Since the rainy season arrived a few short weeks ago, the bleak and blasted landscape I saw on my trip May 30th from the Leon airport to San Miguel de Allende has been transformed. (This photo from Southern California, but it’s the same landscape!)
Now in the campo a verdant green springs up coating mountainsides and farms, gardens and meadows. I’m told the rains were not so copious last year or the year before. This year everyone dances. The corn and bean crops should do well in Guanajauto state, at least.
I got out into the countryside yesterday because I lept at the chance to visit CEDESA: “Centro de Desarrollo Agropecuario A.C.” [Center for Agricultural Development] on the outskirts of Hildago Delores, a smaller town roughly 25 miles from San Miguel de Allende through said transformed landscape.
Why CEDESA you ask? This pretty much sums it up.
Not a CEDESA logo, but the driving idea behind its work
On a globe with dwindling power and water supplies, with food nearly dominated by mono-cultured fields and chemical agribusiness, and so devoid of nutrition that obesity rates rise as health declines, and here in Mexico where rural towns and farms are short-shrifted by municipal services like said power, water and healthcare, a group like CEDESA provides hope.
This teaching/learning center on 50 acres, established in 1965, seeds its surrounding eight counties with professional & technical knowledge on what we’ve come to know as sustainable living.
From A to Z – where the S represents a spiritual dimension of dignity and compassion in a community’s human, animal and plant relationships.
Oh, and the M stands for medicinal plants.
What’s not to like?
The reason for a our trip yesterday is that CEDESA is building a restaurant. Like many projects in Mexico, it’s a ‘build as you go’ (as the money comes in) situation.
Here’s where you’ll have to use your imagination:
If you love Mexico’s sense of color, go ahead and paint this building. Then place tables and chairs inside, and out under the roof, with colored table cloths and wrought iron candle holders. You could string lights along the roof, solar powered of course, and surely you’ll want some flowers.
What’s interesting is that in its beginning shape, the restaurant is already full of imagination. It is being built in the old way, the traditional way, a way that’s been forgotten but can be relearned by any family that visits and inquires about its construction. Here’s one of its open secrets:
Instead of the ubiqutous concrete, or kiln fired bricks, that’s cured adobe that you’re looking at. Hmmm. Earth. There’s plenty of that around here. And here, in its unfinished form, is a living demonstration project for anyone who stops along the way and wants to learn about building with adobe.
Wait, there’s more!
The two ovens inside are designed to burn a very small amount of wood. [That’s the tiny rectangle beneath the grill at the very bottom. When lifted up, the circle with the handle is the big oven].
But it’s the tale of the ashes that’s interesting. They will become part of the composting material for dry toilets, an ecologically sound way to manage excreta in areas where there is little water.
Within six months the composted material can then be used as fertilizer in home gardens or fields.
Take that, Potash Corporation.
There’s a plan for the restaurant’s grey water too. If that’s a new concept, here’s your link: http://greywateraction.org/greywater-recycling
And what will the restaurant serve? Organic foods grown on CEDESA’s grounds through sustainable agricultural practices. Cooked in traditional Mexican recipes. Can we all say “slow food”?
Uh huh, you and I want to eat here!
Over forty-seven years of planning and building, CEDESA has transformed its communal grounds into a riot of fruit trees, gardens, paths, low-slung adobe classrooms,offices, kitchens and dormitorios, singing fountains and, I’m quite sure, a bird sanctuary. (They’ve also deliberately left part of their land wild for animals and nature’s experiments in cross pollination.) To see what they’ve built, using strictly ecologically sound and sustainable principles, is to see a rather ruthless high desert domesticated into a small paradise. But, not only has CEDESA grown a paradise, they’ve become an oasis of sanity because of what they teach.
To walk on its shaded brick pathways, to see the shafts of sunlight illuminating avocado trees whispering over beds of indigenous lettuces, to hear water recycling through mosaic fountains, to watch insect and plant life perform its daily ritual is at once a tribute to CEDESA’s Catholic ‘liberation theology’ founders,
Catholic priest Guillermo Davalos Martinez, affectionately known as “Father Memo” and a woman who worked at his side whose name I’ve shamefully forgotten
and a deeply personal experience of what the present can be, and what the future must surely look like.
CEDESA needs $1,000.00 US to build the new restaurant’s environmentally friendly public toilets. In turn, they will continue to take successful ecological techniques into the Guanajato countryside:
Models for dry toilets, cisterns, solar water cleansers, solar power, sustainable techniques for food sovereignty, medicinal plants, construction, water management
I know that dry toilets aren’t sexy, but anybody can donate to this teaching/learning center’s work.
Today a dry toilet for a sustainable ‘college’s restaurant – tomorrow, the world!
Here’s your link. Google will translate.
Over Mexico’s long and tumultuous struggle with land reform the Mexican campesino has never been allowed to thrive. Places like CEDESA prove that rural farmers and families can survive on the land and further, provide models for a ‘first world’ that must change along with them.
It would take a week to tell you how much I learned yesterday, and a better writer than I am to tell you how much I want to see them continue their success.