We recently had the opportunity to visit an organic farm called Casa Blanca in the area/municipality known as Pachacamac, south of the city. This area is considered as part of the greater city of Lima, one of its 40+ districts. – CORRECTION – Pachacamac is in the district of Lurin and in the province of Lima, not the greater municipality of Lima. It took about an hour with not so bad traffic to get to the district, traveling the Panamericana highway which will bring you to the south to Chile and to the north to Ecuador and beyond. The scenery reminded me of being in Argentina with its industry, dusty dry conditions, roads with minimal paving. I would have said we were in another world let alone another town not part of Lima.
Disclaimer – I hope my comments are accurate. My apologies if I there are inaccuracies in my description and understanding of the farm.
Casa Blanca is not simply an organic farm. It is also an experiment in ecological agriculture in terms of production, research and capacity development, incorporating agrotourism and environmental education. The owners are Carmen Felipe-Morales and Ulises Morena, an academic couple, both agronomist engineers, having worked at the agricultural university, la Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Ulises. They bought the place in 1980 and have operated it for 37 years, an ongoing project of about a hectare in size.
Fernando recounted to us that Ulises worked at the university when he was a student and they had a great conflict, and if I understood correctly kicking Fernando out of the school for 2 years because of his student organizing and protests. Ulises at the time was a supporter and scientist of conventional agriculture. I am not sure when or why he saw the light, but the two of them have been good friends for many years now.
As is common with small scale organic farms they are diversified in their revenue streams. They have members of the public come to visit, school and university groups, combining education and eco-tourism. They sell their produce and their green gold – compost liquid. They sell their know how encouraging others to adopt their practices, modified of course for the conditions in which others would farm. They have won awards, recently Carmen receiving the highest honour from the state.
I had my first taste (not literally – yet?) of guinea pigs, hundreds of guinea pigs. Those little buggers are so cute, especially when they do their little peeping sounds. When I walked into the barn, heard their sounds, I couldn’t help but imitate it and there was a chorus in return. Not sure if this is an alarm sound – I think so so I just became silent. They have a capacity of 1000, but currently sit at 600. Memories of my elementary school came back to me when in one of my grades, I think it was 3rd or 4th grade, our class had two pet guinea pigs. What I remember the most about them was that they were not happy, their hair was falling out from stress and they soon died, not lasting long under our inexperienced care, with lots of kids’ handling them not so gently.
Anyways, in the Granga de Cuyes (cuy singular, cuyes plural) from the photos you will see they had many ‘stalls’, each having anywhere from 4 to 10 critters. There was a separate maternity ward/barn as they reproduce profusely. If I understood correctly, in each stall was one male and lots of female – lucky buggers. I did ask how were the guinea pigs killed since they don’t really have visible necks from which to do the easy chopping off of the head like with chickens. Ulises said straight off he doesn’t kill them but instead hires someone else. It seems their throats are simply cut and then they bleed out, I guess similar to rabbits. It of course did cross my mind – what if we were to grow guinea pigs back on the farm – could this be a viable business? We thought perhaps with restaurants that were of a South American gastronomy, but otherwise Canadians might find it abhorrent since I think most consider them as the childhood family pet. But then people do eat rabbits and they are also considered cute. Thoughts folks on this idea?
The following is taken from their information brochure. They applied agroecological principles and practices stemming from traditional, empirical and scientific knowledge. They demonstrated that agriculture with this approach – not using chemical and toxic pesticides and fertilizers – is the best alternative possible for the production of nutritious and healthy foods, in contrast to the contaminating conventional agriculture. With their small ‘finca’, they demonstrated not only the environmental, technical, social and economic viability of the small scale agricultural producer, but also the contribution in the difusion and empowerment of agroecology in Peru. Ulises and Carmen participated in the creation of RAE – la Red de Agricultura Ecologica del Peru, in ANPE-PERU – la Asociacion Nacional de Productores Ecologicos, and la Asociation Ecologica-Peru. Ulises also strongly stressed that this was a way out of poverty. More on this below.
Carmen is the inventor of the Biodigestor akin to a human ‘stomach’. From the pictures and the diagram below you can see the process through which they create and process their own compost (inputs being the guano from the guinea pigs and waste plant materials), using both aerobic and anaerobic methods, to where they create methane gas which is used for cooking in their home and for gas lamps (also used for electricity with a converted conventional generator into one whose energy source was the methane gas), and the most healthy dry and wet compost imaginable, the latter sold in old 2 liter pop bottles. It was truly an amazing system, a complete system with no need for inputs external to the finca except in the initial stages which required off site materials, e.g. tractor and truck inner tube tires to store the generated methane, piping for the methane, farming equipment, e.g. wheelbarrows, handtools, materials for the underground processing tanks.
The cement circles are the tops of the tanks for the biodigestor, some for intake below to add liquid or remove sludge, others for outake of gas above which is piped into the house for cooking.
Over the almost 4 decades, they grow all their own foods – various varieties of fruit both in bush and tree form, vegetables including the food for the guinea pigs (varieties of corn – they feed them the stalks and with this they need no additional source of water), and of course guinea pigs for meat along with some chickens. The water they need for their garden is groundwater found at a relatively shallow depth, of 15 meters if I remember correctly. They have a simple yet sophisticated irrigation systems in place.
