CREAR

Students at CREARThe Regional Center for the Study of Rural Alternatives (CREAR), lies tucked away in the mountainous community of Rio Limpio, along the Dominican border with Haiti.

CREAR is a small technical school created to teach young people and farmers about organic gardening and biodynamic agriculture.  For years this demonstration farm has served the community as a source of information and innovation.

CREAR has had a big impact on the lives of the young people that study there. High school students spend their last two years of study at CREAR to learn about the theory and practice of agricultural development. Upon completion of their studies, these students receive a technical certificate that they can use to gain employment as a field technician or an extension agent.

Double Digging

Areas 1 and 2 are dedicated to the intensive production of organic vegetables. The production model is largely based on John Jeavons’ classic book on raised bed gardening.

The establishment of raised beds first requires the gardener to double-dig the soil. First, the gardener measures the size of the bed. Beds should be no wider that 1.5 meters to facilitate planting and weeding; they can be as long as the site permits. As seen in the photo, the first 8 to 12 inches of topsoil are removed and placed in a pile at the end of the garden bed. The area beneath the topsoil is then loosened with a pick or a shovel, hence the term “double-dig”. After loosening the bottom layer of soil, the gardener digs the next section of earth and places the first 8-12 inches of topsoil from this section on top of the previous section. If available, plentiful amounts of organic matter should be added to the bed.

Garden Beds
After double-digging the raised beds, the soil should be leveled. A freshly prepared bed can be seen in the left-hand side of this photo. The raised bed improves soil aeration, water infiltration, and root development. It should never be stepped on or compacted, as loose, well-tilled soil is the secret to high yields.

CREAR uses its raised beds to cultivate a number of species: onions, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, parsley, beets, and tomatoes, to name a few. Mixing a variety of species in the same bed has a number of advantages. Short cycle crops like lettuce and parsley can be mixed with long cycle crops like cabbage and tomatoes. When the parsley is harvested, space is created for the cabbage and tomatoes. Tomatoes repel different insect pests, and a mixed bed reduces the economic risks of disease epidemics and fluctuating market prices.

Compost Pile

In Rio Limpio, slash and burn agriculture makes soils highly susceptible to erosion. Fragile soils made soil management and conservation a priority for the founding members of CREAR. Terraces were constructed throughout the farm, especially in Area 1 and those areas dedicated to coffee production.

Recycling organic matter has been the key to maintaining soil fertility in Areas 1 and 2. This is done through organic composts and fermented fertilizers. Fermented fertilizers are made by mixing milk, molasses, and manure. These ingredients are mixed and fermented for a month, after which they can be applied to the crop.

Coffee Crop

Maintaining soil fertility on steep slopes requires perennial crops and a forest cover. At CREAR, the solution to slash and burn has been organic coffee. The most successful of all CREAR’s interventions, organic coffee production has been adopted by many farmers in the area.

Their attraction to organic coffee has been economic: market prices for organic coffee are double those of regular coffee. This is a market incentive with ecological benefits. Farmers who grow organic coffee must maintain a forest cover to do so, and pesticides are banned from a certified organic farm.

Cassava

Cassava was a staple crop of the Taino Indians, the original inhabitants of Hispaniola. Today it remains an important staple of the Dominican population. CREAR maintains this area to cultivate traditional crops. Sweet potatoes and corn are other traditional crops cultivated here. Barriers of nitrogen fixing legumes have been planted for soil conservation and forage production.

Area 3 is dedicated to forage production and animal husbandry. These pigs are an important source of manure for the compost. They can be fed with kitchen scraps and other organic wastes around the farm. CREAR also maintains chickens, and is in the process of acquiring a milk cow.

Pigs are an ideal compliment to any sustainable farm. They grow quickly and are not demanding in their dietary requirements. Each sow can have as many as 10 piglets in a single litter. A well designed permaculture will graze pigs in an orchard or agroforestry enclosure for weed control and to make use of rotting fruit. However, pigs must be carefully controlled as they are easily infected with pathogens from human and animal feces (which they will eat).

Comfrey

CREAR uses a number of species for forage production in Area 3. Calliandra, a leguminous shrub, has been planted extensively and grows prolifically. A native of Central America, Calliandra has proven to be a pernicious weed in the island geography of the Dominican Republic. This is a humbling reminder that all native possibilities should be exhausted before importing exotics.

Until recently, comfrey was widely used and accepted as an excellent forage crop. High yielding and nutritious, this plant has been used throughout the world for forage and human consumption. Research suggests that high levels of comfrey consumption can be carcinogenic, which has caused some debate about the future of this plant in the farm system. As this debate continues, it is safe to assume that including very minimal quantities of comfrey in the farm system is a low risk way of diversifying the forage system. Carcinogenic properties have been documented at high levels of consumption, much beyond what is normally consumed.

Read more about Comfrey in the Alternative Field Crops Manual.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *