Friday, February 22, 2013

Improving Opportunities by Building Solar Food Dryers In Nicaragua

Ralph Bucca, an Agro-Processing Specialist with several volunteer assignments with the Farmer to Farmer Program in the past, was in Nicaragua this January doing what he does best: assisting and training small producers in low-technology and hands-on solutions that inexpensively improve food processing and, consequently, farmers’ livelihoods.

For approximately two weeks, Mr. Bucca worked with Nicaraguan host organizations and conducted technical workshops on the construction, use and management of solar food dryers, for the purpose of food preservation and value added products. The tasks were fulfilling not only for Mr. Bucca but also for those local producers, many of them women, who were assisted. As he remarked while he was helping building these solar ovens to a group of eight women in Esteli, Nicaragua:
“[these] women might not have ever used a saw, hammer, measuring tape, staple gun or screw driver… but they all seem to have a good time and are proud when it is done .“

These kinds of assignments touch bases with what is the Farmer to Farmer’s general idea: “improving economic opportunities by creating sustainable (and achievable) solutions”… or, in this particular case, by building (and understanding how to effectively use) low-cost solar food dryers.

Ralph Bucca and the lumberman that
helped him to cut up the prieces for
the solar ovens.

Hardware and wood ready to build the solar ovens kits.

Local farmers building one of the solar food dryers.

The output: Solar food dryers built!  
Group of women farmers enjoying the task of building these dryers

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Partnership Spreads Biochar Technology Throughout Haiti

Combine an organization with an innovative new technology perfect for Haiti's situation, with a dynamic Haitian agribusiness, and mix in the support of the Farmer to Farmer Program. The result? A great partnership spreading micro-enterprise and soil improvement opportunities throughout numerous communities in Haiti.

For Haiti, biochar production means not only improved soils and greater plant yields, but also reduced deforestation due to creating cooking charcoal with "green" charcoal (produced with biochar) rather than from trees. Carbon Roots International is championing this technology in Haiti. With the help of Makouti Agro Enterprise, they have refined the process and introduced the technology to an ever-increasing number of communities in Makouti's and Farmer to Farmer's network. Check out some of CRI's photos from their recent Farmer to Farmer trip:

Anderson (right), F2F Field Officer, discussing deforestation and biochar with community members
Tomatoes in center/right without biochar; staked tomatoes on left WITH biochar

Biochar kilns put to use in Aquin, South of Haiti

Green charcoal created by CRI and Makouti

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Teas, Please! New York Herb Farmer Teaches Herb-Drying Techniques for Making Teas in Southern Colombia

The completed drying house
For nearly 3 weeks this past November, Matthias Reisen of Healing Spirits Herb Farm & Education Center in Avoca, NY, worked alongside staff and interns at Amazon World Ecological Park (Parque Ecologico Mundo Amazonico) in the municipality of Leticia, Colombia. Rafael Clavijo, owner of the 29-hectare park that is home to over 300 native plant species, requested training from Mr. Reisen in herb and fruit dehydration techniques for producing teas, as well as advice on tea packaging. Mr. Clavijo's goal is to produce dried teas and other herbal products from fruits and aromatic plants grown within the park grounds, and to sell them to park visitors who have expressed interest.

After discussing various options for drying in such a humid, rainy environment and confirming an appropriate placement for a drying structure, the team sourced and purchased the necessary construction materials and got to work assembling the structure. The result: a 2-sided drying house, each side consisting of 4, 3x18 foot shelves, complete with plastic covering on the roof and sides and screened doors for ventilation and pest protection.

Tea formulation was the next topic of discussion, and after some training the team successfully put together a 5-ingredient blend using herbs from the park. They harvested the aromatics, placed them in the drying house, and Mr. Reisen demonstrated how to process the dried herbs by hand. Finally, Mr. Reisen led a training on using herbs to infuse oils, which can then be used to make other natural products. The team put their new skills to practice, combining infused oil with locally-produced beeswax to develop a salve.

