Urban Permaculture in the Mexican Highlands

I’d like to share an inspired project friends of ours Seth & Cris Phillips and their daughter Katia, have going in Guanajuato, a jewel of a city in Mexico’s central highlands. 
Several years ago Seth & Cris purchased their large, rundown city lot in the heart of bustling Guanajuato and set to work. The first couple of years were spent tearing down numerous, decrepit, old adobe structures, and creating a comfortable house and guest cottage in their stead. Where most “normal” people would have done away with the old adobe, Seth, a committed recycler, painstakingly stacked and saved the adobe blocks which have since been repurposed into a beautiful expansion of the living space. Over the years the family has also created wonderful Permaculture gardens and other systems (although I don’t think I’ve ever heard Seth or Cris call it that exactly).
Seth, Cris, Katya, & Pecos
Seth, Cris, Katya & Pecos at home in their urban garden…
Every time Holly & I visit there are fun new additions to take in, and we always find the project inspiring in its modestly. In particular, and unlike me, Seth is a minimalist who always searches out low tech solutions to energy & water usage challenges. While swapping ideas, we often share a friendly partier about his ultra basic approach vs. the more costly and complicated solutions I am usually prone to. “Why go to the time and expense of building an elaborate solar cooker”, Seth will chide me, “when a simple foil reflector blanket and black, cast iron pot can cook almost anything”? Hmmm, perhaps he has a point!
 
During the early renovations Seth created grey water storage and a network of direct irrigation channels and tubing to help sustain the various plantings during Guanajuato’s dry stretches which can last for months on end. Gradually, shade from the 30+ fruit trees is replacing the harsh noontime glare, and the walled, interior garden space is now a profusion of vegetable gardens, pathways, and chicken coops. Every day Seth feeds the chickens buckets of fruits and vegetables discarded from the neighborhood fruteria.  Once a week the resulting organic material is shoveled out of the chicken run and into a compost that is used to improve the soil.
20130921_123004
The Gardens…
Along the way Seth has also puttered around with various low tech energy saving add-ons including a home-made solar food dehydrator, solar water heater, solar distiller, a rocket oven, a “humanure” style composting toilet, and a hay box cooker.
 
The most recent addition is a 20,000 litre water collection cistern capable of spanning the ever longer water outages the city suffers. 
 
As the oasis grows greener, Seth and Cris remain committed to simplicity and a pragmatic yet seemingly joyful exploration a the good life, right there, in the heart of the city!  

Searching Sustainably!

ecoasia logo

This is a very cool search engine we’ve started using and want to pass along! Super easy to install as your primary browser, Clear, concise search results with fewer ads, and in exchange for forgoing Google’s goofy grafix, you’ll get to watch the number of trees your search clics help plant! Now that’s what we call a worthwhile trade off!

ecoasia

Here’s the link to get started: http://www.ecosia.org then select “more” in the lower left corner.

And here’s a link to their blog showing how our clicks get turned into planted trees! http://blog.ecosia.org/post/91850071905/the-trees-for-the-forest-more-than-700-000

A few factoids from the ECOSIA website

* 80% of the ECOSIA ad revenue goes to the rainforest tree planting program

* The funds from ECOSIA have resulted in over 670 thousand trees planted to date.

* Proof of ECOSIA donations audit is reported to The Nature Conservancy

So what’s not to love???? Give it a try…

secret sustainability south of the border

View of beautiful Mayto Beach from the first hill.
Rancho Sol y Mar (www.ranchosolymar.com)

Thinking of moving off the grid? Starting an organic farm or CSA? Are you part of a group considering pooling resources and homesteading together?

Well, shhhh-h-h-h, come closer, I’ve got a few well guarded secrets I can share with you…

Secreto Numero Uno: get your hippi ass south of the border! Be it Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, or wherever, there are many reasons that you should consider the southern option. The reasons? Listen in:

Reason #1: Two to Three growing seasons. Yes, you can find extended growing in the southern U.S., but 1000 miles south of Texas you really do get an entire second or even third season. What’s not to love about growing outdoors, year round!

