Closing Circles and Emerging Angles + Fanca Produce Plan

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Planet Drum’s new office/volunteer center is a promising three bedroom, two bathroom, large living-dining room apartment on the second floor in the city center that is notably inexpensive due to the ravages of 1998’s earthquake. Only $30 in cash and $30 worth of repairs per month. Field Projects Manager Jeff Goddin and volunteer Laura McKaughan had to tear down the ruined ceiling, a whole side brick wall needed rebuilding from the roof peak down to the ceiling level, the particularly hard-hit middle bedroom was surrealistically missing one wall and two-thirds of the floor. It’s been like repairing bomb damage as new volunteers Kristen Ford and Chris Haaf, Jeff, Judy and myself grapple with some part of it every day. The upper third of the back bedroom wall will begin to be restored starting next week, some windows have to replaced, and the expansive walls need to be degrimed and repainted. The reality of winter rain splashing into open rafters hasn’t been confronted yet. Whatever we eventually do to close the numerous holes will disappoint fruit bats who fly solo overhead in unnerving rapid jerks through the apartment starting shortly after sunset every evening.

We plan to have a continuous group of up to six volunteers staying here through my return next January when the terms of the lease are renegotiated in light of the work that has been accomplished up to that point.

We’ve handed out brochures for self-guided visits to the revegetation park in Maria Auxiliadora barrio that former volunteer Darcie Luce dedicatedly produced on her own upon return to the San Francisco Bay Area. Chris cleared the first half of the park for a remarkably increased number of new visitors who have passed through since we arrived three weeks ago. One morning, Judy, Jeff and I went there with original park crew Marcelo Luque and Nicola Mears, joined by Sloth Club inspiration Anya Light and “Slow Is Beautiful” author Keibo Oiwa with twenty of his Japanese university students. It was reassuring to see that so many algarrobo and fruitillo trees had grown over fifteen feet in less than three years and experimental plantings of trunk-size hobo tree cuttings had thrived. Patricio Tamariz (about to finish his stint as a government agency chief for “civilian life” in magnified efforts for Eco-Bahia), Chris and I accompanied a Japanese documentary crew filming “Our Marvelous Spaceship Planet Earth”. They sweated and puffed toward the finish but were dazzled by bursts of butterflies and unfamiliar shapes of coastal dry tropical forest plants. Since then several people have told while passing on the street of taking walks using Darcie’s brochure to direct them, so The Forest in the Middle of the Ruins park is beginning to achieve its promise as a visited wild urban area. Chris will continue general maintenance until the rainy season (when nothing except planting can be done) and replace some steps recycled from floor beams that are missing from a rear stairway.

Seeds are soaking until next week when they will be placed in growing sacks and become seedlings for the large revegetation project that extends from Kilometer Eight to Bahia. We hope 5-10,000 seedlings of a mixed variety of native trees will be available even if we have to buy some in time for planting in January. I’ve contacted what could be best characterized as a village matriarch from the Los Caras collective farming group up the highway at Kilometer Sixteen to assemble a planting crew. All of the members will have enough tree-planting experience to lead our volunteers.

By far the most portentous developments are with the large-scale Fanca Produce composting project. Fanca barrio residents have separated their organic kitchen wastes for collection and processing in a large nearby facility during the past year under terms of a grant through the British government that was administered jointly by the municipality and Planet Drum. Since the grant period ends in November, this is the appropriate time to shift the project’s continuation from city workers and Planet Drum volunteers to the local residents. Extensive talks with the mayor and consultant Katty Pazmiño assigned to represent the mayor have resulted in approval of our plan to meet with residents to explain the situation and assist in creating a cooperative association for them to administer the composting process. Since organic waste from the main public marketplace is now brought to Fanca Produce where it presently increases the amount of compost by perhaps five times, the new residents’ group can’t lay claim to all of the compost material available. We gained agreement from the city for a large portion of it and the right of the cooperative association to sell part of that to pay their workers for taking over city jobs.

Planet Drum’s five member staff met last week with over sixty representatives of Fanca’s 400 or so families who have been involved in separating wastes that volunteer Kristen Ford had summoned. Jeff explained the situation and we all fielded a few questions. With so much new information — how the project worked in the past, how it was changing, what new products could be made, and what form of business might result — the new prospect was obviously difficult to comprehend all in one sitting. Because most of those assembled hadn’t actually seen the compost-making facility, we marched over to show the twelve existing piles of working waste piles in various stages of completion, an eight cubic meter or so heap of finished compost which I took around in handfuls for people to sniff the rich earthy aroma, and brick beds waiting to be filled with worms and wastes to make an even richer finished product. Some of the wide range of uses proposed besides fertilizing personal yard trees and gardens are: ready to use sacks of compost, seedlings, job training for composters in other barrios and cities, and even animal feed.

Kristen has since notified more residents and teenage members of the Ecology Club and another meeting is planned for next week. We expect fewer people but a more committed group that understands how the existing process works and wants to act as core “stewards” of the new self-administered management association. It’s a genuine leap into a potential future of citizen engagement with many other aspects of the Ecological City process, but we first need to throw highly increased effort into each practical step forward. Our responsibilities toward this end were developed through staff discussion and are as follows.

Planet Drum Foundation’s Management of Fanca Produce Through November 2002 

I. Operational Needs

a) Check amount of sawdust and other supplies and inform city when more need to be brought,

b) Check on need for repairs and request city to make them,

c) Initiate worm bed system and educate municipal workers about maintaining it,

d) Increase participation of residents in separating household wastes and placing organic material where it can be collected,

e) Daily attendance at patio to observe the composting process and interact with city workers as determined by us to be necessary to assure effectiveness, with the understanding that city workers are required to follow recommendations.

II. Development of Community Participation in Future Sustainability

a) Recruit and meet with Fanca community members to attempt to create a founding group for developing a community management association for Fanca Produce, 

b) Discuss and attempt to choose a plan for making Fanca Produce economically self-sufficient, 

c) Attempt to integrate Fanca Produce with other resident groups. 

Planet Drum Foundation staff and volunteers will be present at Fanca Produce at times of day that they determine are appropriate for their work.

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