Category Archives: Education

Discovering Permaculture

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So this month in my spare time, (HA!) I decided to take an Introduction to Permaculture course through Oregon State University.  I managed to get it done in 21 days and received this nifty little badge because I completed all the course requirements.

The final assignment was entitled 10/10/100.  In the next 10 days, devote 10 hours and $100 of my local currency and do something with what I learned.  Then post it here.  So here’s my first section of the assignment, to share with you what I have learned in this course.

What did I learn?

Each week focused on a specific aspect of permaculture.  Week 1 defined the process.  Week 2 concentrated on observing the current landscape.  Week 3 highlighted design methods and the principles behind them.  Week 4 listed specific strategies for applying permaculture.  

What is permaculture?

Permaculture is the ethical creation of sustainable human settlements and food production systems that take into consideration the interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the natural environment.  You don’t see much of this happening these days, especially with the current movement to abolish the EPA.  Mexico is even worse at this sort of environmentally conscious thinking, in part because of NAFTA.  However, I did learn that there are pockets of resistance even here.  Monsanto GMO crops are still officially banned in Mexico.  Las Cañadas co-op in Veracruz is an organization dedicated to the education about and practice of sustainability.  Mexico City has also been making efforts at urban gardens.  Additionally, Mexico City still uses a limited number of chinampas (floating gardens) first developed by the Aztecs when they settled the region. Is it enough to counteract the damage unsustainable practices have caused?  It hardly seems so.

Captura de pantalla (74)

See that red rectangle? Yep, that’s us.

Where am I in the process of permaculture design?

Not far enough.  I learned an important terminology distinction.  I should not strive to be self-sufficient, but rather self-reliant.  No single aspect of the ecosystem is self-sufficient but rather is part of the interdependent web of life. With that, my homesteading life goals have changed a bit.

As you know, La Yacata has a dry climate, except for the torrential tropical rains from June until September.  As a result, the natural landscape consists of drought resistant plants, cactus, mesquite, and acebuche.  The area had been cleared for cultivation of las tres hermanas (squash, beans, and corn) about 100 years ago.  Most of the area has lain fallow for 20 years or more.  There is no natural water supply despite claims to the contrary.  Sounds pretty bleak doesn’t it?

It gets worse.  It seems like the colonos (community members) are determined to exploit what there is to the point of complete environmental. Before the chicken feather guys constructed his pig/chicken compound, the upper part of La Yacata had wild orchids during the rainy season.  Before the pig guy backed up the sewer system, the rain flowed freely from the hillside into the arroyo bordered by dense vegetation.  (Have I mentioned that these two are in-laws?) We have others who come and cut down the mesquite to make charcoal to sell in town, removing an essential component of the ecosystem.  There is no recognition of interdependence here.

Breaking it down even further, our green area is not as green as I would like.  Currently, we have a lovely cherimoya tree that provides a good section of shade, as well as a blackberry bush gone wild, 2 guayaba trees, a pomegranate tree that finally is producing fruit now that the goats and chickens are contained on the other side and a lemon tree that is a bit stunted after last year’s blight.  

We have a few smaller trees started, nispero, aguacate, papaya, durazno, capulin, and mango but it’s too soon to tell if they will flourish or die. Our new puppy likes to munch the lower branches and every now and then that rogue white hen escapes and eats the leaves.

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The rain water floods the area beside our house in the rainy season. We’ve had to add a run-off path.

Miss Piggy’s former compound is undergoing a transformation from wasted space to raised garden, although it didn’t work out so well last year.  We catch and store our rainwater in the aljibe and tinacos. The rain runoff builds up on the right side of our wall and so we have a drainage path through the back yard.

klip dagga

Klip dagga grows wild in La Yacata and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

I have big plans for our backyard this year, although it seems all my efforts are sabotaged.  In addition to the animal issues, there are human issues.  One year I transplanted a handful of klip dagga plants from under the mesquite down the road to our yard.  They were doing well, sprouting up all over the place, and my son got annoyed and chopped them all down one afternoon.  Sigh.  I’m determined to make another attempt this year.

What are the permaculture design principles?

There are 12 principles of permaculture as defined in the book “Permaculture Principles and Pathways beyond sustainability” by David Holmgren.

I’ll list them here.  You can do your own research if you wish.

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design From Patterns to Details.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions.
  10. Use and Value Diversity.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change.
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Red is our home zone. Yellow is our home orchard. Green is our farming zone. Light blue is the semi-managed zone. We managed with grazing the goats there. Dark blue is the wild where we forage.

How can I apply the techniques to my own situation?

