Monthly Archives: March 2010

Brazil Day 8 — planting trees

Mo, we are thinking about you today.

We finished our data collection it feels good to get that done. I am so proud of how everyone pitched in and got the work done. Right before lunch we planted tree. We did this last year. The farmer workers made signs with our names and the name of the tree each of us were to plant. Jason, Rachel and I looked at the trees we planted last year, Ours and many of the others from last year were growing strong. It is great to have this lasting connection to the farm. Now this year our students all planted avocado trees. We planted a whole little avocado grove. Again, the farm workers made us signs, so these students now have a lasting connection with the farm. Maybe someday some of them will return and visit their trees. And we planted a tree for you Mo. Hopefully, you will get to come next year and see your tree!

Mo's tree

After the trees, we did something really cool — we squeezed sugar cane and drank the juice. In Brazil it’s called, caldo de cana. Here’s how it works: first, you find some strong, young people to act like an ox…

young strong ox's

Next, insert fresh-cut sugar cane into the awesome squeezing contraption…

awesome squeezing contraption

…while catching, the juice. Next, drink the delicious caldo de cana mixed with lime juice, like these lucky caldo de cana drinkers…

loving that caldo de cana

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Brazil Day 5, 6 and 7 …the behinder I get

11-11-11-11-11-11-11-11-11

Never did catch up from when the Internet went down and been too busy or too tired to keep things updated. The time has gone so fast. Here’s a quick update…

Day 5

Several students milked cows early. Sorry I don’t have any pics of that up just yet. I will add more later. Cheese making 102 — tying  mozzerella knots.
Loaded up the truck and visited a couple neighboring farms. Ranato’s farm. Ranato is convinced he has to change to obtain long-term sustainability, but he’s moving much more slowly, changing things piecemeal without causing major disruption.  He’s a trained agronomist and his approach is very traditional. We looked at some coffee diseases and learned some strategies for managing them. We looked at his hard wood plantings, and a new crop he is trying — chia. Then we went to Joao Neto’s farm. We were greeted with snacks and an invitation to swim in the pool. It was delightful, and though we were supposed to look at the farm, we ended up not getting any further than the pool. Joao Neto’s farm might be the highlight of the week.
We returned to the farm and had a late lunch. A desperate attempt was made to get something done on the water and soil samples. Forgot a couple key items, so didn’t get anything accomplished. Returned muddy and frustrated.
Ate a light dinner. Bruno lead a good discussion on permaculture.

Day 6

Rafting on the Pardo River. It was the perfect blend of excitement and fun. Everyone survived and there were no major injuries. We then piled into the back of a chicken truck to visit a coffee farm high in the mountains. We stopped half way up to visit a farmer and have a snack, and kept climbing. We helped plant trees in a spring-protection area, and then drove higher. Around every bend the view got better and better, but we kept climbing. The farmer had a little dog who lead us all the way up the mountain. Finally, when we thought it couldn’t get much better, we arrived at the top. There we climbed on a giant, flat rock and gazed across the most incredible landscape many of us had ever seen. See  picture below…

The view from 1350 M above sea level in Brazil

We then proceeded down the hill, part way, to have a late lunch with another coffee farm family. So great to experience all these different people, this cultural sampling of individual homes and families. We climbed back into the truck and finished the ride down the mountain in the cooling late afternoon. At the bottom we transferred back to the bus and headed to another look out words can’t describe. See picture below…

Day 7

Work day. Marcinhos, one the farm’s top hands, gave us a nice lesson on water and the work he did on the farm for his Master’s project. After the presentation we set out to get as much of our water/soil sampling/testing done as we could. We made great headway before stopping for lunch. After lunch we cleaned up and drove into the local village, Igarai. There we visited the Cafe Igarai, the local women craft cooperative we visited last year.

Marcos and Simone arranged for us to visit homes in Igarai. This was a new experience. More cultural reality, and it was a delight. We split into groups of two and three and each visited two houses. Each group had a translator. They welcomed us with open arms, showed us their homes, shared a snack, laughed and learned about each other.

As night fell we hung out in the town square, and welcomed Rita Croce (Marcos and Silvia’s daughter) and her friends from Highland Park who arrived to spend their Spring Break at the farm. Our time here will overlap with theirs by a couple days, but we’ve already enjoyed there teenage energy and what it adds to the the environment.

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Brazil Day 4 — the land under the rainbow


Super early morning looking for birds. Morning is the best here. The birds are everywhere and loud with their heavenly singing. Every morning I awake to the hum of a zillion bees high up in flowering tree over my cabin. Golden morning sunlight washes over the green landscape. Many, many birds to see this morning, but I’m dragging 30 minutes later and decide to go back to bed for awhile. It was a good move.

semi-professional cheese makers

Cheese making 101. We donned the hairnets and aprons and learned the fundamentals of the craft from Marqunios. The students seemed to like the hands on experience.

check your cheese

Spent time with Tracy and OG setting up the water project. Bruno and Marqunois helped. M had maps and other valuable info we needed to map our strategy.


After another spectacular lunch (really, the food is ridiculously good, every meal) I worked with Julie and Lauren to set up the soils project. Both water and soil will start tomorrow. Social surveys have begun. Birds are finished, but Rachel S. and EmJ have to write stuff up. We found some drums in the basement of the main house. Bruno and I banged around on them for awhile and later played guitar and conga in the lounge. Silvia invited her friend Silvia from Mococa to the farm to lead a session of yoga. Most of us joined in. After dinner, we watched the movie FRESH. It was excellent and really got us talking. Highly recommended.