Herbs set to dry inside the drying house
Amazon World Ecological Park, which opened its doors in 2011, is a touristic venture with a mission to preserve the natural and cultural riches of the Amazon Region. It was the recipient of the 2011 Venture Award, which recognizes the best environmental experiences in the Amazon, in the category of Sustainable Use of Biodiversity. The 29-hectare park is home to 300 native plant species. Located only 15 minutes from the city of Leticia, the park makes the jungle accessible to those who do not have the time or means to travel. The park offers a botanical garden with 100-year-old trees, Amazonian vegetables, flowers, fruits, and medicinal plants, as well as a sensory experience where the visitor comes in contact with the vegetation, samples aromatic beverages and learns their properties, and learns about the lifestyles and traditions of the zone's indigenous communities. Through these offerings, the park promotes a sustainable relationship between man and nature.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Volunteer from Organic Materials Review Institute Refines Natural Pesticide

Corinne observes shadehouse-grown lettuce in Guyana
Last month Corinne Kolm, Oregon volunteer from the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), traveled to Guyana to follow up on the work of her colleague who developed a natural pesticide to be used for shadehouse production. The request for technical assistance was generated from the producers' and technicians' concerns over the safety and cost of using synthetic insecticides. Derived mainly from neem, garlic, and hot peppers, the pesticide has been used by shadehouse vegetable producers since its formulation and testing in September 2012. It has proven to have a shelf-life of around 3 months and has been effective upon direct contact with pests.

Corinne's assignment focused on improving the efficacy of the pesticide, establishing standard dilution rates and frequency of application, extraction methods, and ease of spray. As an organic inspector and gardener, Corinne has a great deal of experience with organic insecticides, and she had also worked with neem extraction and application in Tanzania and India.

Friday, February 1, 2013

F2F Volunteer Teaches Cultivation Techniques to Students in Jarabacoa

Jenifer Perry, an Instructor from Paul Smith's College, has recently participated as a Farmer to Farmer (F2F) volunteer building strong bonds with different sustainable development stakeholders in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic (DR). As part of her activities, she was able to give technical assistance to young Dominican women to improve their community garden plots in an eco-club project hosted by a Peace Corp volunteer in Jarabacoa.

Jen Perry working with local Eco-Club on community garden
Jeniffer's initial assigned activities were to instruct students at the Natural Resource Management School (NRMS) in Jarabacoa on renewable energy and to assist them in their production classes. She was able to accomplish this exceptionally, while also helping these students with their English classes. Additionally, soon after she was introduced to a Peace Corps volunteer working at the village level with young women eco-club members, she recognized the potential that encouraging these girls could have to make a real impact in the community. 

Besides assisting them with farming techniques and sustainable agriculture principles regarding soil fertility, site location and water management, she also connected the club with NRMS’s faculty and staff. This affiliation resulted in a commitment by the school to provide compost, plants and seeds for the club to help them get started with the community garden project. Thanks to these efforts, these young women are now able to adopt new cultivation techniques such as the implementation of terracing, the addition of soil conditioning and the development of their composting system. Moreover, as a consequence of this work with the Peace Corps project, additional opportunities for collaboration might arise between the school’s production program students and other area villagers. 
Jenifer Perry with Eco-Club's young women members

After finishing her activities as a F2F volunteer, Jennifer has remained in contact with individuals from the country in the hopes of developing a long-standing relationship with NRMS by way of developing sustainability of education and projects. Today, she envisions a deepened exchange relationship between Paul Smith's students and NRMS students in which students can engage in service-learning related projects in both countries. She also hopes to return to the DR with Paul Smith's students to offer a solar panel installation training program with students from the NRMS.

Class instructed by Jen Perry on Renewable Energy
at the Natural Resource Management School

This was the first time traveling to a country other than the U.S. and Canada for Jennifer. As she mentioned in a report that she wrote as part of her follow-up activities with F2F: “This trip has impacted me very deeply personally… I was very appreciative of our ability to experience what we thought was a genuine DR experience, not a typical all inclusive vacation version of the DR… As an instructor of Green Community Design, I left the country with many potential projects in mind…” And she added: "In general, the people of the DR are exceptionally friendly, welcoming, passionate, intelligent, and deeply in love with their country and committed to causes which would benefit it."         
You can read more about these and other activities that Jennifer and her colleagues were able to achieve during their stay in Jarabacoa in an article published last month by the Adirondack Park's local newspaper.