Our goal for solar is right in line with these principles. We catch and store rainwater. We obtain a yield from both cultivated areas and wild foraged areas. We try to keep down our waste generation and apply self-regulation.  We can improve on using the edges and marginal and the integrate rather than segregate principles.

How important is permaculture?  

A number of the podcasters talked about the imminent crash of the ecosystem.  Imminent as in the next 20 years. How did we get to this precipice?  Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael chronicles our historic demise from the birth of agriculture to modern-day unsustainable farming practices.  And yet there have been places where the utter desolation has been transformed into viable habitat in as little as 5 years.  

After seeing these incredible examples of regeneration, it’s easy to agree with Bill Mollison, author of Permaculture Designer’s Manual,  when he says “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”  The solution is simply that more people need to identify themselves as “leavers,” those that live in harmony with nature, rather than “takers,” those that seek to dominate nature, if we are to survive this ecosystem crash as a species.

As for that 10 hours / $100 assignment I mentioned at the beginning–looks like I’m heading to the local tianguis (flea market) this weekend to pick up some more of those home grown, native plants the women in rebozos (shawls) sell.  At $10-15 pesos per coffee can packed vegetation, I’m sure I’ll have the back yard on its way to permaculture in no time.  It’s good for me, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for the little old ladies.

Interested in learning more about permaculture?  Check out these podcasts!

Earth Repair Radio with Andrew Millison

The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann

Diego Footer’s Creative Destruction

Sustainable Living Podcast

Sustainable World Radio  

discovery

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Filed under Alternative Farming, Education, Homesteading, Native fauna and flora, Water issues

Mexican Chicanery

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On Sunday, my husband comes rushing over from his brother’s house to plug in his phone to charge in the truck. He said that the owner of the house he had been building in La Yacata kept calling him from el Norte (the US). Sure enough, a few minutes later the phone rang again. Seems the guy was on his way back to Moroleon. Well, bully for him.

A few hours later, my husband comes running back over to ask if I would loan him 3,000 pesos to send to this guy. So, as a dutiful wife, I look through my savings and sure enough, I have just 3,000 pesos that I’ve been saving for a washing machine. I ask why the guy doesn’t just call his wife if he needs money. My husband didn’t know. Now just a dang gone minute–this seems a bit fishy.

So here’s the story. The guy calls my husband to say that he’s on his way home but that he doesn’t want to travel with all the cash he’s bringing. He asks if he could deposit the money in my husband’s bank account. Additionally, he asks my husband what tools he still needs and says that he’ll bring him something. There must have been some interaction where the guy goes to the bank, gets my husband’s information and “deposits” the money. Of course, it being Sunday, there isn’t any way to verify this. My husband assures him that the $6,000 USD he “deposited” will be more than enough to finish the house in La Yacata.

Then the guy calls back later. He said he just crossed the border with $2000 USD. He legalized his truck and trailer, which cost him $1700 USD for the truck and another $200 USD for the trailer. Now he’s got a problem because he doesn’t have enough money for gas to get to Moroleon. So here’s where he asks my husband to send $3000 pesos.

So I told my husband, if I gave him the money to send, we wouldn’t have anything to eat this week. Plus there is the fee for sending the money which usually is like $500 pesos. My husband asks the guy if $2,500 pesos would be enough. The guy says that if he sends the money through XOXO, there isn’t any fee. He assures my husband that he will repay the money tonight if he arrives in Moroleon tonight, or tomorrow morning at the at the latest. He was in Tamaulipas and the trip to Moroleon is about 7 hours barring disasters. So my husband asks what name the money transfer should be in and the guy hangs up. A few minutes later, he gets a message that reiterates that if he sends the money through XOXO, there is no fee.

I suggested that he go and see the wife before he sent any money. My husband assured me that it was this guy, he sounded just like him anyway. He got all defensive and I finally pocketed the money again. I would not give him the money unless he talked to the wife. He said he’d see the wife but that I should give him the money so that he can “luego, luego” (quickly) send the money while he was out and about. I said no. My husband left the house in a huff.

I had to go and work, so I was not privy to the continued goings on. My husband, who is of the mentality that vatos (guys) help each other out, managed to borrow the money from Azul the vet and his brother B. He went ahead and sent it at XOXO. THEN he went to talk to the wife who said that her husband wasn’t due to come home until Christmas. It had all been a setup.

So this morning, my husband, who is unemployed yet again, needs to come up with $3000 pesos to repay what he sent to some crook. He says he’s going to sell some goats–he’ll need to sell four or so to cover the debt. And this is how things are done in Mexico.