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Brazil Day 3 — Goodbye to our new brazilian friends

Kim-Chuck and Rachel

I’m behind with the blog because the Internet connection went down and stayed down for a couple days. We were totally isolated, and it wouldn’t have been an issue, but I was worried about Mo, who I thought might be trying to arrange another flight to join us still. Finally reached her to find out there were no flights and she was still sore from the surgery, and so she has already started looking forward to next year.

With breakfast and the Bom Dia circle, rumors began to circulate of late night fun had by the Illinois and Brazil students once they finally got off by themselves. Music and dancing. How they bonded.

Caio Martin Torres, aka, "The Prince of Brazil"

We said good bye to the Brazil students today, but before they left we took a long, meandering walk back to the Atlantic Rain forest with stops at the gigantic ficus tree, insightful dissertations from Joao Neto, swimming, etc. When it was finally time to say goodbye everyone exchanged facebook, emails and fervent promises to stay in touch.

Joao Pereira Lima Neto

Lunch, then it was off to bird watching with Fabiola and two local expert bird watchers. Fun, but more of a walk in the woods than actual bird watching. Way too much talking and laughing. That kind of behavior tends to frighten birds, causing them to flee, which defeats the purpose of bird watching.

Dinner, a reverent listening to Bob Dylan’s 7-minute poem for Woody Guthrie, a great bird discussion with Fabiola to prep us for early morning bird watching tomorrow, summed up the evening. Another full and great day. What a great group of students we have here. Each one is delightful, always helpful, always eager for the next new experience.

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Brazil Day 2 — FAF invaded by yet more students!

buds in brazil

Some of us rose early and went for a run, but most of the group slept in to catch up on rest from the two day travel marathon.
Breakfast was light and wonderful. The food all day was splendid.

major food prep activity

After breakfast we hung out and waited for our visitors. The two groups eventually showed up. One group consisted of MBA students
from The Ohio State University. They were joined by a few students and one faculty from Escola Superior de Agricultura Luis
Queroz, University Sao Paulo in Piracicaba. There was another group of 12 Brazilian students plus faculty from Universidade Estadual Paolista. This made for a large, somewhat rowdy, but thoroughly enjoyable group for the next couple days. We all went on the Wolf Trail tour, Jao Neto spoke elegantly about growing happy coffee. It started raining, then pouring. We were all soaked, but happy for the farm that greatly needed  the moisture for the coffee and newly planted forest trees.

the illustrious Jason Barton in deep discussion, as usual.

After lunch, we all piled into vans and trucks with 500 trees and digging tools. It took us less than an hour to get the native rain forest
tree seedlings planted. A local non-profit — Olho d’Agua — visits the trees every day to protect them from the ants. This will greatly improve their survival rate.

illinois meet brazil

Highlight of the day: PIZZA PARTY. It was pizza madness, really. Pizzas everywhere. All different, all good. Creative pizzas, bland pizzas, baked in the wood-fired stove, free samples all around, laughter, music, illinois/brazil bonds forming into what will surely become lifelong, Facebook friendships.

the end of another good day.

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Return to Brazil

2010 Brazil Group

One year ago, Abe Bicksler and I brought a class of nine UIUC students to Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, a diversified, organic coffee farm near Mococa, Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was an incredible week and we hoped to make it an annual event. That dream has come true, at least for a second year. I am here again, now, with nine more students to learn about and experience sustainability in an international setting. The flights and drive were long, but it all went off without a hitch, except for one — poor Maureen came down with appendicitis the night before we were to leave. She had surgery which went well, but despite her best efforts to recover quickly enough to still make the flight, she wasn’t able to do it. We are holding out hope she can still make it for the greater part of the trip. I’ll keep the  blog posted, but send up a prayer for Maureen. We miss her.

On the drive from São Paulo to the farm we ate at a traditional Brazilian barbecue.

fine dining on the way the FAF

We arrived around 5:30 PM this afternoon, tired, but excited to finally be here. After unloading and having a cold drink, we all walked to the lake and had a quick swim. Dinner was at 8:00 — lasagna made from bamboo. More on that later.

nightfall at the lake

After dinner and dessert we learned about Marcos and Silvia’s latest venture — the Bobolink Cafe. FAF is partnering with neighboring farmers who are open to to more sustainable production practices. These practices in turn result in an increase quality of coffee and an opportunity to identity-preserve market the coffees coming off the farms. The higher prices they command for their higher quality coffee help the farmers be financially sustainable, in addition to environmentally sustainable. The partnerships and community contribute to social sustainability of the region. It’s exciting to be a part of this effort that is really changing people’s lives.

3 palms of sustainability

For more pictures, click HERE.

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Loving the country life…at 90!

Grace's journey started here

At 90, Grace Margaret Larson tends her small farm near Kewanee, IL, and her website — living-and-loving-my-country-life.com.

After WWII, Grace and her husband moved to the farm from the big city to fulfill their dream of raising kids and vegetables and animals in the country.

After 58 years, and with the help of a 75 year old friend, she is still at it. Now her story is there for anyone to read and enjoy. She blogs a little (Country Life Blog, click on What’s New) and the recipes look good.

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