the permaculture side. We are hoping to film(and possibly blog) all projects from beginning to end for detailed instruction on how to implement them. Do you feel this would work? A few challenges will definitely await us, one dealing with the remoteness and not being able to use heavy machinery. This is going to be done soley by man, meaning no excavators, graters etc. A single pond will most likely take weeks/months of labor and swales/dams many days or even weeks.
Would you follow this site? The problem I see is that most people will hire out the machinery and do very little of the earthworks by hand. While certain projects might take us months, it may only take the viewers weeks.
We have quite a few things going for us though. One is the exotic location and the importance of keeping the area untouched. This is untouched virgin rainforest. Massive trees of hundreds and in some cases thousands of years old towering over us. Monkey's, snakes and even the beautiful scarlet macaw lives right on or near the land. Their are 4 monkey's that actually live with us and they will climb on our shoulder and we have a few giant anteaters, and giant sloths as part of the sanctuary. All the animals are free to come and go if they are not injured. Apparently there are over 120 recorded medicinal plants right on this property. It is a beautiful, healthy and flourishing ecosystem and the plan is to keep it that way.
The medicinal power of Ayahuasca is amazing and I can't wait for my first set of ceremonies. I have been waiting for going on two years for the right place and right time. If you are not familiar with this amazing plant, do yourself a favor and research it.
The idea of the entire permaculture project is to educate, both the local indigineous people and everyone else in our beautiful world that permaculture and subsistance living must be the way of the future. The shipibo indians are the primary indigenous peoples of the region. They practice slash-and-burn agriculture and this practice is not sustainable. Our hope is simply to educate the people about the importance of keeping the rainforest intact and that wildcrafting herbs and permaculture in general is a very effective, sustainable future. Of course we hope to educate not only the local people, but any who are also interested in permaculture. It appears I have arrived at the perfect time, right in the beginning of this ambitious project. My question is: Would you come to this website on a regular basis? As long as the information is sound, the site professional and updated, would you keep coming back? Feel free to offer any ideas, comments or any other feedback.
PS. Eventually we hope to have guest speakers visit the retreat on a fairly regular basis and possibly to teach a detailed, tropically oriented permaculture course. Soon we will also be taking in volunteers hopefully on a regular basis and this will be implemented on the website.
Yes it would be interseting to see the evolution of earthwork projects without heavy equipment. I would reccomend posting your progress here on this forum, where thousands of people are looking daily. Hoping that people will click your website in hopes of updates will attract much less attention. I understand, your clicks equals your revenue. But better to get some visibility than nothing at all. Lots of people here would be interseted to watch your progress, as we enjoy watching the progress of many individual projects around the world. When you share, we all learn.
I would be a little more humble about assuming that you have something important to teach the local indigenous people. From what you related, you have never been to this area. So surely the native people that have sucessfully lived there for millenia might know some things you dont. Western man showing up to teach the locals how to better live is a pretty old, and tired, theme. I would start out by learning from them. Sometimes we dont understand what we dont understand. Slash and burn sounds just horrible in the Western world, but maybe there is a kernal of wisdom there, like the whole biochar concept. Given your fractuous relations with the locals in Ecuador, might be good to start out by listening instead of teaching. History, if nothing more, indicates that this would be wise when dealing with indigenous peoples.
Ten cuidado with ayahuasca. I know it is very well regarded these days in the alternative Western world. I think there is quite a bit of naivity there. It is a profoundly powerful medium, truly beyond words. Lots of magic, good and bad in equal amounts. Be careful. You will open yourself to more spirits than you can imagine. They dont all want to bless you on your way. I know of many many Westerners in Peru who have had deeply bad experiences with ayahuasca. And many who have had profoundly good ones as well. All I am saying is be careful. Protect yourself. You are dealing with a power well beyond our comprehension. Local Peruvians dont mess around with ayahuasca, maybe with good reason. They see it as a tool for the realm of shamans, that they view with fear and unease. Maybe their millenia of experience with ayahuasca has taught them something about its potential risks and rewards.
Curious- where in Southern Ecuador have you been living? I spend some time in Vilcabamba, was deeply drawn to the area and almost started a life there. But my path went a different direction.
Hi Adam. I have lived throughout Ecuador, but as for the Southern area, Vilcabamba, and more south, Yangana and Vallodolid. I have lived with the indigenous(huaorani people in the Napo province) in the actual deep rainforest, so I am comfortable in that type of terrain. As far as slash-and-burn, it does have its major problems. When most indigenous tribes had fewer numbers and were more nomadic, it worked well enough. Now that the tribes are more stationary and it is a MUCH more common practice, it is destructive beyond belief. They buy cheap rainforest land, slash it and set it on fire and used for cattle grazing, or a specific monoculture.(usually). After some time, usually a few years, the land becomes fallow and they rinse and repeat. Yes, we can learn a heck of alot from indigenous indians, but unfortunately that specific agricultural practice is not one of them. I definitely do understand the concept of biochar, but just burning the land and actually burning wood as biochar are quite different. The problem is that it takes hundreds, if not thousands of years for rainforest to grow back to its full glory. We are undoing thousands of years of evolution in a matter of decades and are greatly effecting the last of our ever important rainforest.
The entire world has some serious issues as we all know, definitely not just the Amazon region. Unfortunately a large fraction our medicine, much of our oxygen and a huge variety of flora and fauna come from that region. I never said I wanted to "change" them, just give them an alternative, more sustainable agriculture system.