Reason #2: The cost of land & living. Land is cheaper (well maybe not Costa Rica anymore), but equally important for the long haul is that property taxes are nearly zero. On our one hundred acres we pay a whopping $200 a year. Tell me that doesn’t help with the bottom line! And while some things like farm & solar equipment are expensive there, once you have property you are allowed a one time exemption to bring a moving van’s worth of “household goods” into Mexico without import taxes. Also, the cost of ongoing basic staple goods is roughly half what one pays in the U.S.

Reason #3: Save energy and reduce your carbon footprint: So how much of your precious time and energy do you want to spend every year preparing for the coming winter? 30%? 40% 50% or even higher??? Well how does 0% sound as an option for you? If you are situated in Mexico or further south, the cost of winter is a thing of the past. And then there are the ethics and nuisance factors of winter heating to consider. How much of your life’s energy, not to mention the planet’s carbon resources, do you really want to spend on heating you home, or even, in extremes climes, avoiding the possibility of freezing to death?

Reason #4: Less Regulation: Face it amigos, you just can’t fart in the U.S. anymore without a permit! Seriously, come south of the border and you’ll discover a sense of freedom you would never have dreamed of. Whether you plan to sell in a farmer’s market such as one of the three or four thriving ones in Puerto Vallarta alone, or if you’re planning a CSA, selling to restaurant’s, simply just growing for yourself, you can count on minimal regulation once you’ve crossed the border and made your way south.

Reason #5: Security in the face of what lies ahead. Really, you ask? Is he really suggesting that life in Mexico can be more secure than life here in the good olde U.S.A.??? Well, yes, actually, I am. As for the narco violence, there are a few simple, common sense rules to be followed such as staying out of the areas of drug production or major transport corridors. The vast majority of the violence I hear about is limited to three or four states, and even with that, it’s the narcos and cops getting perforated, not tourists, travelers, or organic veggie farmers. (I could go on and on about this subject, but will save that for another post…). So what do I mean by security for what lies ahead? Well, the way I see it, if the energy infrastructure gets disrupted for one of any number of reasons (troubles in the middle east, peak oil, climate change) then simply surviving, let alone thriving anywhere north of 30 – 40 degrees north latitude could get really expensive if not downright impossible. Personally, I’d rather build my life’s dream infrastructure in a place with great public transport, and where access to cheap energy is a bonus, not a necessity!

Reason #6: Sun, sun, sun… Viva El Sol! And boy do we have plenty of it. We make our electricity with it, heat & pump water with it, cook with it, and even sterilize with it. Yes, of course there’s sun in Arizona, but 1000+ miles south, it get’s even better. Just one of our photovoltaic systems alone, a mere 2.4kw array, produces close to 15kw on a sunny day. Sweet! So come on down and start farming those photons…

Reason #7: Affordable Help. Let’s face it, you can’t, or don’t want do, do it all yourself. At 200 – 300 pesos a day ($15-$25 U.S.), it’s possible to get excellent, flexible help as you need it. We always make sure to pay above the going rate, and we have gotten terrific, reliable help for all the special projects that inevitably pop up! For one longer term employee we pay all the required social security taxes and withholdings, and, all told, including accounting & filing fees, the extra cost still comes out to only around $1000 per year, (not counting the wages paid). Get the help you need at truly affordable prices!

Reason #8: Quality of Life. Having shuttled back and forth, splitting parts of the year between the two worlds for nearly a decade now, I can with some authority that QOL south of the border is, in general, superior. Yes there are issues with sanitation, schooling, crime and such, but over all life there is really sweet. The Mexican people are, on the whole, far more open, warm and friendly to strangers than has been my experience in the northern countries, and the pace of life, much more focused on friends and family, is more relaxed, and even festive, than north of the line.

Secreto Numero Dos: The really good news is that if you’re still not convinced, there’s a secret spot I can tell you about where you can come dip your toe in the water (literally) and try the idea on first before plunging in. You, our new amigos are cordially invited to come spend some time with us in beautiful Mayto! Our off grid goat ranch + sustainability center has a campground where you can beat the winter and hang out for a while. We also have work exchange programs, internships, and even the possibility of homesteading or other longer term involvement. Check us out! http://www.ranchosolymar.com