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 and I got up early with the intention of milking a Brazilian cow. No cows. No farmer. We waited. It was a no-show. As we lingered, Abe looked down and saw this…
30 years ago to the day, someone pour this little patch of concrete and scratched the date. Weird.
After breakfast we split into two groups. The first went to cheese-making 101. The second group went the kitchen garden and tied and weeded tomatoes. To reward our good work we were lead on another fabulous walk across a part of the farm we had not yet seen. Within 20 minutes we were looking at the largest ficus tree I had ever seen, but that was just the beginning. Twenty minutes later we entered one of the only remaining patches of Atlantic Rainforest in Sao Paulo. It was awe inspiring. We drank from a natural spring and gathered around a tree purported to be 1000 years old.
It was much hotter today and we all got a little sunburned. On the way back from the Rainforest we stopped at the nicest pond on the farm and swam. We rode the rest of the way back to the farm in the back of the farm pickup. The hiking, the sun and the swimming left us all hungry. Lunch was the usual wonderful fare plus a beef dish. While we ate the heavens grumbled and opened up with a downpour that made everything delightfully soggy again.
We relaxed until about 3:30, then we planted native trees in a small area of the farm that is being restored to forest. The workers had used the augar to drill all the holes, many of which were filled with water from the rain. But not all the holes were wet and we planted as many trees as we could. We slogged home, wet and muddy. I cleaned up and read for a while before drifting off to sleep. I missed the 6:00 yoga, but several of the students went and showed up at our group meeting energized.
Marcos showed us video of an event at the farm he organized for a group of coffee buyers. Dinner was special. The fabulous FAF cooks made a polenta with several toppings — tomato sauce, grated cheese, okra, chicken and greens. Several of us got to watch the chickens being killed earlier that afternoon, a first for some. It was, of course, another meal full of deliciosity (yes, that’s a real word).
By tomorrow night the students will need to have told Abram or I their idea for a viable research proposal for the farm. Some have already shared their ideas with us and we are impressed with what we are hearing. The objective of the trip is two-fold: 1) provide students with a learning experience in sustainable farming and living, and 2) generate research proposals directly related to helping FAF become more sustainable, ecologically, socially or economically. The next step will be to work with the owners to prioritize the proposals and figure out a way to actually conduct the research. More than one of the students have already indicated an interest in returning next year to carry out their proposed research.
The ramifications from this trip could be far-reaching.