We spent two months volunteering at Eco Caminhos. Experience the vistas, lessons, and joys of life on the farm through this photo tour.
The Eco Caminhos Experience
We woke up at 6am, took in the glorious view of the valley, made breakfast, and rushed to get the kids booted up and ready for the opening meeting at 7am. During the day we worked hard, sometimes in the rain, sometimes under a brutal sun. This might not sound like a vacation to you, but we found the experience gratifying both physically and spiritually. The kids were engaged and inspired by the farm as well.
We enjoyed the opportunities to learn, the magnificent new Eco Lodge, and the comradery with the other volunteers. The kids enjoyed participating in the work, and getting to hang out with the “big kids” (the college age volunteers).
Hopefully, this post will give you a flavor of this formative and beautiful experience.
One of my favorite things about our stay at Eco Caminhos farm was the views. Rain or shine. Clear or misty. The vistas were always sublime. Views like this made it easy to wake up at 6am for the start of the work day.
We were the first guests to stay in the newly constructed Eco Lodge. It was spacious and beautiful. Sustainable and comfortable.
The large windows invited in the sunshine while the thick cob walls retained the warmth deep into the cold night.
Liuan’s favorite thing at the farm was the steady stream of fresh produce. Not only did we get a large box of herbs, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, and eggs, but we could go out whenever we wanted and harvest what we needed.
Liuan and I (and sometimes the kids) worked as volunteers. We worked planting and harvesting.
Agroforestry looks to the natural order of the forest as a template for growing crops. The key is diversity of species, each giving and taking
according to their kind and minding the various stratums of forest growth. The result is better water retention, healthier soil, and a system that balances itself without the need for external inputs like fertilizer and pesticides.
Eco Caminhos sells CSA subscriptions to the local community. Friday is “basket” day where the crates are loaded up with freshly harvested produce for the customers.
One of my first jobs was shoveling cow pies
from the fields and hauling them up the side of the mountain. Manure is used for the agroforestry as a fertilizer, and less intuitively, as an additive to the cob mix used on the bioconstruction to mitigate cracking.
Even the chicken coop and the new tool shed were built sustainably. This was my hands-on introduction to bioconstruction: the use of natural, local, and recycled materials. Sadly, I’ll be leaving while it’s in this unfinshed state.
The Eco Lodge is the most ambitious bioconstruction project on the farm. The walls are made from a cob mix and slathered with a finish coat that includes cow manure. There was a lot of attention to detail regarding the aesthetics, comfort, functionality and enironmental sustainability of its construction and continued use. In the lower left, you can see the solar water boiler that, on sunny days, works without electricity.
Here is a bucket of the finish coat, lovingly referred to as “shit mix”. It includes soil from the property, sand, cow manure, and coloring to give it a uniform earthen hue.
The kids were often involved in learning activities such as growing their own garden and building their own model bioconstructed house. Here is one kid’s model smartly perched on this scenic overlook.
Our kids were fascinated and entertained by all aspects of the farm. They often got to participate in the work. They fed the animals, collected eggs, harvested vegetables, and even helped lay stones for the foundation of the new tool shed.
We learned how to intimidate these intimidating creatures to let us pass when we had to share the road. Fortunately, none of them called our bluff!
We learned to appreciate all kinds of weather. The rain means less irrigation (and more water for the humans) and better health for the agroforestry system. The cold drizzle didn’t detract in the least bit the beauty of the place.
On Wednesdays, Liuan and I worked to earn income. I work for my old company
while Liuan continues her freelance writing gigs. I’ve never looked up from my screen to a more inviting view!
We invited all the volunteers to a “make your own pizza party” featuring toppings from the farm.
The farm staff took the volunteers on tourist outings. The “Dragon’s Head” hike was both grueling and rewarding.
The volunteers were an eclectic group
including travelers of all ages and lifestyles, employees, and apprentices that Bart (the owner) knew from his time running an orphanage in Rio de Janeiro. One of my other favorite aspects of the farm, besides the views, was the community.
This is a photo I took at the gate of our Eco Lodge at 5:30 in the morning on one of our last days at the farm. Oliver and I were catching the 5:55 bus to go to Rio de Janeiro and pick up a rental car in order to move forward on our grand adventure. We were both thrilled to move on and sad to say goodbye to all our new friends. We will reminisce about Eco Caminhos for a long time to come.