The 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.
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.
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.
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.