Tag Archives: Brazil

Another farm adventure in Brazil

Atlantic Rainforest (Brazil)

If you’ve look around this blog at all you will notice a substantial number of entries on my experiences taking students to Brazil. Now I’ve found another interesting farm in Brazil that hosts guests. Check out the Eco-Farm. Looks fantastic, with many of the same options as FAF. From the pictures is looks like much more Atlantic Rain Forest to explore and the lodging appears to be a little more rustic than FAF. Still, I’d try it. Read Ze’s story here, his dream to farm and journey to financial sustainability.

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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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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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Brazil trip: white water and the long goodbye

This week I am in Brazil with my good friend Abe Bicksler and nine UI-ACES students. The Sustainability Spring Break Study Trip is being hosted by Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, a diversified organic coffee plantation, near the town of Mococa. Here we are learning first-hand about sustainability, and developing ideas for potential research projects that will help the owners of FAF realize their vision of a truly sustainable farm.

see the white water?

see the white water?

Friday, March 27

We were looking forward to what was planned for Friday, but couldn’t believe it was already our last full day in Brazil. We rose early, ate a quick breakfast and piled into our rented van. The plan was to go river rafting down the Rio Pardo. It was about an hour drive on roads of varying quality, past a sugar cane refinery, and finally to a little motel/resort type establishment where we were outfitted with life-jackets and helmets.

Helmets? I thought we were just floating down the river.

We loaded ourselves into an old school bus and rattled over more dirt roads. Finally, on the bank of the river we were schooled in basic paddling and the instructions we would need to understand (in Portuguese) so that we
would know WHEN to paddle. We were divided into groups of five and six and assigned our paddles and rafts. Once on the water our boat captains reviewed our instructions and we practiced while we were still in calm water.

Still in calm water? I thought this was just going to be an easy float down the river, quick, safe, calm. What’s going on here?

Next our captain gave us detailed instructions on what to do if the boat turns over, how to float through the rapids and get back in the boat. This was obviously not going to be what I was expecting. Next our instructor got us ready to be intentionally dumped so we could practice. Cool! In we went.  The instructors were very experienced rafters and good teachers. They let us float (without the boat) through a class-3 rapid. A couple more rapids in the rafts and we were pros. Finally we got to some water that we couldn’t do without a lot more training so we disembarked and walked down river to rocks from where we could watch our captains go through the big water without us. They let Jason Barton join them because he was experienced. The last wave of the class-5 (class 6 is the highest) rapids was just off the rocks on which we were standing. The captains rigged up a rope with a loop on one end, then demonstrated our next option. One of them, with the rope looped around his wrist jumped into the open mouth of the monster rapid. When he came up a couple seconds later the guy on the other end of the rope pulled him back around to shore. We all ended up doing it, and it was a blast. All of us were commenting on how different this was from a rafting trip you might find in the states. They actually let us do some very exciting stuff, but not before they trained us and let us practice. The people in charge were very professional and very competent. None of us felt unsafe in the least.

jumping into a class-5 rapid

jumping into a class-5 rapid

After rafting we drove up some steep rocky roads to an diversified organic coffee farm in the mountains. Emilson and his family welcomed us with a delicious lunch and traditional Brazilian songs on the guitar. We also got a tour of the farm. On this farm there is no waste. Every thing is used and re-used. Within a home-made digester they capture methane from the pig and cow manure and use it for cooking in the kitchen. Catchment ponds grow fish they sell at market. Weeds in the coffee were controlled with a weed whacker and free-range chickens. They use propolis from their honeybees to treat leafcutter ants and fungus in the coffee. They grow most of what they eat and take things to market weekly. Coffee is the main cash crop, and Marcos is helping Emilson market his coffee based on quality. Like Marcos, he gets much more for his coffee than his neighbors.

lunch at emilson's

lunch at emilson's

Back at the place we have started calling “our farm” we cleaned up and had our group time before the party was to start. It was our last night and we were starting to sense the end and feel sad, but we put it on hold to make homemade pizza and have one more night of fun.

People started arriving. Almost everyone we had met and visited with during the week showed up. It was a great time to say thank you again and good bye until next time. We had become so fond of all these people. We had started to really feel a part of this beautiful place. The next morning at the little goodbye ceremony, we gathered in a circle, holding hands, I realized again what it feels like to leave a piece of your heart somewhere.

For more pics, click HERE.

March 28

The plan was to leave by 8:00, spend some time in Sao Paulo before heading to the airport about 5:00. Me and Daniela where talking about it, planning, when she said to me, like she thought I might be upset, “You know, you may not get away exactly at 8:00.” I said, “Daniela, I am absolutely certain we WON’T get away anywhere near 8:00.” Then we laughed. We had definitely become Brazilian in our attitude towards time.

