A Week at Abundance Farm (aka The Poverty Workshop)


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Published: March 5th 2007
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Already the women on the bus had given us a reason to raise our eyebrows ever so slightly about our destination. They seemed to chuckle knowingly when we enthusiastically informed them that we were planning to stay and work Pedro and Yasmina’s “finca organica” for a few weeks. The irony of Abundance Farm’s name, moreover, was apparent from the beginning: after a bumpy, hour long ride down a dirt road from Diriamba we arrived at a small unmarked property that looked much like it’s neighbors: a barbed wire fence with a border of cactus, a simple wooden shack, and a few thirsty banana trees that were not yet bearing fruit. We knew we were at the right place though, as we were warmly greeted by a couple of toothless grins and that of a young woman carrying a newborn baby in her arms whom we recognized from the farm’s website as Yasmina.

We offer this commentary for our friends, but especially for fellow travelers who may consider a stay at Finca de la Abundacia. Like we were, they may be interested in visiting this evolving organic family farm in Nicaragua and aspiring intentional community “striving for self-sufficiency;” a simple place where, as its website suggests, “people live in harmony with nature and each other.” There were many comments from travelers that we were able to read once we were there, but it would have been nice to have a visitor’s perspective before arriving….

After dropping our bags in the 4-bed dormitory, we accompanied the entire family for a swim (actually, the daily bath) at the local river and waterfall. Created after a portion of the river had been dammed, the waterfall was nonetheless a beautiful sight to behold. Above was a large, partially-cemented swimming hole about five feet deep, a popular place where we would spend the best part of our days. At this time, our idealism about life at the farm was at its height: who cares about dusty dirt floors and cactus clotheslines if everyday one can bathe in this clean, flowing water….

Like most new arrivals, we were hit by a few surprises on the farm almost immediately: to begin, Abundance Farm is quite small—one acre, including Yasmina’s family’s house. We wondered with a bit of dismay how a family of five, and all their working guests, could consume the majority of its food directly from the land, as we were told. Plenty of food could be cultivated on a plot this size, but with Peter away, and 17-year-old Yasmina holding down Abundance Farm with 2-month-old baby Gloria, no one was working in the fields or garden beds while we were there.

After the river, Yasmina gave me a tour of the farm, which entailed pointing out the recently planted papaya and coconut trees; the sugarcane and yucca stalks in the field; and the practically abandoned beanpoles and garden beds, which were at present bearing only chiltoma, or chili peppers, though tomatoes had evidently been prolific before our arrival. Batata (sweet potato) was also in the ground, yet to mature. Aside from one other bush, whose name Yasmina couldn’t recall, but whose tiny leaves she assured me were edible, the farm consisted of these plants. In other words, we could help ourselves all week long to eggs (which were actually rationed and even hidden from us), yucca (a starchy tuber), chiltoma, batata leaves, and, if we were so inclined, sugar cane. The family would also provide purchased rice and beans. Where was the abundance of food that Pedro had assured me was growing on
orit on floororit on floororit on floor

our homemade bed was prone to collapsing
the farm just a few days earlier in our emails? I had specifically inquired about the availability of fruits and fresh vegetables, since this is primarily what we eat. “Lots of good food on the farm these days,” he wrote, adding only the day before we arrived that we might consider purchasing a few dozen oranges and mandarins and a few watermelons in Diriamba as supplement, for which we would be reimbursed. Was he out of touch with reality or did we have a different concept of “abundance”? Perhaps abundance was meant to suggest an aspiration, or a state of mind. Only in our final correspondence did Peter mention, in a casual way that suggested he would be returning shortly, that he wasn’t actually at the farm.

The main activities on the farm consisted of paid workers building a well, and feeding the chickens and dogs, tasks which Lydia from the UK, having arrived a week before us, was already handling. In addition, she was expressing her artistic side by painting the fences and doors around the farm. Yasmina mostly took care of her baby. We chipped in as we saw fit, mostly by sweeping up dog droppings from
farm viewfarm viewfarm view

here you see the chicken coop and the kitchen attached to the main house
the kitchen floor as we prepared salads that only the other gringa ate with us. It was clear that no one in the family was much of a farmer or particularly interested in pesticide-free cultivation—“Abundance Farm” was evidently Peter’s pet project.

We were additionally taken aback by a most significant and undeniable presence on the farm: 10 skinny, yelping puppies, each of whom spent most of its days tied up around the kitchen area, the farm’s only shaded outdoor space. They were all underfed and constantly thirsty, while we were expected to ration the water we gave them. When they were given food especially, and even water, they fought each other bitterly for access the bowls. They were starved for affection as well, as mostly they were yelled at or given a small kick to the side if they were a nuisance (which of course they were) while Yasmina prepared food. If we felt like we had to negotiate to receive adequate food, why then was a struggling farm feeding ten growing puppies?