See also Western Union Fraud Education Program

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Secondary Registration

My son's back to school picture for 2016.

My son’s back to school picture for 2016.

Barely a week after the last day of the school year, it was time to register our son for his third and final year at the secondary level. We were given two sets of days to do the registering, July 21/22 and August 15/16. Over the years, experience has shown that when it comes to registration, most Mexicans choose the latest date possible, which creates lines out the wazoo. Thus, in order to beat the lines, we determined to get it done the earliest possible on the first date given.

To register, we needed to present:

*copy of the report card from the previous year

*two telephone numbers (house and cell)

*copy of proof of residence–recent

*evidence that the “voluntary” fee of $500 pesos had been paid

Not on the list, but also requested, copy of the IFE of a parent or guardian

Ok, well, we had a few problems with this list. First, we didn’t have a copy of the report card. I attended the final parent/teacher meeting the previous week and signed the report card, but as the director had yet to sign off on them, I wasn’t allowed to take it with me. Since my son was a student at the same school last year, apparently the office had a copy it, so we slid past that requirement.

Then there was the issue with the two phone numbers. We have no house phone, so it had to be two cell phone numbers. There were ok with that too.

Another issue was the proof of residence. Remember, our home in La Yacata does not have water, sewage or electricity, thus no bills to prove we live there. We presented our title certificate and a letter from the president of the association verifying that we live there. They always put up a big fuss when we present this, but in the end, they had to take it because we have no other proof of residence.

That $500 “voluntary” fee was brought up during the parent/teacher meeting. Most of the parents understand that it’s a necessary evil. However, they did want the powers that be to give an accounting of how the money was spent. In some schools, the fee pays for the water for the bathrooms or the electricity for the computer room. In others, it buys paint so that the classrooms can be painted over the summer or is used so that desks can be repaired. At this school, the supposed purchase was didactic material. It just seemed a little vague to most. So a formal request was made by the parents in my son’s classroom for a declaration from the school board, specifying what was purchased. I doubt we’ll see anything, though.

In previous years, we paid the fee at the school before getting in the registration line with the receipt. This year, we were given an account number at Bancomer to make the deposit. At the bank, we were not asked for any sort of identification, and no identifying name was written on the receipt. Whose to say that one receipt could not be used for multiple students? Guess that’s not my problem.

My husband is the “official” parent for this type of transaction because nobody seems to like my permanent residency card. We hadn’t made a copy of his ID because well, it wasn’t on the list. But they requested one. There is a papeleria (stationery store) across from the school, but their copier was out of order. So it required a quick trip to the farmacia (pharmacy) for a copy.

In return for this pile of papers, my son received a list of utilies (required school supplies) for the coming school year.

On the first day of school, he needed to bring:

*2 professional size notebooks, either lined or with big squares (like graph paper)

*6 lined professional size notebooks–lined

*1 pencil, eraser, and sharpener

*some pens in black, red and blue (doesn’t specify quantity so we decided one of each color would be good enough)

*1 glue stick, ruler and a pair of scissors

*1 Spanish language dictionary

*1 flute (actually a recorder)

*1 art book to be determined the first week of classes

*1 geometry set

*1 scientific calculator

The following materials will be turned into the office or teacher for use during the school year.

*1 broche baco (I had to look this up to see what it was. It’s a butterfly clip for documents.)

*3 plastic folders –legal size

*100 sheets of white printer paper

*20 sheets of various colored letter-size paper

*5 folders, color and size to be determined (We bought 5 letter size yellow folders and called it good.)

As the notebooks cost upwards of 40 pesos each and the scientific calculator doesn’t come cheap, it was quite a list. Plus, my son, at 14 is growing at a phenomenal rate. He needs a new gym uniform ($500 pesos) and a new daily uniform ($400 pesos) plus shoes for each outfit. The uniforms can only be purchased at a few retailers, and the prices are set. We ended up with 1 gym jacket and pants set, 2 gym shirts, 2 daily pants, 3 daily shirts and a sweater.

And we had a whopping 4 weeks to get everything together. We managed to get everything on the list except a new pair of dress shoes and the art book which has yet to be determined. Thank goodness for my new online teaching job!

The first day of school was August 22 this year and the school year is extended once again. We finish on the far-away date of July 18.  Well, I’m mighty glad that this will be the last official school year.  Once this is done, the sky’s the limit baby!

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Failing at your own business–online teaching–Trial by fire

Camille Online

Me, hard at work by Clau Guzes

I waited anxiously over the weekend for my “onboarding” email to arrive. Finally, I received an email welcoming me aboard with the first training module attached. There were 6 training sessions in all and I didn’t have any problems reading and completing the “exams” over the period of two days. Each session took me about 45 minutes. I was compensated for my time.

