Friday, April 20, 2012

Down On The Farm

During my internship here in Yunnan I have been able to experience a truly different sort of lifestyle. I live in a tiny slow going village of about 38 households, I use squat toilets (which are actually awesome) then I  use the gas from my poo-poo to cook my food (which is also awesome) We grow our own veggies and raise pigs and chickens. It's back to the basics and its great.

Well a few weeks ago, after a local village boy brought over a bag of fish to our house that he, his father and grandfather caught in the lake that morning, he taught us how to gut and clean the fish and in exchange we would come to his families field the next morning and lend a hand. It's corn planting season and getting the fields ready to plant is no small task. It takes a long time and a lot of people. In the good spirit of community many of the neighbors come to help out in each others fields in exchange for help when it comes time to prep their own field.

That first morning there was about 8-10 of us at any giving time. Brandon and myself spend most of the day standing next to a huge mound of horse manure mixed/composted with old corn stocks and pine needles.

I've mentioned in the past what a huge problem horse manure is in the area. The horse guide tourism includes some 4-5000 horses, thats a lot of manure, and most of it just sits on the road to dry up or winds up in the creeks and flows into the lake (in the last decade the lake has gone from quality level 2 down to level 3, about a decade ago was when the first horse corrals sprang up in the area... eh, a little math problem for y'all to think aboot) We try like hell to get people to use the horse manure in their Biogas Digesters (almost every household in the area has one, but very few people actually use it) But one way of dealing with at least some of the poo is using it as fertilizer in the fields.

... Oh yeah, So we stood next to this huge pile of poo and waited for the old ladies to walk over with large wicker baskets strapped to their backs, and we fill the basket and they'd haul it over the the fields and dump it out. I also did my share of spreading the manure equally throughout the field, and threw nitrogen fertilizer and lye over the manure before the ox-driven plough came and buried it all. I did get an amazingly fun 2 minutes of leading the ox through the fields, but I couldn't get the bugger to keep a straight line, so I was demoted to spreading poo again. Dang it.

Then we would spread plastic sheets over the rows to help retain soil moisture. We asked what they do with the plastic after harvesting the corn, and they said they would burn it like anything else <SIGH>

That was the end of the first day. The next time we came to help a week after we had a Canadian CouchSurfing friend come along to help. He had spend months previously in South East Asia bumming around and also doing plenty of farming through WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The night before we decided to camp on the top of a mountain and hike down in the morning just before an exhausting day of farming, so yeah, we were ready tired and our back hurt from the hard mountain top, Then it was time to start working...

We spend most of that day hauling water and pouring cups into the holes where corn kernels would be buried. Then hoeing up dirt and covering up the kernels. Pretty simple, but lots of bending and lifting, Murder on your lower back.

It was all very fulfilling work. The villagers were very happy to have the extra help, not to mention extremely surprised to have foreigners volunteers to get their hands dirty. The same way that living out here has changed my perspective on many things, it is nice to know that we might be changing the locals perspective on things as well, such as a Yankies willings to live in such simple conditions and work hard in a field (not what they see in the movies) Each day they would make us a delicious lunch and dinner, and give us beer and invite us to come back anytime to hang out. They were all very fantastic people.

Ends up other members of the extended family heard about the new volunteers so they were quick to "reserve" our labour for the next week when they were planning on tending their fields. Our boss eventually told the village we couldn't keep helping out because we had our intern work that needed to get done as well. But I am very happy to have done it, and I hope I get the chance again before I leave. In my Geography classes I have learned so damn much about farming without so much as picking up a hoe or seeing an ox. This put things in a totally different light.

Sunrise on the top of Horse Saddle Mountain over looking Lijiang


Taking a break

Taking a nap after lunch

Me and Chen Laoshi hauling the nitrogen over to the fields

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