It takes a long time for 11 people to get packed up, organized, loaded up and ready to leave from a place. In addition we had to say good bye to everyone about four times, before we got to the real goodbye, the one that happened right before we all finally climb into the van to drive away.

But it worked well. By the time we finally did drive away almost all the tears had been shed and much of the sadness of it had drained away. It was probably closer to 9:00 when we finally drove off. I didn’t even think to look at my watch. I only know this: I’m already looking forward to going back.

Thank you again to our hosts and all the people at Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza for taking such good care of us, and making our week so memorable. Also to all the people in the Igarai and surrounding farms who visited with us and allowed us on their farms — thank you, thank you, thank you!

marcos and silvia

marcos and silvia

A special thank you must be said to our good friend Rafael Perroni. Marcos asked him to meet us at the airport and guide us to the farm. He was there with a smiling welcome and his “University of Illinois” sign. He even took the time to download an image of the block I. He helped us exchange currency and was our life-line to the Portuguese language. A college student himself, his school was not on Spring Break, but he ended up skipping class and staying with us the entire week. He was a huge help in so many ways. We would not have survived half as well without him. We all became very fond of Rafael. I consider him to be a close friend and brother. When one of the students had to stay over an extra night, Rafael made arrangements for her to stay in safe place in Sao Paulo and he watched over her until she was safely on the plane. Rafael, you went way beyond the call of duty and we all appreciate putting your life on hold to help us through the week. You are our good friend. Your Grandfather would be proud! Please come visit so we can return the blessings.

our good friend, Rafael Perroni

our good friend, Rafael Perroni

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Brazil trip: bees, ethanol and horses

This week I am in Brazil with my good friend Abe Bicksler and nine UI-ACES students. The Sustainability Spring Break Study Trip is being hosted by Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, a diversified organic coffee plantation, near the town of Mococa. Here we are learning first-hand about sustainability, and developing ideas for potential research projects that will help the owners of FAF realize their vision of a truly sustainable farm.

coffee from the source

coffee from the source

We’ve had a full day of learning and fun. Spent all morning with Dr. David DeJong. He’s an American who has worked at a major Brazilian university as a Professor of Genetics since 1980. We learned about Brazil’s many native stingless bees, and the Africanized bees (they aren’t as bad as everyone thinks) they use for most commercial honey production. He took us outside and we were able to see several hives (stingless ones). They keep bees on FAF and recently hired someone to get that operation back on track.

looking at bees. some are more interested than others

looking at bees. some are more interested than others

Before lunch, Marcos took us for a walk to some waterfalls, where we swam under the canopy of the rain forest. We saw a plethora of butterflies and gigantic bamboo. It was just what we needed after the bee session.

paradice

paradise

After lunch we split into two groups. The students met with Jason Barton, and PhD student from Vancouver working on bio-energy issues in Brazil. He presented the students with a real-life Brazilian sustainability dilemma…

Traditionally, sugar cane crops are burned off in the field before harvest. They do this to clear out all the leaves and plant biomass, snakes and spiders and other animals, before workers go in and harvest the cane by hand. The smoke negatively impacts air quality, and reducing all that biomass to ash means it isn’t returned to the soil. Soil quality suffers.

Another method of harvest, using mechanized equipment, eliminates the need for burning, but also eliminates the need for most of the human labor. Jobs are lost. Many people have to find work elsewhere.

It’s actually against the law to burn, but it is a difficult law to enforce. Economic trends and a new government approach has resulted in reduced burning of sugar cane fields. Instead of cracking down on the burning laws, the government has cracked down on labor laws. Vigorous enforcement has resulted in higher labor costs for farm owners. Economic trends have lowered equipment operating costs. The overall result has been a decrease in burning, but also a increase in unemployment. There are always trade-offs. There’s no perfect system.

While the students wrestled with that dilemma, Abe and I met with two research agronomists who work at a Brazil ag agency research site in Mococa (Agencia Paulista Tecnologia Dos Agronegocios). We sat down with them and discussed the possibility of them helping with some the research Marcos needs to conduct on the farm. The researchers are willing and interested, but would need money. Grants will have to be sought to make this a reality, but we will be sharing the class’ research proposals with these gentlemen and hopefully keep the conversation going.

After all this, most of the students went to visit the Cafe Igarai in the little village near the fazenda — Igarai (pronounce, ee-ga-da-ee’). There they visited with women of the village who have started a company through which they sell products they’ve made. They’ve even got their own website. Visit that HERE. Buy something truly hand-made in Brazil that will support women in Igarai. Silvia was instrumental in starting this group.

abe and rafael at the big bamboo

abe and rafael at the big bamboo

Rachel didn’t go the the cafe with the others. She had arranged to visit one of the farm worker families to ask some preliminary questions pertaining to her research proposal. The objective is to measure the quality of life of farm workers on FAF. Silvia is especially interested in making sure their workers are properly cared for. She and Marcos have already taken several steps to improve the worker’s lives and they are very interested to know if these measures are working.

