Creative Recycling Worshop at the AEP

To the untrained eye, it appeared that several tables at the Azuero Earth Project offices in PedasĂ­ were covered in trash. But in truth, the empty chip bags and containers filled with used cooking oil were destined for great things, and soon would be transformed into wallets, purses, and fragrant soaps.

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Several groups from Pedasí and surrounding communities were present for December’s Creative Recycling Workshop, led by Sra. Sabina Rodriguez, from the Department for the Promotion of Culture at the National Environmental Authority offices in Ocú, Herrera.

Sra. Rodriguez began with a short introduction, followed by a brief demonstration of how to begin the process of weaving junk food bags and wrappers together to form wallets and purses. Attendees then grabbed their scissors and got to work. Potato chip bags quickly disappeared, transformed into colorful interlocking zig-zags and the beginnings of coin purses.

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When participants had mastered the fine folds necessary for making recycled purses and wallets, it was time for the second half of the workshop: homemade soaps. Sra. Rodriguez demonstrated the proper way to mix potash with water and recycled cooking oil. Then each participant had the chance to make their own soap to take home, choosing from a variety of fragrances. Attendees left with their soaps in hand, ready to be used after a one-month aging period. Learn how to make your own soap by reading Sra. Roriguez’s easy recipe.

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Sustainable Practices: How to Build an Ariete and Make Bocashi

On Saturday, October 13, the Azuero Earth Project brought together local farmers and community members for back-to-back hands-on lessons in sustainable land use techniques.

The AEP invited not one but two guest experts, Professor Manuel Cedeño, Director of Pablo Ballesteros School in Los Asientos and member of the silvopastoral cattle association APASPE, and our very own Jairo Batista, organic gardener extraordinaire.

Professor Cedeño spoke about how to build an ariete (also known as a “water hammer” or a “hydraulic ram”), a special type of self-powered water pump.

In the Azuero, riparian zones are often polluted and eroded by cattle that drink directly from streams. The ariete, Professor Cedeño explained, helps to resolve this problem by allowing farmers to pump water out of almost any stream without using electric or gas-powered pumps. An ariete works 24 hours a day and allows water to be pumped uphill over considerable distance even with low levels of water pressure. With an ariete, Professor Cedeño explained, one can fence off sensitive stream areas, store the pumped water in tanks, and safely provide it to the cattle in troughs.

Diagram of a basic ariete c. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture

Professor Cedeño also spoke about the simple low-cost design of the pump, explained how the pump is assembled, and showed a short video demonstration of a working ariete. Attendees then gathered in the yard to see a basic ariete in action. The simple ariete assembled on site was raffled off at the end of the day, and one lucky Valleriquito rancher headed home with his very own basic pump.

Professor Cedeño with the lucky raffle winner c. Ryan Dibala

For more information about how to build and install a simple ariete, take a look at Professor Cedeño’s presentation (in Spanish). For an explanation in English, click here.

After a short break, Mr. Jairo Batista took the stage for the day’s second seminar: how to make and use bocashi, a special type of fermented organic fertilizer.

Mr. Batista began by explaining the importance of using organic fertilizers that, unlike chemical fertilizers, enrich soil over time, cost little, and provide plants with a wide range of nutrients.

Mr. Batista explains the role of different ingredients c. Ryan Dibala

Bocashi, Mr. Batista explained, is highly effective as a fertilizer and can be made from ingredients found on most farms. Bocashi is generally made from a mixture of manure, charcoal, ash, dirt, rice husks, molasses, water, and yeast, but many of the ingredients can be substituted if necessary. Mr. Batista explained the function of each ingredient in the mix, with different ingredients helping to regulate the fermentation, humidity, aeration, and body of the final product. Bocashi, according to Mr. Batista, is best applied deep in the soil, where it will nourish plant roots as they grow downwards.

Bocashi ingredients ready for mixing c. Mark Waterman

After the presentation, attendees got to try their hand at mixing up their own batch of bocashi, with two groups competing to see who could mix the best batch. Bocashi must ferment for 15 days before it can be used, but participants were presented with small bags of ready-to-use bocashi to take home as rewards for their hard work.

For full details about how to make and use bocashi, browse Mr. Batista’s presentation (in Spanish), send him an e-mail at jairo@proecoazuero.org, or visit us at our offices in Pedasí.

Breaking Ground at PedasĂ­ School Garden!

Professor Zaira Samudio de Canto works with students to break ground at the PedasĂ­ school garden, c. Ashley Stonecipher

Ashley Stonecipher, AEP Pedasí School Garden Consultant and Peace Corps Response Volunteer, broke ground with teachers and students to create an organic school garden at the Instituto Plinio A. Moscoso, Pedasí in June 2013. Ashley collaborates with Agriculture Professor, Zaira Samudio de Canto, and 160 students in the 7th, 8th and 9th grade classes on the school garden project. She adapted garden lessons and activities to fit into the current curriculum guidelines for each grade and subject area.

