Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bona Fide

OK so this post is long overdue but blogspot has been giving me trouble lately. Hopefully this will finally work!

After recuperating from our long journey from Ometepe to León and finding a spare moment to take advantage of the free internet in our lovely hostal here, I´m ready to blog about our short but enlightening visit to the permaculture community project Bona Fide.

Located a short walk away from the Finca Magdalena , where we stayed on Ometepe,
Bona Fide is a lush farm started by a really cool guy from the US named Michael. Before he started the project seven years ago, the overused land looked more like a desert than the tropical paradise it was meant to be; constant cattle grazing and monoculture banana cultivation had leached all the nutrients from the soil. Since he bought the land in 2003 Michael has been working with employees from the surrounding community and volunteers from all over the world to bring this place back to life. This has not been an easy process. The first crop they had to plant was an inedible bean that would put some nutrients back into the soil, which meant that they didn't see any of their crops give fruit for their first year of work.

This kind of patience and dedication was apparent in all of Bona Fide's work. Seeing this project gave me hope for the future of Nicaraguan farmers. Michael has a few overarching goals for the finca. One is to provide a model of sustainability for farmers in Nicaragua and worldwide. He is certified in permaculture, a farming technique that follows patterns in nature rather than exhausting the land by cultivating huge plots of just one crop--I definitely can´t explain what it´s all about here but if you´re interested then check out this website. Another goal is working to take the power of food from the hands of huge monopolizing corporations and give it back to small farmers. But the main idea is to help increase the food security of Nicaraguans in a sustainable way.
Bona Fide is an amazing mix of crops that have been present in the country for a long time and ones that he has brought from other places. But don´t worry, no invasive species here. Michael showed us a leafy green from Australia that is high in iron and other nutrients that a typical campesino diet of rice and beans lack. He also pointed out the mango and avocado trees from Asia that produce fruit in every month of the year. These plants would not only fill a nutritional void in the Nicaraguan diet, they would also give farmers who grow them a very valuable market niche—imagine how much more a mango farmer would make if she could sell mangoes all year instead of just in the rainy season.

At first this idea might seem problematic; trying to change a people´s traditional diet seems little short of a cultural attack. But Michael and the people at Bona Fide are taking a holistic approach to food security. Even after seven years, the farm is still in its test stages; they want to see how the slow-growing perennial crops grow before introducing them to Nicaraguans. In the meantime they are not just sitting around. They consistently employ at least 12 workers from nearby towns, so in addition to a steady job (something very hard to find in Nicaragua) they learn about the holistic approach of farming and viewing the world that is permaculture. There´s even a scholarship fund for Nicaraguan farmers or foreigners who plan to stick around to become certified in permaculture right there on the farm. They also help raise funds for community projects in Balgue, like the children´s nutrition program and the community center.
These projects were ideas that came from the community and are run by people living there. Bona Fide provides support and money (and if any of you want to help out an awesome cause, they´re looking for donors to help start a day care!) And one day, when the fruit is ripe, the children will be able to eat mangoes and leafy greens in addition to rice and beans and learn how to grow all these crops sustainably.

One of the things that struck me most was how invested the people at Bona Fide are in their work and in the community. Like a very good definition of food justice recommends, their work touches hands, hearts, and pockets. Just asking for directions everyone was saying, "Oh, you mean Michael´s farm." Adelita, who runs the children´s nutrition program out of her own home, lit up when she talked about her friend Michael and how much he has helped.
And talking to the famous Michael, you can easily tell how he´s earned a special place the hearts of these people. When I mentioned that I would love to come back and volunteer someday, he said "We´ll be here." For some that may not mean much, but to people who live day to day expecting nothing but poverty, this promise is a small seed of hope.

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