Thursday, January 28, 2010

March 20, 2009 - Organic Horticulture Class

March 20, 2009
Organic Horticulture Class
Today was my first day of Organic Horticulture Class. My affinity with the Gardener’s class instructor and the interest in the subject, made me go to a different town extension agency. Inubia Paulista is an atypical town, as almost the whole town works in a big department store called consumer’s co-op. I don’t believe it is a real co-op, but anyway, it got one of the best stores in the radius of 100 km. Leaving aside the store, the rest of the town of about 3,000 people is a slow paced rural one. My second nice surprise was to find the Baptist Church orphanage with 34 minor boys and girls. It is located inside the town, but it is actually a little farm with vegetable garden, cows, chickens, and pigs. The building is well kept, clean, and airy; the pastor accessible and welcomed me. He remembered my mother who used to visit them very often. “Every month”, he said.
I arrived a few minutes late to the class location, “oh, that place where rural workers go drink coffee”, said my father, having checked the extension agency earlier. The instructor and the young course coordinator, the son of the head of the union, were leaning against the low wall, chatting. We waited for students to arrive when finally we headed to the farm where the practicum would take place, it was almost 10:00 o’clock. (Class should have started at 8:00).
The property owner is a retired steel worker who had once left for the big city and returned after becoming a widower and to take care of his aging parents. He is too very interested in working the land and lives in a nice built house, a mix of simple farm house with a vacation home style. Different from many other typical houses, his place has a large lawn area, garden patches, and an outside bbq grill with a counter, a long wooden table, two refrigerators, and all tiled floor. The interesting thing is a tile covered well just by the kitchen door.
We did a short walk uphill to the gardening area. It was in the pasture land, cleared just for this purpose. From there, I could see the other side of the hill with large trees, one pink blossomed tree (paineira), and a woman pulling a horse by its harness. It looked idyllic. Even though this is so close to our farm, the landscape looks to much more interesting and pretty. The man wished he had flat land like my father. And I wished for rolling hills with a view.
My new classmates are all men. Invariably, many of them older and surely retired. As we waited for other students who had signed up but didn’t showed up, they said it themselves: “we that know a little about vegetable gardening want to learn more, those ones that don’t know much are absent”. All older men worked in the land and know the trade. The first one all white haired arrived driving an old truck with a milk keg on the back. The second one is an old black man telling a story of his youth about choosing a big watermelon which he dropped open on the ground unable to carry; the third man looks European, blue eyes and good natured. He claimed knowing about cooking and gave me some recipes for wild games (boil alligator meat, then season, and then cook). Strange and misplaced people were a young fat man (the coordinator), and his handicapped friend, who helped to fill in the spot; one fat man and another thin and tall that showed up in time for free lunch; besides the owner who put on his black wool cowboy hat on black sunglasses. He looked more Mexican than Brazilian, have also worn tight fit lycra jeans, special for rodeos. What a group! That makes me miss my gardener’s class, which I thought to be too far off the ideal student profile.
As we didn’t have enough number of students showing up, we didn’t have a class. But we went to have lunch, all paid by the program, did some shopping, and I got a ride back home with the instructor.
I learned a few things, besides finding out how the small town people think and behave. First of all, they all seem to have a formed idea about each other. The comments on each other seem to be unavoidable. All negative, unless it was his funeral, then, it would be only praises. The long social chatting run around alligators, frog catching, river eel fishing, goose eating, and so on. I suspect that my presence refrained them from saying more swear words than they would otherwise.
“Listen what I am saying: we are going to have a drought this year. The paineira tree didn’t produce any buds.” Said the European man. The black man agreed. So then they started to talk old folk wisdom in agriculture.”When the star shines the rain is far; if it is flicking it is near”. “If the moon halo is close, the rain is far; if it is far, it will rain soon.” “When the anu bird...” That was the kind of wisdom I wanted to hear. Many are still mixed with the reasoning of chemically controlled agriculture. It is hard to switch the mind so quickly. The principle of organic gardening is the restauration and the maintenance of good soil. No organic agriculture without the soil. Hydroponics or aeroponics can never be conceptualized as organic, as they are not connected to the soil, no matter they use only organic elements in their cultivation.
I reminded the instructor again that the farmers that will bring the change in the small properties are not the old farmers becoming educated, but a new generation that once left and are returning now. Some type of “back to the land” that cannot be called a movement, as it is not a trend, but an individual desire to return to where they came from bringing no agriculture knowledge or techniques, but an intense desire to make up the time lost doing something else desconnected from the natural cycle of life and nature.
April 9, 2009 – Second class
Last Sunday we had the second class; or it may be officially the first class. I arrived late as I knew that getting there at 8:00 o’clock I wouldn’t even find the instructor. As small town it is, the course coordinator (a teenager) and the owner of the land where the practical class is taking reached me while I was trying to find the way to his farm.
Most students and some visitors were sitting around a large table, on a varanda. I noticed how the roof is built, it’s in “U” shape, covering the laundry, the entrance and the bbq grill with a bar. Besides the covering, the outside floor is tiled. This seems rather odd to me, but I have noticed that people are using tiles even to finish the wood burning stove. At old times, it was either brick or cement, at most, red painted “burned cement”.
Little by little, I get to know the students. They don’t look students at all. Most participants are older. Armando, an Italian looking man, always making jokes, behind rounded eyeglasses and denture, told us he was born a curious. He has tried everything. He even raised earthworms. After all the investments and work, when he was ready to sell it, the company that promissed to buy his earthworms closed down. He told me all the details of this enterpreneurship as I mention this kind of business. A black man, slender and good looking, was accompanied by a younger woman. Typical Assambly of God Christian in her blouse-skirt duo and long curly hair twisted on top of the head, she told me she lived in São Paulo, a big city. They moved to the farm when her husband retired from his automobile factory job. Joao, in his turn, told us he was one of the first black man to work there. He has fought racism and discrimination. He said, he needed to prove he was good and just. The awards he received (2 cars) he shared with his team. A Japanese descendant woman, older than me, with her eyebrows artificially remade, almost got offended when I asked if she was related to a family that makes tofu. I think she is way too proud to be in this class, which is humbling by nature.
Disorganized as this class is, the landowner didn’t treat the soil as he was supposed to do. After taking sample for soil analysis, next step was of adding lime. He didn’t. He called the tractor from the association of small farmers of which he is the president to do the job that morning. So, we got to see the tractor doing a job of tilling the soil in a few minutes. I got interested, as the patch I plan to work on it is just a little bit smaller.
My plan is to work simultaneously on my land. I am dependant on a man who works here. If his stepson comes to live with his wife, he will need to move away to his daughter place, which is in another town, far away. This way, we will lose the only worker. But I need someone to collect hay, green leaves, manure to my compost.

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