Abe, me and Jason Barton had the wonderful pleasure of joining Marcos on a horse-back ride through some of FAF’s coffee fields. It was awesome, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

the four amigos

the four amigos

The students and everyone at FAF put together some intensely chocolate cake and other desserts for Abe’s birthday. We sang and he blew out the candle. Tomorrow we visit another farm and go river rafting (floating, no white water).

happy birthday Abe!

happy birthday Abe!

For more pics, click HERE.

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Brazil trip: a “sustainable experience””

This week I am in Brazil with my good friend Abe Bicksler and nine UI-ACES students. The Sustainability Spring Break Study Trip is being hosted by Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, a diversified organic coffee plantation, near the town of Mococa. Here we are learning first-hand about sustainability, and developing ideas for potential research projects that will help the owners of FAF realize their vision of a truly sustainable farm.

Abe's birthday present

Abe's birthday present

Abram coined the phrase “sustainable experience” a day or two ago. It captures what we were hoping for this trip — first-hand experience that internalizes what sustainability really means. Honestly, we could not have picked a better place for a sustainable experience. The farm, and Marcos and Silvia’s passionate approach to it’s management is an emerging picture of sustainability. Diversity is everywhere. Every day has been different and new. I’ve seen hundreds of butterflies. Of those I’ve seen up close, no two were alike. Bird calls, every day there’s one I had not heard before. Still haven’t seen a toucan.

This morning we rushed through breakfast and headed down to cheese making 102 (yesterday was 101). We tied knots in long strings of steaming hot cheese stuff, then it was put into cool water harden. Later it was cut
up and seasoned with herbs and olive oil. We gobbled it down this evening before dinner. The rest was tucked into forms of provolone. It didn’t take long, but everyone was able to participate.

After another cup of coffee we piled into the back of a truck and followed the back roads to a neighboring farm. Renato de Mattos Ribeiro’s family has been around since the mid-1700s. Now Renato is having to change
some things. He’s an agronomist by training who for most of his life ran the large conventional coffee plantation by the book. Now he seems to be in the process of morphing into an ecologist. He showed us his extensive seedling production and planting of a native hardwood Brazilian tree called Guanandi. Renato chose this species because it has the same properties as mohogany, but grows much faster. When I say fast, I’m talking about tree time. Renato is growing these trees to eventually sell for high quality lumber, the kind of stuff with which fine furniture is made. Renato is thinking long-term sustainability. It will take 18 to 20 years before the trees will be ready to cut. He’s also preserving primary and secondary Atlantic Rain Forest on his properties, and he talk passionately about the benefits of diversity. Renato is also in the process of building new housing for his workers. We saw both the new houses
and the old.

Renato Ribeiro

Renato Ribeiro

Why are Renato, Marcos and Silvia, and all these other farmers doing these things? The reasons we are hearing sound all too familiar. Coffee in Brazil is like corn in the US. It’s a commodity that makes alot of money for
a lot of people, unless you’re the farmer growing the crop. Time after time on this trip we’ve heard the same stories that we hear in Illinois — can’t make any money raising [enter commodity mono-crop here] anymore.
Have to do something different. “Different” means diversify, reduce costs, find a niche, develop a market, remove the middleman, sell direct, add value, etc, or all of the above. These are hard times and even farmers
like Renato are looking for new answers.

on-farm hydro power

on-farm hydro power

Back at our own fazenda we ate lunch and gathered in the livingroom of the big house to look at GIS generated maps of the farm’s springs and creeks. It’s work Silvia has had done by Dr. Louis Nery in order to comply with governmental laws designed to protect Brazil’s natural resources. Natural buffers must be maintained around all bodies of water. In addition, land with a slope of 45 degrees or more must be left in a natural state. In addition to that land, another 20 percent of the farm must also be set aside. The 20 percent can be determined by the farmer, but once the plan for all this is submitted to the government, it cannot be changed. She and Dr. Nery explained all this, and we gained some important insight into just how involved the Brazilian government is in the country’s agriculture, and how serious they are about protecting the water resources in the country side. At times, the rules for protecting the environment make it difficult for farmers who are already struggling to farm profitably.

After dinner, which included an incredible passion fruit dessert, a group of us went for a night hike. We stayed on the farm’s roads because we were warned about snakes in the forest. We were hoping to see some
nocturnal wildlife, but the main event turned out to be the night sky. Super clear air and no city light pollution made for spectacular star gazing. Finally found the southern cross, which is four stars shaped more
like a diamond than a cross.

Tomorrow (March 26) is Abram’s birthday. He’ll be 29.

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