These past two days have been busy for the 16 Ohio State University EMGs. Yesterday we loaded up the bus and went about an hour up the mountain to the vivero (tree nursery) to work. We filled soil bags, weeded tree seedlings and prepared the for today’s planting. In the afternoon we headed to Lake Quicocha (qui = guinea pig, shaped like a guinea pig) for a great lunch at the dock and then a boat ride around the lake. Clouds and rain moved in and it got a little chilly. All had fun no matter! We went to a local restaurant in Otavalo and had the opportunity to try cui or guinea pig. This is an expensive dish or a treat and is not served that often, except for birthdays and celebrations. Some liked it, some….not so much.
Today (Monday) was a pretty incredible experience for all. We participated in a “minga” or community work day. All families in the community are required to have at least one family member participating and helping with the work. Community leaders planned this work day to focus on planting trees to help prevent erosion and for a windbreak. As you can see from the photo, erosion is a huge problem in this area and the locals focus on reforestation in order to prevent the erosion and protect the water supply. You can also see how steep some of the hills were where we were planting. It was pretty crazy to watch the community members hang on the the steep hillsides and see how they easily plant trees under these challenging circumstances. We were a little more careful!
Many hands make small work held true today. We planted almost 500 tree seedlings (came from the vivero) in approximately 3 1/2 hours. The soil in this region is a rich volcanic mix and is absolutely incredible. Most of us EMGs couldn’t start working right away as we had to relish the feel and quality of the soil. We kind of looked a little weird fondling the soil but if you have clay soil, you know how it is. We planted on the hillside and then went further down the hill to the school grounds and finished up. It was really great to walk down the hillside and experience the plants in this area. We could recognize many of them since they are the annuals and tropical plants that we grow – except they are a lot bigger here.
We also helped build a fence around the area to protect the trees, mostly from animals wandering and smashing them. The fences were made from barbed wire stapled to stakes made from the lechero (Euphorbia latazi) tree. This tree is in the Euphorbia family which means it hast the typical white sap and we had to be careful handling it. It makes for a very durable and long lasting stake. The stakes were cut from nearby lechero trees with machetes and “planted” in holes about two foot deep, then the barbed wire was attached.
One of the highlights of the day was the community lunch. After a minga, it’s common to have a community lunch. The women in the community prepare the food and bring it to the field. They lay a cloth down and then sheets on top of the cloth. All of the food is then poured out on the cloth in one big pile. Then, it’s just like Americans – dig in! It was a great experience and lots of fun. The food included several different types of potatoes, a variety of beans (including fava beans), roasted corn, rolls, all topped with popcorn. Many of us ate the local way with our hands and some used plates.
The other highlight of the day was our visit with the Yachak or healer. He shared his traditions and knowledge on healing with us as well as specific details on medicinal plants. We also toured his garden and learned about the many healing qualities of plant. A Yachak generally focuses on healing the spiritual side and typically hands down his knowledge to a son or daughter to pass along the tradition. One of the most interesting things he said was, “we are born not knowing plants and it’s our responsibility to keep learning about them and teach others.”
Overall, we are all exhausted from planting seedlings at an altitude of 11,000 feet high. Walking up and down the mountainside to get to and from the school was a little taxing and we were definitely affected by the altitude. However, as all gardeners know, this is a GOOD exhausted. Tomorrow we go back to the vivero and will visit a rose plantation and on Wednesday, we will plant potatoes and teach a school group. More on our adventures on Wednesday.
Pam Bennett, Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener State Coordinator