Lucuma tree and fruit: lucuma is a super nutritious Peruvian fruit that contains beta carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium, and protein. Viewed as a symbol of fertility and creation, it was called the “Gold of the Incas”. Most popular flavour of ice-cream in Peru. Because of the dry nature of its flesh, lucuma is usually consumed in fruit juices, milkshakes and ice cream. It can be bought in powder format. It tastes like a cross between sweet potato and maple as there is a creamyness to it.
We did ask about whether they composted their own humanure and they did not, not getting an explanation for this. I could imagine that the addition of humanure might cause changes to the digestive materials and processes to where there could be imbalances?. The guano and plant waste would be consistent. I did gather that Ulises and Carmen are scientists and thus they would have monitored and measured the processes to determine the optimal conditions. Adding human waste might complicate this when you consider that when one goes offsite and consumes food from elsewhere, ingredients might change the dynamics of the standardized and time tested processes.
The aerobic compost file with guano & plant materials. Ulises removed the poll to show us how hot the compost was.
Alas we did not get to meet Carmen as she was away attending meetings. Ulises at 80 years of age is retired from the university, while Carmen still does some work for UNALM. They have two adult children, one who is an actor/artist having no interest in the farm, and one who has Down’s syndrome and is unable to carry on the operation of the farm. They are unsure what will happen to their project. I got the impression that Ulises is disappointed that not more Peruvians have chosen to pursue a similar path in alleviating their own poverty. He stressed that he felt they had devised a way to empower people to address their own circumstances of poverty, but that individuals and governments, although impressed with the project, did not embrace it. Of course, land would be needed to start such similar projects, and many around Lima would not have $ or access to $ let alone land. The city of Lima has increased in population so dramatically over the past 20 years as a result of peasants in the rural areas escaping the violence. They leave behind their lives and have to try to eck out a new existence with nothing. Despite Peru/Lima having 60% middle class, the other 40% have little. As is so often the case great ideas don’t get replicated for a number of reasons.
This causes me to reflect on how do projects that can solve significant real world problems get off the ground. One key factor always is having an individual or a small group of people who take the initiative and put in the hard work, which does mean such folks are making the decision to devote their own limited energy & time to an endeavour. Government support can help but is not always necessary of course as long as they do not obstruct the project.
The following is the information you can find online about the place but in Spanish:
Bioagricultura Casa Blanca, es una pequeña finca conducida por Carmen Felipe-Morales y Ulises Moreno, ambos Ingenieros Agrónomos, hoy docentes cesantes de la Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina. Esta pareja de esposos viven en la finca desde 1980 y desarrollan una agricultura sustentable, aplicando los principios de la Agricultura Ecológica y los conocimientos científicos transformados en prácticas y tecnologías sencillas, pero viables y productivas. De esta manera se demuestra que una agricultura sana y limpia, conducida con un enfoque agroecológico, es la mejor alternativa posible frente a una agricultura convencional contaminante.
El convertir su pequeña finca en un “Centro de Producción, Investigación y Capacitación en Agricultura Ecológica, Agroecoturismo y Educación Ambiental”, ha permitido a sus propietarios no sólo demostrar la viabilidad ambiental, técnica, social y económica de la pequeña agricultura, sino contribuir en la difusión y fortalecimiento de la Agricultura Ecológica en el Perú. En tal sentido, ambos han participado en la creación de la Red de Agricultura Ecológica del Perú (RAE PERÚ), en la creación y desarrollo de la Asociación Nacional de Productores Ecológicos (ANPE PERÚ), y en la Asociación ECOLÓGICA PERÚ.
La finca, de tan sólo una hectárea, está ubicada en el Valle de Lurín, Distrito de Pachacámac, Provincia de Lima.
Las prácticas agroecológicas que se aplican en la finca son, principalmente, las siguientes:
- Crianza ecológica de cuyes como base de un reciclaje alimenticio y energético sustentable.
- Producción y uso de diversos abonos orgánicos: guano, compost, bioabonos y abonos verdes.
- Funcionamiento de un Biodigestor, modelo chino, que produce biogas como fuente de energía limpia, y bioabonos líquidos y sólidos.
- Rotaciones de cultivos, asociaciones, policultivos y agroforestería.
- Riego tecnificado: por sifón, microaspersión y goteo.
- Uso de plantas hospederas de insectos benéficos controladores de plagas y preparados a base de plantas repelentes de organismos dañinos para los cultivos, como alternativa al control químico a base de pesticidas contaminantes.
- Conservación de la agrobiodiversidad.
Los productos que se comercializan, directamente en la finca y a través de la Bioferia de Miraflores, son principalmente: abonos orgánicos (Compost y Biol), frutas (lúcumas, zarzamoras, fresas), cuyes (sazonados y sin sazonar), yucas, arracacha, papas, berenjenas, hierbas aromáticas y flores.
La finca cuenta con una certificación ecológica desde el año 1995, a través de la Empresa Certificadora INKA CERT y, posteriormente, por la Empresa en la que ésta se transformó: BIOLATINA. De 1995 al año 2005 la certificación era individual, posteriormente se gestionó una certificación colectiva a través de la Asociación de Productores Ecológicos del valle de Lurín, denominada “Monticielo” y promovida por el IDMA
One last shot – does anyone know what this flower is called – I have seen in all my travels in tropical countries