Planting Trees the Ecuadorian Way
On Thursday, we all headed back up the mountain to the vivero in order to plant the seedlings that we collected on Wednesday. After a gracious welcome from Matias we received our directions for the day. The first group was sent to the northeast side (or prevailing wind side) of the vivero to plant 40 Acacia trees in the holes that were dug on Sunday. In the US, when we plant trees, other than digging a hole, it’s generally pretty easy. In this location, the EMGs had to work really hard to dig holes in and around all of the other shrubs and trees and their associated roots. It’s kind of hard to explain but let me just say, it was a real challenge to dig.
The trees are not planted the same as we do either. In fact, it goes against everything we learn as EMGs! We all just about died when Alfredo showed us how to plant trees at the school on Monday. In fact, you could hear a collective gasp when he said to dig the holes 1′ and plant the trees at least 6″ below the top level of the hole. Then you place the seedling in the hole (these seedlings are about 8″ tall) and fill with soil, covering the trunk a good 4-6″. They don’t have any issues with drainage as we discovered when planting these trees. It had rained the entire night before and we had no problems digging in this wonderfully rich volcanic soil. The depth of the hole is used to collect water to hopefully keep the trees moist during a dry spell. Apparently they don’t have any problems doing it this way as I asked staff member Aaron to find out from Matias why they do it. He said that the depth of the hole and the tree allows for water to collect as much as possible when it rains and for the humidity level to be a little higher around the tree. As they say, “When in Rome!”
Dirt Baggers and Much More!
The rest of the group spilt up into dirt baggers, tree sorters, planters, and ditch diggers (I got the lucky job of ditch digging!). Matias showed us how to fill the bags with soil that he prepared earlier (no bags of soilless media!). He uses native soil and adds sand. We then divided the seedlings into small, medium and large so that he could group these together. As we took some of the seedlings out of the bags, we noticed that when Matias collected seedlings, he didn’t use empty soda bottles cut in half. He would collect a handful of seedlings, take a very large, sort of oval leaf, wrap it around the roots, and then tie it with pieces of long grasses and other plants like clover. Next, the beds were flooded with water to moisten the soil. The planters poked a hole (we are bringing a dibble the next time) in the soil and stuck the seedling.
Transplanting the seedlings into the plastic liner pots in the nursery
Three of us took the large,heavy hoes that are used for everything (planting trees, weeding the garden, etc.) and worked on repairing the drainage ditch from the greenhouse to the open ground. It was basically a ditch with plastic over the soil that had become full of grass and was no longer effective. You can’t believe how excited we got when we tested it with a bucket of water and it worked! I won’t share the video (yes, we actually filmed the water making it’s way down hill) as you might think it a little crazy!
Success with our drainage ditch!
I am not really sure how to describe the extreme difference in the way things are done in in Ecuador and how we do things. In the US we have resources at our fingertips and these jobs come easy. In Ecuador, with limited resources, these tasks were quite an accomplishment! We still can’t imagine Matias doing all of this by himself. I have no doubt, however, that he would have, though it would have taken much more time. He wouldn’t have complained one iota. And to Matias, well one muchas gracias was never enough!
After we finished our work, the UCINQUI President and Director for Education came for a presentation and to tell us muchas gracias as well. UCINQUI is the name of the organization that works to better the communities. I listed the communties below in case you are interested. The President is elected from the representatives of each of the 23 communities. Anna Taft, founder of the Tandana Foundation, presented a letter telling President Carlos about all of the great work that has occurred at the vivero as a result of Matias. In addition, we presented several gifts to Carols and Matias. I gave Matias an OSU ball cap and made him take off his native hat and put it on. He grinned from ear to ear. He didn’t keep it on long, however, as he quickly went back to his hat.
Being from OSU, it wouldn’t be appropriate to go anywhere without getting our clasic photo of four people posing for O-H-I-O. We had our new friends do it and then several others joined in. We had to do a final one for the bus driver. As we were preparing for a group photo, and everyone was standing waiting while we staged the photo, I saw the bus driver of the corner of my eye stamding on the end of the row, holding his hands up in the O shape. I got the biggest kick out of this! He wanted to be a Buckeye! (Who doesn’t??? – a little editorial privilege!)
