It’s a serious journey to reach Finca de la Semilla, located above the pueblo of Minca in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Colombia’s North Coast. Yet, when you are a curious Permaculturist with strong case of Jungle Fever, you are looking for these trails that appear to lead you right off the map.
Lured by dreams of abundant fruit, and a comfortable climate where everything is eager to grow, my husband Mike and I inquisitively embarked on this trail leading deep into mountainous jungle. At the end of our physical trail we would find an Eco-hostel integrating sustainable design principles, nature based architecture, and permaculture ideology. Serving as another eco-minded node on an evolving map of people and places re-establishing a strong connection with the earth and it’s systems – this Finca is co-creating a new culture.
From Santa Marta, a slow two hour cab ride high into the mountains brings you to Minca. Continue onward for a steep 1.5 hour hike and you will be greeted by the charming farm and eco-hostel, Finca de la Semilla. Two stunning rivers ride the steep landscape on either side of the Finca, joining together at the base to create a beautiful cascading waterfall falling 30 meters deep into the canyon below. Towering old growth forest surrounds, and Jungle crawls abundantly outward in all directions. Stunningly bright flowers, birds, insects, and plants create a forest floor that is truly one of a kind. Uninterrupted by planes, automobiles, or electricity, the sounds of the Jungle sing a refreshing tune each day and night. The Finca twinkles with the night stars, radiating peace and quiet.
This incredibly powerful land holds the mission of being a “Nature Reserve” and place for travelers and nature lovers from across the globe to come and connect with the magical landscape and fascinating ecosystem. It’s a place of sharing, one of many, creating an international culture of gathering and exchanging insight, knowledge and inspiration.
For 9 days, Mike and I humbly shared our permaculture skills to the young, developing project known in English as, “Farm of the Seed.” We were tasked with creating compost, and what Colombian’s call “Abono” (an organic fertilizer for the plants). To add a little variety during our stay we contributed to a natural building project, picked coffee and planted Mango Trees.
Finca de la Semilla is utilizing the tenants of Permaculture in its plans – taking into account people, place, and the future. Without a doubt, this is a very healthy place to BE. Here you are nurtured by the quality water in the mountain streams, the rich fresh food, and shared vision of co-creating places to reconnect and grow with the earth in community.
However, this Finca is not without it’s challenges. Building high in these mountains where no motor transport is able to carry up supplies requires suave planning and plenty of patience. Effectively managing waste, and growing needed food on the land are important priorities for the Finca. The long-term sustainability of this project relies upon its ability to incorporate design systems that accommodate these basic human needs.
Numerous fruit trees, coffee plants and corn share their delicious gifts with the co-inhabitants of the land; however, growing other vegetables has proven to be more difficult. Clay soil nurtures the Jungle greens and packs a high nutrient base – but keeps many vegetable’s root systems from extending far into the soil to create a sound foundation for growth. Thus, in order to grow “preferred” vegetables, it is not a matter of climate but one of soil type.
To help create soil capable of nurturing the growth of healthy, vibrant vegetables – Mike and I committed to establishing an experimental compost project during our stay. Creating earth obviously takes time, so this would be a matter of designing a system that is easily modifiable and incorporates the contributions of future volunteers.
After several days of observation, and conversation with the stewards of the land – we came to learn a bit more about the sheer abundance of the surrounding Jungle landscape. As my eyes attempted to sort out the overwhelming layers of flora and fauna, I came to realize that it was not about sorting, but allowing. This twisted and contorted jumble of LIFE carries with it amazing gifts!
All across the forest floor Mychoriza connects trees, plants, and flowers to a web of vital nutrients and regenerated goodness; recently turned up volcanic material litters steep canyon sides bringing calcium and other minerals to the surface in convenient outcroppings; nearby livestock offers abundant inputs, and the rain is determined to give it’s renewing properties each and every day. Beneath the trees of the densely populated forest, decaying leaves and plants reveal an abundance of earthworms, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to turn organic matter into organic soil.
These would soon become the inputs for our compost, yet we could not ignore few existing systems: the hens and the pounding rain.
Using bamboo that had been knocked over in a recent flood, and strong vines growing with trees, we fashioned together a fence capable of keeping out Mamma Hen, and creating an attractive and easily accessible space for experimentation.
Our first round of experimental compost layers consisted of organic green matter that had been cleared from around young fruit trees, kitchen waste, mineral rich volcanic soil, decaying bark with webs of mychoriza extending throughout, and earth worm inhabited brown soil from beneath the cacao plants. A layer of sand from the bank of one of the nearby rivers was added at the base to help delineate the thick layer of clay the compost would be resting upon. To cut back on the impact of the rain until a roof can be fashioned, Banana leaves were placed all across the top of the heap.
Also within the fenced region, we created a space for Abono, a nutrient rich supplement for the plants. This concoction was a bit different – incorporating mostly brown inputs and packing the mixture with all the best the land had to offer, including our time and love. This Colombian inspired plant food was made from dry leaves, sand, mule and cow manure, volcanic material, decaying bark, mychoriza, and nutrient rich forest floor soil. Again we covered the heap with Banana leaves but this time fashioned a piece of bamboo into the center, allowing the pile to aireate.
Feeling wholesomely nurtured by the landscape, we allowed the trail to carry us back to the road at the end of 9 days. Equipped with just a little more insight we returned to Babylon with news of another alternative node – exploring new ground and laying a rich foundation for an evolving culture.