Then a few days later, I received my meet and greet invitation. This was a required group session headed by my new instruction coach but also paid. That’s what I’m talking about!

I also watched ALL the example classes on YouTube to see how things worked. I was a little concerned though that the model teacher incorrectly corrected a student’s use of the word funnier. The teacher said he should use the word funner. FUNNER? Who uses that? Isn’t it more fun? Well, I guess I could do just as well as that guy.

I tried diligently during the week to pick up an extra class before I was officially on the schedule to get some practice in, but there wasn’t anything available. Finally, Friday came with my new schedule. I had 27 hours–WAY more than I was expecting. Furthermore, I was scheduled at all hours of the day and night, including hours when I was supposed to be teaching at the school. I panicked a bit and sent frantic messages to my instruction coach. I only requested changes to the 6 hours that overlapped my other job, figuring I would find a way to work the other ones. It wouldn’t do to be whiny the first week. I also mentioned that the hours I was scheduled were not hours that I had indicated that I would be available. Apparently, someone messed up when doing the scheduling. Those 6 hours were removed from my schedule and I was assured that the next week all my hours would be within the availability schedule I had submitted.

My first class was Sunday night at 11:30 pm. Then I had another one at 2 am. I didn’t think I could risk napping between classes since I was supposed to sign on 10 minutes before the shift to catch the JOIN button. So I didn’t.

I was nervous, to say the least. I really wanted it to go well, but I still felt underprepared, even after all the training sessions. I had to remember to log in, test my audio, allow microphone use for students, check in with them, see if I could resolve technical issues and teach the class. The topics were assigned and each class had multiple activities already set up, so I just had to direct the class and pick and choose the slides I thought would get the most interaction from the students. This took the hassle of planning out of the picture, which considering I plan 6 elementary classes and 3 kindergarten classes a day, was a nice reprieve.

There were 4 students in my first class. One student wanted to only listen in, which was fine. There was one student I never did get a response from, so I assumed she too was just listening in. Juan was from Venezuela and Maria was from Veracruz, Mexico and this was her first class.

I thought it went pretty well. After a bit of hesitation on Maria’s part when she began, both students were fully engaged during the class. The class was 45 minutes. Then I had time enough to do the student feedback before joining another class.

I was also supposed to fill out a self-evaluation form after my first class, which I did. I thought I needed work on the interactive tools and resolving audio problems, which I made my goal for the next class.

In the next class, there were some audio problems. The student, Marco, could hear me but could not use his microphone. It seemed he had a new headset and his computer wasn’t reading the microphone. I tried to help him set it up with the troubleshooting tip sheet I had received at the meet and greet. I probably wasted too much time trying to do that. Finally, I suggested that he type his responses in the chat box and I would go over the material so that he could hear it.

He was also very engaged. It was so nice to have students that were very motivated to learn and use their English. There are days in the elementary school that I just want to pull my hair out. The enthusiasm with these classes was very comparable to the kindergarten classes I teach. It was awesome!

And so and so forth. I had every type of class thrown at me throughout the night. Conversation, group, private, grammar, beginners, intermediates, advanced students. You name it, I had it.

I must have read the topic chart incorrectly because I was constantly surprised at the theme I was given upon entering class. So I pretty much had to wing it, every single class. Talk about teaching on the fly!

In between classes, I checked the google time chronometer obsessively. All classes are scheduled for Eastern Standard Time, and well, I don’t live in Eastern Standard Time so I had to make adjustments and calculations. Even with all that, I still somehow managed to miss a class. Oops.

I also must have had an out of body experience. Somehow I joined a class that I was already teaching. Or at least that’s what it appeared on the screen. I think maybe that was the class I had missed and the monitor jumped in under my name to teach it. Maybe.

I had a class or two where students didn’t show up. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I sat there in the empty virtual classroom and twiddled my virtual thumbs. All righty then. On the other hand, I virtually met people from all around the world, Uraguay, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador and so on. It was amazing!

The night stretched into day. I never did get to bed. I finished my last class at 6 am (7 am EST) then piddled around in my classroom until my first elementary class started at 8:30. I knew that if I went to bed, I’d NEVER get up. I taught all my elementary and kindergarten classes and finished at 1:30. At 2 pm (3 pm EST) there was yet another training class. It was compensated thus so totally worth the effort I made to prop my eyelids open. My final class online was from 3:30 to 4:30 pm (4:30 to 5:30 EST) and then I was free to collapse into my bed. Whew!

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