Buckeyes can't go anywhere without our traditional O-H-I-O (Hope, Aaron, Cathie and our bus driver)
OSU EMGs Are Very Generous!
Before the trip, I challenged OSU EMGs to donate money to help with supplies and boy did the county programs come through! We raised over $1,200 and purchased tools and other supplies. In addition, we had some money left over and presented a check to the Tandana Foundation to help with the irrigation tank. Currently Matias has to run up the hill to turn the water on and the irrigation tank would be much closer to the vivero. We presented a certificate for this money as well. Overall, we have been so touched by this project that we have plans to raise more money to finish the water tank. Our goal is $4,000 and I have no doubt we can do this!
Meeting a Healer
After a great picnic lunch, we said goodby to the vivero and headed to meet Anna’s host grandma, or abuelita. She is well-known in the area as a healer. She is so well-known in fact, that anyone who gets into a cab in Otavalo and requests her house will be taken directly there. This 92 year old woman was thrilled to have visitors and we were the first group ever that the Foundation brought to visit her that was invited to visit the garden. Gardening is truly a universal language. She provided us with some medicinal plant recipes, including one for prostate that consisted of about 10 different plants! Don’t worry, we aren’t bringing this home for use! This cultural experience touched us even more than you can imagine.
Anna Taft's host grandma or abuelita
Preparing Our Own Authentic Dinner
Finally, we were treated to an authentic Otavaleno meal, that we had to prepare the authentic way! We went up into the hills a short way to Claudia’s home. She has worked to develop a cooking school in which visitors can experience the full Otavaleno culture. When Anna first came to Ecuador in 1998, she taught Claudia in 7th grade. Since then, Claudia has gone on to become one of the many Tandana Foundation’s success stories. She has future plans to build cabanas and house visitors, continue the cooking school, and start a museum for her culture.
Preparing the meal was a blast. We divided into groups and half toured the garden while the others started to peel potatoes (with large knives, no peelers), cut vegetables, washed corn leaves (for the dessert), made salsa, sauce for the meat and aji (a great hot sauce), and cut the meat. The main dish was carne colorado. The second group came in and cooked the meat over an open fire, mashed the potatoes for the llapingachos (like a potato pancake), cleaned and smashed the berries for the mora (an incredible juice, berries look like giant raspberries), and mixed the batter and prepared the dessert. The dessert was my favorite is called llamachacki. It’s a mixture of butter, vanilla, sugar, cane, flour, baking soda, and egg yolks. The beaten egg whites are then folded into the batter. I’ll never forget my expression when Claudia handed me the egg whites and said whip to “snow.” I knew she meant to stiff peaks and said ok - and then she handed me a fork. I exclaimed with a fork????? Yes, and it was definitely a team effort! I forget to mention the best part of the meal – at least to the Otavalenos. They have cui only on special occasions such as graduations, birthdays, and weddings. I figured since I was fully immersed in the culture, I might as well try some cui or guinea pig! Tastes similar to chicken but a little more greasy.
Ummm- getting ready to make the dessert llamacachki - it's fantastic
After enjoying this wonderful meal prepared by our own hands, we headed back down the hill with flashlights and back to the hotel. We are leaving Friday morning so we packed and hit the sack – that’s why this one is a little late! Tomorrow, I’ll post the last blog of the trip, sharing our last day at an incredible private garden, giving you a sense of how the EMGs felt about the experience, and telling you how you can get your state EMGs involved.
(Communities in the UCINQUI organization include Muenala, Motilon Chupa, S. J. de Inguicho, Larcacunga, San Francisco, Taminanga, Urcusiqui, Asilla Grande, Yambiro, La Banda, Moraspungo, Guachinguero, Perugachi, Tangali, Agualongo, S. A. Cambugan, Huayrapungo, Cutambi, Achupallas, Minas Chupa, Panecillo, and Padre Chupa.)
Pam Bennett, State EMG Coordinator for OSUE and just overwhelmed with emotions about this trip!