I hear ya about Ayahuasca. Plants are not "good" and "evil". They are indifferent to those human emotions, so unfortunately the consumers intent is critically important. If you steer more towards being a greedy individual who seeks money and power, then you will probably draw malevolent spirits. If you are a kind-hearted person who has good intentions, you will probably draw belevolent spirits. One thing Aya seems to teach no matter what, is the great importance of the rainforest and the need to protect and cherish it and THAT i agree with. Intent and treating Aya with respect is absolutely critical. The other issue is that people, to an extent, treat Ayahuasca as a recreational "drug", in which it is not. The dieta is very important and who knows what others ad as admixtures. The ancient formula itself is quite safe if done respectfully.
So I hope you understand the reasoning behind this project is not to try and change anyone directly. It is about showing them an alternative, very affective, and sustainable route. Saying that because the system they worked with(slash and burn) worked in the past, doesn't make it viable today. The modern practice of heavy machinery and tilling, aka large scale agriculture, obviously isn't a sustainable practice either. To be honest, I would say the "first world" agriculture practice is as destructive as slash-and-burn, just in a different way. It is a matter of the importance of the land. You also have to factor in that most "first world" people have internet and ways to educate themselves outside of actually working with it hands on. In the Amazon very few people would even realize their are other ways, so the creation of an education center in that specific region and providing dozens of jobs makes quite a bit of sense, no?
Have you ever witnessed the destruction of this practice first hand? Like actually seen it with your own eyes? It is a horrible sight and will put tears in most people's eyes.
Nice reply Jason, much appreciated.
I agree that slash and burn isnt pretty. Yes I have seen with my own eyes, had the smoldering smoke put the tears in my eyes. Though just because we dont like something, doesnt mean that we know what would be better. It stands on its own two legs that Western man has thought, over and over for centuries, that we could see the 'problem' in native life, and that we had an answer. I think we as a culture need to abandon this cultural salvation, well intentioned though it may be.
I didnt mean to give the impression that I think plants are good or evil. Not my belief at all. I believe that spirits are good or evil, or more often some inexplicable combination of the two. Ayahuasca, IMHE, opens our spirits up to the much larger spirit world, inhabited by many many normally unseen beings, whos existences are independent from our own. Our intentions are, again IMHO, so weak compared to the will of these spirits, that they can do as they wish for the most part with our being. This is just speaking from my experience. I have no interest in ayahuasca as a recreational drug, and think it would be utterly useless as such. I would also, again from personal experience, disagree that ayahuasca teaches some reverence for the rainforest. My experience was so out of this everyday universe, that there was no real concept of such a physical thing as a rainforest. It's the spirit world. Something completely un-experienced on the daily despite its concurrant existence with our own. I'm down with the dieta, and the traditional concoction, the context, etc. No rookie here, played the game by the rules. Good luck, it's serious as a heart attack.
I have spent a bit of time along the Amazon and in Iquitos. I literally spent 2 days in their open air market and marveled at the diversity and depth of passion about the earth. I was also lucky enough to be able to spend some time in a small village, just after rainy season and happily didn't experience slash & burn but a very content, sufficient open/sharing culture. What I saw was multigenerational renditions of permaculture, conservation and bounty. Have you read the accomplishments of Willie Smits? I think it may be inspirational.
Best of luck
I have no experience whatsoever in that part of the world, and to answer your main question, yes I would be interested in following your project, but to be honest I would be more likely to do so via this website than by going to a website - mainly because I forget to check individual sites even when I'm interested in them.
When reading your post I did have similar thoughts to what Adam brought up, in terms of 'teaching' the locals. I hear what you're saying about wanting to provide an example rather than actively teaching.
My situation is not the same as yours but there are some parallels - I moved to rural west Wales, to an area where most people are involved in agriculture/pastoralism in some way and most people have been on this land for generations. They all use very modern methods, machines, chemicals, large scales (tho nothing like the US). Here I come with a bunch of crazy ideas - trying to set up a permaculture homestead. And they do think I am crazy. but they take my apparent craziness in a kind-hearted way, because I've made a big point of NOT trying to be an overt example, and of asking for their input. This is all on a much much smaller scale than you, but I think in some ways it might be similar. My point is, I talk to them from the point of view of an outsider who doesn't know about this land. For example I will say 'I need to do something with my meadow', and I will patiently listen to their experiences and suggestions, knowing full well that the vast majority of it does not apply to me. And I usually go and do something different and 'crazy', but they're always happy to listen and help when they can, because I listen to them and aknowledge that they have experience and knowledge that I don't. This is in direct contrast to other permie 'incomers' experience out here - many of whom have come with more experience than I have and grand plans and ended up very isolated from the local community and in many cases in a lot of conflict with them. On the other hand, of course my ultimate hope is that a)I will be successful in my work to build a sustainable permaculture homestead and that b) local people will be interested in what I've done and possibly adopt some of these ideas and techniques. But I know that in order to achieve a), I must have the support of my local community, and in order to ever acheive b), I must build my relationship with them up on good terms, gaining their respect.
Sorry to learn of your misadventure in Ecuador, and I am glad you survived. When I was touring a few years ago around Cuenca, the taxi driver we had hired told us to stay away from the gold mining areas because the folks there were very paranoid of strangers.
My wife is from Guayaquil. We often considered living in Ecuador, but we stopped thinking about it seriously once the kids started coming. Now that the youngest are almost grown, we are considering it again.
Shifting slash and burn agriculture is very old and can be very sustainable. The pre-Columbian Amazon basin supported a population much, much larger than is found there now. Disease and slavery collapsed this population, the remnants forming isolated groups unable to maintain previous levels of cultivation.
Where slash and burn doesn't work is where it is not "shifting." Spanish derived land tenure laws and modern land reform imposed by today's governments do not allow the practice of sustainable shifting agriculture.
I think you would be interested in these articles dealing with multi-story agroforestry and home gardens.