Posts tagged: Malchingui
The finished work of Rob Ormerod’s earth bag house built on the Rhiannon Community property outside Malchingui, Ecuador.
When I arrived at Rhiannon, I hoped to get a chance to stay in one of the two teepees that punctuate the view south towards Cotopaxi. Unfortunately, the numbers worked out best to house the three Texan boys and the three single ladies in the two cone shaped tents. My spirits were lifted, thankfully, when Helen announced that we would be building a third teepee on the property while I was staying there.
The design consists of 12 eucalyptus poles about 25’ tall sheathed with a synthetic tarp stitched and grommeted. Julieta was tasked with cutting and stitching the pattern for the skin and I was given the opportunity to shave the pole tips. Leó and Vincent, two very amusing men from France who sailed for three months crossing the Atlantic from Greece to Venezuela, helped level and round the teepee floor.
After the French boys cleared the land, I spent about three long hours, and a few blisters, shaving all 12 poles with an axe that wanted to fly sky high every fourth swing. Now, we were ready to do the pole lift and everyone came to help, or mostly watched and offered their advice.
Starting the structure requires three poles at 120° and then tied to form the base support for which the remaining poles are laid atop of. We managed to raise, tie and load the poles but realized at the end that the tips needed more shaving. So, we deconstructed the frame and I had at poles for another hour until they were thinner and more tapered.
The next day we set about raising the frame again, this time managing a fairly even conical shape. Leó was our monkey and shimmied up the poles to secure the rope. Getting down was an amusing slide down the poles.
Our next task was placing the heavy tarp on the frame, lifting it to the top and then securing it. Again, Leó was sent to the top, I stood on the ladder below and the crew helped heave the skin up until we got it attached securely. While that action was going on, Vincent and Jessica struggled with some shoddy tools to shave the tarp stakes down. I think I heard a few French curses from that experience.
We then had to weave the door grommets together about half-way down the tarp with the remaining distance being open for the door installation. The poles didn’t make a perfect conical shape and created a gap between the pole and the skin so that any wind would cause a violent ‘flap-flap-flap’. We spent about an hour+ re-digging and moving the poles to try and create more tension on the tarp but with little effect. Finally, we got it to an acceptable place and quit for the day.
My next responsibility, laid down on me by Kenna, a Canuck from BC, was to paint the teepee exterior. I had a few days before hand to think of various themes or items to paint. One idea I had was to paint the 12, or 13, Indians a shaman had seen in a vision that were sitting on the roof of the commune and protecting it. That got scrapped because a) I didn’t want to end up offending anyone and b) Julieta reminded me that spirit animals were usually painted on teepees. That’s when we thought, “Why not put all the farm animals on the teepee?!” Perfect idea.
I traipsed about the farm sketching the various pigs, chickens, donkey, dogs and cats we had on the farm. At first I was imaging them all sitting around a fire, with their backs to you and on the inside paint their faces. But, that didn’t seem lively enough, so I decided to paint them facing out, being themselves with a little more activity. I had also wanted to stack them on top of each other, but the height of the teepee and reaching it would be way too hard, so I kept them at my arm’s reach, about 8’ off the ground.
The tarp material wasn’t the easiest to pencil on due to its slick surface. I used charcoal from the fire pit to sketch the base drawing, and followed it with the black enamel paint for the outlines which everyone helped fill in. I wanted to paint each animal their distinctive color/coat, but my timeframe was limited so I opted for four giant, bright swirls of colors to symbolize the winds we experience on the farm and to add a shot of lively color to the southernly horizon. Thankfully, more able bodies pitched in and helped complete that before my departure. I hope the teepee is all dialed in now and is providing its inhabitants with wonderful dreams and visions of beauty and happiness.
Un Otro Mundo es Posible
This is the mantra that greets all who enter the main domicile of the Rhiannon Community “Rhiannon Community Farm located near Malchingui” located an hour north of Quito by bus. Situated on a mountain slope south of the small pueblito of Malchinqui, the farm offers 360° views of the province of Pichincha, three volcanos including Cotopaxi and Cayambe and a spectacular mountain ranges that clouds dance around as the winds and weather changes.
