We caught the ConQuito van at 7:15 (super early) on the morning of Thursday the 23rd and rode to “La factoría de conocimientos” (the factory of knowledge) or ConQuito headquarters to meet up with Luchito and Luis Roman (the other Luchito) who would be our agro-engineers for this last project. On our way to the site, we stopped at a bioferria, which are the markets held on Thursdays at designated locations for the people from other ConQuito projects to see their produce and other goods. It was the first one we had been to and it was similar to American farmer’s markets, except way less expensive! One woman gave us a gift of frutillas, tiny strawberries, before we made our way to the project site.
Our final site is located in the neighborhood of San Jose de Monjas. We are now working with a community garden that is maintained mostly by 2 men, Don Luis (whose mother-in-law owns the land) and Don Jorge (who is a neighbor and friend of Don Luis). This garden is beautiful! The plants are huge, cabbages that are the size of a beach ball, and to top it off are 100% organic already! I am incredibly impressed with this garden as well as the people who own and maintain it. I can’t wait to build our greenhouse here and learn more about this communities individual aspirations for their future with conquito and organic farming in general!
This project is different than all the others have been because it will be directly affecting/benefiting a small unit (basically one large family and their neighbors). The work has gone so quickly because as Alicia says, we are now “experts” at building greenhouses. After the first day, we already had the post holes dug, the main support posts for the structure firmly planted in the ground, the wires framing the location of the beds and in place for the tomatoes to grow to and to cling to wrapped around the beams, the ground leveled and the beds mapped out. Unlike our previous projects, nobody ever stopped working (except for at lunchtime). The men who are now the owners of the greenhouse were like sponges to the knowledge of constructing and maintaining greenhouses and creating a sustainable agricultural business shared by the 2 Luchitos. Don Luis never stopped asking questions about each step of the process because he already has plans for his second greenhouse and other future greenhouses on land his family has located just outside of the city.
Day 2 brought the plastic. It was an unbelievably windy day, and being atop a hill (maybe it could be categorized as a mountain, I’m not sure) we had zero protection from the powerful gusts. Being as there were only Brianna, Adrian and I as volunteers, and Don Luis, Don Jose and his son Kevin as the community members and the Luchitos as engineers, we needed all the help we could get to cover the greenhouse with the heavy-duty plastic. Don Luis called up his wife, son and friends to grab some plastic and hold it down snugly so that Luchito could nail it securely to the frame. After a finger-achingly long time, we had successfully covered the greenhouse in plastic and were ready to dig out the beds. Inside another hot and sweaty greenhouse Bri, Adrian, Kevin and I took turns switching between hoes and shovels digging out the beds. The work is hard, but in a way relaxing and fun. It didn’t take us long to have all the beds dug to the proper depth (around 18 inches), and we finished just in time for the end of the day.
Day 3 was filled with abono, lots and lots of abono (guinea pig poop). Since we had the pre-dug beds from the day before, we simply added yerba, (basically weeds without their roots) then added the abono and mixed it all together. Then we built up the beds with the extra dirt that was over-filling the sides and back of the greenhouse and cleaned the soil with organic fertilizers. The next step was the drip irrigation/creating a way for water to reach the greenhouse which was atop a hill with no water source. The men created a hose/pvc piping system that connected the water from the garden below with the greenhouse up on the hill with a hanging hose, a long pvc pipe and a nozzle right outside of the greenhouse. Putting the small black tubing (pre-cut with the holes for the drip system) in place took twice as long as before because instead of just getting the job done, we were teaching the men how to do it, showing them then having them do it, because it was an important skill they would need for their future greenhouses. The only thing we had left to do at the end of the day was actually plant the seedlings, a task we saved for the final day.
Day 4 was our last day. It is unbelievable that a plot of land can be transformed in just 3 days from barren to yielding a greatly important structure such as a greenhouse! If we can build one in basically 3 days, imagine how many projects could be completed with a solid flow of educated volunteers and constant funding! Ok so our last day was more of a symbolic day than anything else. We took our time planting the seedlings while chatting with the friends and family that had gathered for the occasion. Don Luis hung a ceremonial ribbon and he and I cut it, marking the new opportunities that are to come with this greenhouse. We then cut the ribbon into pieces, giving each person who was present a piece of the ribbon and a share in the greenhouse. The irrigation system was testing (it passed) and the efficiency of drip irrigation was discussed. It is super efficient! Within 5 minutes, the water had reached a depth of nearly a foot. When the seedlings are plants with their roots reaching deep into the earth, this system will ensure that they are getting the nutrients and water they need to grow tall and produce healthy and delicious tomatoes!
Don Luis then invited us to a celebration! All of the agro-engineers and other administrators from ConQuito joined us at the site along with the neighbors, friends and family of Don Luis and Don Jose to drink champagne, sing songs, eat food, make speaches and share in the celebration of their greenhouse and our final project in Ecuador. We were touched by the speached made by Alex from ConQuito, telling us that we were their greatest volunteers yet and offering us a place in Quito if ever we were to return. We had become part of this community, that of both San Jose de Monjas (the site of the project) and of ConQuito.