Security. Yasmina was a bit obsessed with the notion thieves lurking about, frantically washing every utensil each night before putting them away and retiring, leaving nothing outside for an intruder to snatch. Other women we spoke to in the village assured us that the village of Las Mercedes was very safe and sane, where women need have no fear to walk alone at night. It seemed odd to us that while Yasmina’s two dozen hens and their chicks were kept under lock and key and counted each night to insure that none had been stolen, the neighbors’ animals for the most part ranged freely. Perhaps Yasmina had good reason to fear: It was true that on his previous Abundance Farm, in a more remote location, Peter had been violently assaulted one night, though we never quite understood why…

Given the paucity of fresh organic food available; the lack of any kind of regular work schedule or farm activities; and the fact that not even meals were prepared or eaten collectively with Yasmina or her family (to each his own), combined with Peter’s absence, we felt that the whole advertising of Abundance Farm bordered on a scam. We were paying no small amount (by Nicaraguan standards) for our accommodations and food. As a point of reference, Yasmina’s father worked five days to make about 200
laundrylaundrylaundry

clothes were hung to dry either on the barbed wire fence or the cactus border. I guess we lacked some technique, as many of our clothes now have extra air-conditioning
bags of charcoal, which he spent two days a week selling in Jinotepe. For a week of work, he earned about $55, minus expenses, less than what each of us was paying for our work-stay at AF. While we were there, Yasmina had no less than five paying guests—some paying more for a “private” room, once the four-bed dorm. What was the “abundance” of money being used for, if there was not even enough money to provide guests with more than the bare minimum of food? (Lydia, who spoke very little Spanish, had to content herself with beans, rice, and eggs and nothing else for every meal prior to our arrival.) According to Yasmina, it was used to buy food for the grain-fed chickens, the dogs, and the construction of the well.

Our time at Abundance Farm, however, was certainly not without enjoyment. Once we let go of the expectations that we had brought with us, we just enjoyed getting to observe life in a very rural part of Nicaragua we would otherwise never have visited. We observed how even the smallest children—Yacu included—joyfully participated in the hard work, while also having plenty of free time for playing in the river. We observed how proudly folks demonstrated their competences and accomplishments and welcomed us into their lives after only a few minutes of acquaintance. If we asked for directions, we might be accompanied on a half hour walk. If we struck up a conversation at the river, we might be invited home for a biscuit and a cold glass of water. We realized too how naïve we were to think that village life would surely mean children, unlike their more industrialized counterparts, doing something else with their days besides staring at a screen—even within the poorest shacks, which used plastic tarps as their roofs and look like they were on the verge of collapse, a TV was turned on day and night—a popular leisure activity where the majority of residents are only rudimentarily literate (most villagers cleverly “borrow” energy from the Spanish-owned electric company).

As we look back at our week at Abundance Farm now, and even while we were there, we could see that the experience was teaching us. We definitely appreciated that nothing was taken for granted: food, water, and fuel were all rationed, whereas "abundance" in the US led to careless and costly waste. We
trin and lychatrin and lychatrin and lycha

lycha is the mother of seventeen year old yasmina, who runs the farm while her gringo husband peter is away. lycha lives next door.
also did our best to follow the example of Lydia, who never complained or became sour, even though she was frequently treated like a domestic servant (perhaps it was to her advantage that she couldn’t comprehend what the family was saying to or about her!) And even in this most "remote" of locations was a collection of dharma books for the inquiring mind. For that--thanks Peter.

Additionally, I've carried with me something from my conversations with each of the family members, especially Yasmina. She was sometimes an impetuous and self-centered teenager, at other times a business-minded host; she was aloof, as well as social; deceptive, as well as candid. She spoke openly about her domestic difficulties and questioned me about my relationships with Orit and our daughter Yacu with more curiosity than judgment. While the financial gain from each paying guest seemed to lead Yasmina to objectify gringos as money-pockets, especially those with whom little communication was possible, I believe there was a mutual realization, in our heart-felt and leisurely exchanges, of our shared human desires for love, happiness, acceptance, and the ability to create abundance.



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family housefamily house
family house

this is where leonidas, lycha, 15 year old chilo and 11 year old jose live.
yasmina's houseyasmina's house
yasmina's house

this is where yasmina, her new baby, and peter live
working on the wellworking on the well
working on the well

the main activity on the farm these days
feeding the birdsfeeding the birds
feeding the birds

yasmina purchased these two lovers while we were there--they seem to be popular pets in nicaragua.
eating with the dogseating with the dogs
eating with the dogs

grab a seat wherever you can! no luxuries like tables here. yacu doesnt seem to mind, though.
a delicacy we are tolda delicacy we are told
a delicacy we are told

look what's being served for dinner!this iguana was a victim to the slingshots of jose and his friends.
carrying woodcarrying wood
carrying wood

"okay, I'm getting hungry--can someone start a fire, please!"
preparing charcoalpreparing charcoal
preparing charcoal

the preparation of charcoal is a five day process that begins by laying the wood into a pre-dug pit, as seen here. The pile is then set on fire, covered with green and brown leaves, then covered in a mound of dirt. The smoke escapes through several holes poked around the dirt mound. As the wood burns, the mound shrinks, and must be continually rebuilt.
jose and leonidasjose and leonidas
jose and leonidas

One day we accompanied Leonidas and Jose to Jinotepe to buy food and sell charcoal. Here is the corner we they always work.
el carboneroel carbonero
el carbonero

leonidas has been proudly doing this work for more than 50 years.
the little carbonerathe little carbonera
the little carbonera

yacu wanted to carry the bags of carbon door to door all by herself


13th September 2008

Shithole
Well, you got to live like a Nica. And you actually paid for this "vacation"?? Congrats. Where is Peter now? http://nicaliving.com/node/13170

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