UNORCAC Organic Nursery and Honey Farm in Cotacachi
My son Scott, his girlfriend Holly and a friend named Luce went with Gary and me to visit the UNORCAC nursery and Ethnobotanical Gardens. Scott is a landscape designer/water gardener/ecologist/nature farmer with a strong interest in learning indigenous ways of farming. Gary and I are hoping he will make Cotacachi his home and help us with our green development, Santuario Tuctara.
To reach the nursery, drive toward the village of Quiroga past the entrance to the gated community of San Miguel and take the next dirt road to the right. Follow it back through the countryside until you come to the nursery on the left. The ethno-botanical garden is just before the nursery and on the right side of the road.
Our guide for the tour was Kenji, a Peace Corps volunteer who has been living in Cotacachi for several years and will bring his Peace Corps term to an end May 1 of this year. Kenji is a very informative and entertaining guide as he led us through the nursery and gardens for an extensive tour.
Bees, Worms and Cows Interact in the Cycle of Life and Death
When we arrived at the nursery, a calf was being harassed by 3 or 4 scruffy puppies until the calf kicked at them. Then they wisely stopped their yapping and left it alone. The calf’s mother grazed with a few bovine companions in the tall grass by the beehives and lemon grove.
At the entrance are rows of brick worm beds, abandoned and now filled with plastic bottles and trash. The story is that the worm beds was doing well until it became difficult to find food for the worms so the indigenous volunteers let them die out. Too bad this valuable organic resource is no longer available because it is a goldmine of rich, readily-available nutrients for the gardens. And an important part of the garden’s cycle of good health is broken with the worms’ demise.
A Garden Bursting with Green Power
The plants are in neat rows in brick-lined beds. These plants are babaco, a fruit related to the papaya, but not as sweet.
Scott with an ornamental purple cabbage.
Matico is a disinfectant plant, shown in the picture in 2 sizes, all planted in the same size plastic bags.
Gearing Up for More Tourism
The property is being improved for tours and a cuy house will be constructed. A tour costs $4 for foreign visitors and $2 for nationals. Tours are operated by Runtipari, the indigenous travel agency in Otavalo and Metropolitan Touring Company, who bring busloads of visitors to the site.
How Sweet It Is
Honey extraction machine
There is already a honey house where organic honey, bee pollen and propolis are processed and sold.
Ernesto with new beehive trays.
Pollen is good mixed with granola or eat a spoonful one-half hour before breakfast. Not the greatest tasting and kind of dry in the mouth, but healthy! Propolis is good for a cough or sore throat. The nursery processes about 2000 liters of honey a year and sells to two large clients in Quito and Guayaquil and also sell locally.
Organic Plants are Looking for a Home
The plant program is three years old. Everything growing in the gardens is organic.
Plants are given away at no initial cost with the agreement that 2-3 plants will be returned to the garden when the plant you purchase has matured and gone to seed. In this way, healthy organic plants make their way into the surrounding neighborhoods and the idea of ‘eating organic’ spreads.
Kenji says that the hardest part of the program is maintenance of the plants once they are in the gardens of their new owners. Upon receiving their organic plants, some people spray them with chemical fertilizers because it’s so easy and already ingrained in local behavior.
Seeds are also sold and medicinal plants are given to schools and communities. These are usually started from seed and take about eight weeks to germinate.
The UNORCAC nursery and gardens is offering all of us a great gift–the chance to easily change our lifestyle from one of pre-packaged foods that are mostly dead when we eat them and usually laced with harmful pesticides, herbicides and preservatives. With little difficulty we can switch to vibrant, green, living foods, high in nutrients and abundantly available to us just a short distance from Cotacachi. Plus, we get the chance to give the green back when our plants mature, so we automatically become an integral part of the green revolution.
See a later blog post about the Ethnobotanical Garden and the valuable medicinal and native plants that thrive there in organic splendor.