The farm was started three years ago by Helen and Nicky, two ex-pats from London who wanted to pursue a different manner of life, one based on sustainable living, Veganism/Vegetarianism and using the power of community to help create it. It’s almost entirely English speaking which was sort of a bummer for me because I want to improve my Spanish on this trip, but the farm draws volunteers from around the world who spoke Spanish which allowed me to practice at least intermittently.
Both women knew little of the practical approaches toward farm life when starting, they never visited an organic farm, and instead learned by teaching themselves and relying on the numerous volunteers who visited and worked on the farm to help establish their fledgling dream.
Three years on, their farm is growing rapidly with multiple projects being dreamed up each year. In my short, month-long stay I was able to help Rob finish the base plaster layer of his semi-underground home, we erected a teepee and the pizza garden was almost fully established and ready for its penultimate slice planting.
Each volunteer is requested to pay a donation to offset the costs of housing and feeding the volunteers. Helen and Nicky don’t charge the full cost of what it would be to cover a month’s stay for each volunteer (they estimate at around $200-300 USD per month), but instead only request $50 USD per person per month. A reasonable rate for the five hours of farm work scheduled for each day.
Our daily schedule usually goes like this:
For every five days worked, volunteers get two free days to travel and explore of stay on the farm and relax. Helen and Nicky are accommodating and allow people to take consecutive days so as to allow people to travel farther and explore for of Ecuador’s beauty, culture and cities. Otovalo, a heavily indigenous town about 2 hours north by bus is a popular destination. (I recommend the Hostal Geronio in the $8/night rooms which were definitely nicer than the $5 dorms. If you go to Otovalo, save your food cash for the evening vendors who descend on the plaza after 18:00. The chock (fresh corn) is off the chain! Oh, and barter with the clothing and jewelry vendors during the day, especially if you’re a foreigner.)
The farm is bustling with life, both domestic and wild. On the domesticated side, they have:
The farm tries to be as self-sufficient as possible, with the goal of deriving all food consumed on the farm from what it produces alone. That’ll be quite the feat given the amount of land, organic approaches, amount of grains consumes and lack of any real draft animals. I hope they can achieve this large goal, but believe that they’ll be supplementing the veggies with purchased food.
My stay was during the dry season (although we got some heavy days of rain during my stay). It was also the windy season where gusts would sometimes reach an estimated 60mph. The four main producing areas during my stay were the pizza garden, the Rivendale garden, the invernadero/greenhouse and the maize/corn field planted months before. We ate lots of collards, kale, corn, kohlrabi chard, uvias/gooseberries, papas/potatoes and a smattering of radish, carrots rounding out the mix. The rest was either purchased in bulk in Quito or from the weekly fruit/veggie lady who visited on Tuesdays.
Cooking was fun and was left up to the skills and energies of the cooks scheduled. Breakfast usually consisted of oats and fruit. Sometimes Lisa, Jess or Rob would go out of their way to make pancakes or some delicious fried wraps of bananas, chocolate, fruit. We cooked more oats than needed to help feed the hungry piggies.
Lunch is supposed to be the bigger meal of the day and the meal that contained whole protein. So quinoa or a bean/rice mix to get the proteins needed for the Vegans/Veggies on the farm.
Dinner usually was on the lighter side so as not to cause digestion issues for those early to bed, but this fluctuated by large scales depending on who cooked. We managed to make a pot pie, soups, corn cakes and other yummy alternatives to rice, beans and salad.
I purchased eggs to eat on my breaks or supplement meals that were lacking due to miscounting or lacking amounts. Bread was purchased in town as well as any yogurt, cheese or condiments. Our “refrigerator” is actually a clay pot surrounded by sand, usually wet, and contained in another clay pot. My goat milk managed to get sour in one day, so it was only really good for jams, butter or other less sensitive items.
The haybox was very cool. I had never seen one before, but it’s basically an insulated box that you can put soups, beans, stews, anything that can slow cook and take advantage of the heat generated by boiling/heating so as to reduce the amount of fuel used in cooking. Every home should have one if they consume beans or other items that take lots of stovetop cooking time.
