Vivero Cumbre, A Community Garden in the Center of Santiago

Easy Going Means Easy Travel

It was a wonky feeling getting on the plane without any great intention or months of planning. Traveling over 5,000 miles to go and visit some friends somehow seemed frivolous. I softly reminded myself that if I want to continue to be a free spirit then sometimes I have to just leap; to let the process lead the way and tust.

Before leaving a friend texted me “ the universe wants you to succeed”. She intended this text to be for the GRE that I might as well of failed. And for the upcoming trip to Nicaragua, that fell through. With this awareness, I chose to embrace that the universe does want me to succeed. But perhaps the conspiracy is not to support me in following the conventional path, a lesson I have learned many times over.

My arrival to Santiago was the smoothest of all international travels. The California lady sitting next to me was the ideal companion for the 9.5 hours red-eye flight. Irma and I connected on water issues, ate dinner, and peacefully snoozed through the night. She insisted on sharing her taxi and paying the driver to take me to my friend’s house. Easy peezy compared to the planned route of public transport.

Gardening Meets Eatable Landscape

With the application of permaculture principals, trail and error, and a lot of the love, the garden was thriving. Being a “slave to the plants’, as Nico described it, surly had paid off. Food was growing on every terrace. The gentle pulling back of leaves revealed giant zapallo cholito(native squash). Berries, eatable flowers, corn, carrots, potatoes, several varieties of tomatoes, and much more. In only 3 years time he and volunteers in the community had transformed an unruly hillside into a productive place for people to come and find nourishment—for the body and the soul.   

Exposing school children to process of cultivating the landscape had proven not only to be an agricultural lesson; it was a lesson of connecting to that which we come from, Nature. Nico told of the ways city dwellers and students had found serenity here at the garden. In the midst of concrete construction and traffic, people could come to this park and sink their hands into the soil. 

Worm Compost Extraordinaire

This vermaculture systems is one of the healthiest and productive ones I have seen. The design embraces the principal that we should capture and utilize as much energy in a system as possible, which means in the case of compost means creation of rich humus. According to Nico and his mentor, Felix Brunatto, aerobic fermentation produces a greater yield than anaerobic fermentation. In other words, maintaining an environment that is rich with oxygen and therefore conducive for worm habitat is more efficient and effective than the traditional compacted and heat producing compost pile.

In the more traditional compost pile there are two additional products (aside from humus) are methane gas and heat. Now, if you are like me, you can see what the production of methane isn’t great but what’s wrong with heat? Well, nothing is inherently wrong with heat. It is simply that it is energy that is escaping the system that could be utilized. So then how can that energy be used? Worms!

The concept is that if you maintain an cool, oxygen and organic rich environment for Eisenia Foetida Andrei (California Red Worms) then your have higher production of humus. It is pertinent to comprehend that the worms transform the organic matter into humus, which is nutrient rich soil.  Another plus to this system is that you can put any organic matter here. The worms don’t care if it is a citrus, meat, or dairy. They transform it all. And I can say with confidence that this well maintained vermaculture systems is odor free. 

A Work In Progress

Nico has also been incorporating biofilters and natural building techniques into this space. You can see the collection of plastic bottles ready for a building project and an example of a rain catchment that is built with them as well. He has stopped using the biofilter until, as he put it, “it can be done properly”. The thing with biofilter is that they are sensitive and need to be regularly maintained. I have a lot of respect for folks who hold off on projects until they are really ready to do them well. In the photos here you can see the currently non-functioning one that has the potential to function with some modifications.

And alas, as we left Vivero Cumbre I was assured that indeed this was going to be a rich adventure in to the world of Chilean permaculture, social and environmental movements, and a time to learn.