The goals of the garden are to create a model educational garden, to promote a healthy community in sustainable organic agriculture, to teach students about an ecosystem, to integrate the garden into agriculture and other subjects that multiple teachers can use at once, and to provide resources for how to reduce or eliminate chemical use in agriculture on the Azuero through AEP’s Organiculture Program.

Non-traditional flower design for the PedasĂ­ school garden, c. Ashley Stonecipher

The overall design of the garden, a flower shape with beds that will cultivate a diversity of crops, was developed by Professor Zaira Samudio de Canto with inspiration from the Ministry of Agriculture’s demonstration garden at this year’s International Azuero Fair in La Villa de los Santos. Professor Zaira Samudio de Canto wanted to design a non-traditional garden to inspire the creativity of her students and to pique the interest of visitors to the school. In addition to the central beds, the garden includes an area growing the three sister crops (squash, corn, and beans), an area growing cover crops, an area with chickens, and a compost pile. The students are also preparing an area for the germination of future crops.

Each agriculture class is divided into two sections: The first part is a lesson in the classroom teaching the theory behind a sustainable agriculture principle; the second part is a hands-on lesson on school grounds translating theory into practice. For example, Professor Zaira Samudio de Canto presented on organic material and compost with presentations developed by Ashley, and then the students prepared a compost pile with materials they brought to class. Ashley and Professor Zaira Samudio de Canto´s strategy is to incorporate as many materials from the students and the school as they can to increase students´ and their families´ involvement in the project. They also recycle ¨trash¨ items found on school grounds for added sustainability.

The agriculture classes are designed to be hands-on and practical. Here a student makes a compost pile after a lesson on organic materials, c. Ashley Stonecipher

The cumulative result is an organic garden that students will create and maintain during the school year. Ashley says, ¨It has been wonderful to work with Professor Zaira on the school garden project. She is enthusiastic, patient with the students, knowledgeable and open to experimenting and trying new things¨.  Ashley’s future goals include researching new activities to add to the class curriculums, writing up a garden activity manual to pass on to the Pedasí school, for other Peace Corps volunteers in Panama, and for AEP, as well as coordinating a formal garden team at the school.

For more information about Ashley and her project, visit the Collaborators page. For more information about the Organiculture program, visit the Community Outreach page.

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

Ashley Stonecipher with Professor Zaira Samudio de Canto in the PedasĂ­ school garden, c. Sophie Fuchs

Trash to Treasure: Anne-Marie Potts Teaches Crocheting with Plastic Bags

c. Sophie Fuchs

What should you do with all the plastic bags you collect from the store? On October 20, 2012, Anne-Marie Potts showed the community an innovative solution: crochet the bags into new treasures. Anne-Marie has been teaching this technique for some time as part of EducaciĂłn Primero‘s (Education First) community outreach, visiting school and community groups across Panama. For instance, she has taught women’s clubs how to crochet new goods to sell for extra income. The technique is basic, but the results are beautiful. One simply has to cut plastic bags into strips, tie them together and crochet in the normal fashion to produce beach bags, purses, placemats, even scrubbers for the kitchen sink in bright colors.

c. Sophie Fuchs

Folks from as far as Bocas del Toro attended the workshop to learn how to crochet with Anne-Marie. One participant later took what she learned and added crocheted strips of black trash bags to her recycled dress in a school-sponsored parade. The idea opens up many new possibilities for reusing items that traditionally get thrown in the trash and then burnt in the dump. This process contaminates the air we breathe on the Azuero. The Azuero Earth Project encourages you to look at goods you plan to throw away with a new eye for how you might creatively recycle them.

For resources from the workshop and more information, visit Anne-Marie’s Guest Experts page.

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

How to Save Money with Bio-Gas

César González, professor at INADEH (National Institute for Professional Formation and Training for Human Development) and UTP (National Technological University of Panama), showed Pedasi residents his car that runs on bio-gas from pig excrement at a community event on May 26th.

González emphasized that one of the advances that makes biogas usable is the ability to compress the gas in transportable tanks, just as you would with traditional gas brands now available on the market (Panagas, Tropigas brands, etc.). Biogas allows him to create systems that save money by using biogas to power homes and businesses.

Currently, the Panamanian government heavily subsidizes gas production, which costs them millions of dollars per year. If they invested in biogas, the gas could be produced at a much lower cost, thus saving money for the consumer and the Panamanian government, as well as providing extra income for livestock ranchers. ~César González

Community members asked about the workings of the biogas car, for which César González uses excrement from local pig farms, and inquired about the prices of installing home biogas systems.

For more information visit Guest Experts.