A big problem with our industrialized society is our lack of return. That’s to say we have a linear system of consumption and waste. We mount our trash piles ever higher, especially with items like animal waste that once was returned to the same soil and land that fed the animals. Now, in the name of efficientcy, profit and short-sightedness, we pump those same wastes into our water and air which then gets into our bodies.
The farm tries to reduce these linear cycles by recycling all our food wastes either to our animals or to our compost heaps. All bottles or glass gets placed into bins where we reuse them for various projects around the house. One project has been to take tetrapack (think wine or juice boxes) and slice them up to weave replacement windows where the glass has shattered from the strong winds flopping the windows back and forth.
Water is conserved through a few methods, and given the arid nature of the land, it’s imperative. Most structural roofs slope to gutters which dump into rain collection buckets that either have hoses connected to them and are raised to use gravity pressure, or have open tops to scoop water out with the various jerry cans or watering cans.
Kitchen water and bathroom sink/shower water is diverted from municipal drains and instead feeds a gray water lagoon that is planted with water loving lilies and other hydrophilic aqua life. Frogs and tadpoles abound in the murky water, some of which is used to irrigate downhill trees and plantings.
The highlight, for me at least, was the bathrooms. Helen and Nicky had a very large and spacious bathroom constructed with two inordornos/toilet stalls and two duchess/showers. The toilets are composting toilets that collect the pee to be used in the regular compost piles and the shit and paper for use for the tree compost piles. There are two heads in each stall, one is allowed to sit and mellow until the other is full, then we shovel out (one of my lucky jobs with Léo) layered “cake” and start a new pile with other organic matter to sit and breakdown for up to two years before using it on the trees.
When one poos, you take a scoop of sawdust and ash from the fire pits to cover it to reduce the smell and keep flies from laying their eggs in it. I had to flatten and cover the piles once to quash some powerful odors, but the system worked great overall, except when people put sawdust in the peephole!!! (that’s for you, Kenna. :) )
The one constant at the farm is that there is no constant besides Helen and Nicky. People are always coming and going. Helen and Nicky try their best to vet new volunteers because they only want dedicated people who can honor the two-week time commitment (something I think they should extend to three or four weeks because you don’t really learn much about the people, the farm or yourself working on a farm in less time than that). I think I worked with roughly about 20+ volunteers while at the farm. The farm operates best with about 13-16 people. We had some days with only 5 which means only the bear minimum gets done.
Meeting people is one of the joys of extended travel, and this being my first communal experience, I was thrilled to have a communal setting to really form deep friendships with people. We shared many laughs, drinks and stories as we exchanged cultural differences and energies. I’m looking forward to future community experiences like this, but know that Rhiannon isn’t like most in terms of the family feeling that is cultivated and sought.
The farm has had a few volunteers over the years of permaculture background. I was able to look at maps and plans for developing zones and some permaculture techniques like swales, animal tractors and cycles of return are in use. However, the farm could use a professional permaculturist for a lengthy stay to help them set up tree guilds (currently they’re just planting trees in the ground without nitrogen fixers, insectary, or other beneficial plants), develop a food forest and apply other techniques like sheet mulching/composting in place, worm bins, etc.
I shared info with Helen regarding n-fixers, fortress plants, composting in place techniques and dead wood swales. Hopefully they’re able to have more volunteers with strong backgrounds in permaculture to help them build a strong foundation to improve the soil quality and life. Something very difficult to do in the vary arid landscape and terrain of their property.
I really appreciated being invited to work and stay on the farm. It was a wonderful start to my South American farm journey. I now have some wonderful, life-long friends scattered across the globe, some of which I’ll be meeting up with on our travels and have realized that I do, in fact, love working with my hands, out doors and on a farm. I hope the commune can continue to grow, draw exceptional people and be a place of continued inspiration and excitement.
I’ll be posting more specific posts on some of my work on the farm at a later date. So, check back in a few weeks for those posts.
Update: A friend of mine shares some words of her Rhiannon experience here.
Panoramic views of Rhiannon on a clear day; interior of great room; clouds making their way in; view from above tool shed; glorious sunset; hill west of property; top of hill west of property; sunset after watering day; crystal clear day with no clouds.