I walked through the welcoming doors of Caoba for the first time roughly one year ago. Rumors of this organic farm had reached my ears after a long bout of sad stories concerning pollution from pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers that provide short-sighted solutions. I walked through the doors, and was met with a table laden with healthy potted herbs and vegetables for sale, backed by a wall of bamboo, where upcycled tires were cut and painted as toucans. They hung in the branches and held more potted plants, like tiny green waterfalls that spilled over the birds’ backs. Then, I explored the tienda filled with local products made from natural ingredients, practiced speaking Spanish with the cashier, and wandered out toward the farm itself.
I stood at the top of the stone steps and breathlessly stared at the beauty below. The rich, black soil was striped with rows of vibrant green and red lettuce. They pointed to the volcano in the distance, ringed by wispy clouds. Lavender and other pest-deterring plants poked around the rows. Upon closer inspection, I discovered sections of fennel, onions, basils, and a plethora of other tasty delights. A giant hug of edible biodiversity surrounded the neat, central rows. As someone who has spent a lot of time learning the ways of plants, I saw the wisdom and intention behind each placement, even though many of the plant species were new to me. As I continued my wander, I knew that I wanted to spend time supporting this wonderful place.
But that trip to Guatemala was over all too quickly. Many months passed, and I returned with intentions to stay a little longer. Since then, I’ve volunteered weekly and had the pleasure to work with new friends that feel like old friends. I’m learning the ways of pallet furniture, of balance, angles, and support. Often, it feels like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle that tickles my brain. Once, we stirred some varnish with a stick, and lamented that the stick was ruined for compost. I am continually grateful that I get to work with deeply environmentally-conscious people. Every stick counts. Our solution for the ruined stick was to varnish the whole thing. I took it home and dangled strings of beads and some epiphytes that had fallen off their trees from it, and turned that stick into one of my favorite pieces of art, partly because it catches the sun nicely, mostly because of the memories attached to it.
To top everything off, volunteers get to leave with a big bag of veggies. One of my favorite moments is when we go to get the veggies, and laugh with the friendly people who wash off all the dirt, then peek at the delicious surprises. It’s different every time, except salad. We always get some of the green and red lettuce from those gorgeous rows. I love finding recipes I’ve never tried in order to use the variety from the rest of the bag. The leftovers of a most delicious leek soup are waiting for lunch. Buen provecho!
Having gone out the night before for cocktails I decided that I wanted to do something more wholesome with my Saturday. Friends in Antigua had told me about an organic farm in the south of the city which had a farmer’s market every weekend. I looked it up online and found the Caoba farm facebook page with the address and all the details. I saw there was a shuttle from the central park but in the end choose to walk as it was only 20 minutes from my house and a beautiful sunny day, as always.
I followed Avenida 5 Sur all the way down until I crossed a small bridge with lots of car parked around it. As soon as you cross over you see the gates to the farm and the first stalls of the market. The first one to catch my eye was the Caoba Farms veggie stall. The vegetables at the stall looked so great and they had lots of speciality veg that I had not yet seen in Guatemala, including daikon radish and chinese cabbage (the main ingredients in kimchi). There were lots of stalls with homemade products, like chili sauces, pickles and preserves, as well as sustainable clothing and homeware such as glasses made from recycled beer bottles (a set of which I have at home). When I had finished looking at all the stalls at the market I decided to take a wander around the farm itself.
The farm is so peaceful and in such a picturesque location that is very hard not to fall under the spell of its charm. The rows of plants against the backdrop of volcanoes make it a wonderful place to while away the hours. I then remembered on the facebook page it also said that they were looking for volunteers and thought that this would be a great place to spend some time so started asking around about volunteering and everyone told me to talk to Jonathon.
Jonathon is easy to spot in his Caoba Farm's shirt and cap and so went over to introduce myself. He was really friendly and explained all about volunteering and how I was welcome to come any day of the week but that on Wednesdays they plant the lettuce seedlings and did special projects on Thursdays. He ended by saying that I would get a bag of veggies for 3 hours work and from seeing all the vegetables on offer this sealed the deal.
On my first day I just rocked up and said hello to Jonathon who was sitting at a table just by the restaurant. As it was a Thursday he asked if I wanted to help him make furniture out of pallets or work in the gardens. As it was my first day I decided to work in the gardens. I was then introduced to Jose who put me to work clearing the weeds from between the lettuce crop. He explained the names of all the different types of lettuce in Spanish and more importantly which ones were the weeds to pull out. This is a never ending task on an organic farm and the 3 hours passed quickly with only a few rows done.
Having finished and with dirt in my finger tips I headed back over to Jonathon who took me over to the sorting and washing shed to pick up my first veg bag. I was not disappointed with all the lettuce, carrots, beetroot and herbs I got. I would highly recommend it to anyone passing through Antigua. Just pop over to the farmer’s market on Saturday and ask for Jonathon.
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