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Dec 6, 2018

Getting towards the end of another year together

Dear friends and donors

We’re getting towards the end of another year together, and with your support we’ve succeeded in changing a lot of lives in our Young EcoLeaders program. And as you know, our teaching methods are all about helping the students have first-hand experiences with nature so they can learn to love it and then to care for it. We’ve discovered that once we have their attention, it’s easy to get them interested in the science. But if we start with the science we often lose them before they are out of the door.    

Highlights of this past quarter include forest walks and swimming in waterfall as well as the discovery of the similarities between animal life in Brazil and Australia! If this sounds like a holiday camp, let me explain how this fits into our science program. Iracambi volunteer Craig visited the local schools and told the students about the similarities and differences between the fauna of Brazil and Australia – two countries which, millions of years ago belonged to the same land mass. The students learned that in Australia there are more than one species of kangaroo, including one that climbs trees. And then Craig told them that there’s an animal in Brazil that has a pouch to carry its young, just like in Australia.

After learning this, here’s what Lais had to say.  “I’m never going to let anyone cut the forest behind my house because now I know that there are animals there that have a pouch just like a kangaroo and I’m not going to let them disappear.”

Another mini project that we did was with a group of special students. We’ve been working with them for some time helping them get in touch with nature and showing them that even though they live in a small town, they can still have access to nature and fresh air.  

So what did we do? We planted some fruit trees on the sidewalk outside the school – guava and pitanga (we call it Brazilian cherry) as well as flowers and medicinal plants. And here’s what Gabriel, aged seven, had to say. “I often walk along here and I never imagined we could actually plant trees! But now when I come along here with my mom, I’m going to tell her it was me who planted this pitanga tree and when it fruits I’m going to bring my little brother and we’re going to eat the fruit.”

So you see that everything we do in this program has a kind of magic because it inspires the kids and they go off and change the lives of others. It was the same with the kids who won the competition for the school that could collect the largest number of used batteries. First prize was a visit to the Iracambi forests.

It's hard to tell you how we felt when the winning group came to Iracambi. We had arranged a full day for them, including a little exercise in leadership. We sent them off in pairs to explore the campus and the trails, after pointing out the importance of following the rules about where they could and couldn’t go. After which they guided their teachers round the trails and the teachers were blown away to see the magic and natural curiosity of children discovering a new world. And you can imagine their happiness the first time the kids waded into the river and played in the pure clean water that the forest helps to protect.  

So this is all about getting the students in touch with nature first hand. When you feel safe and see for yourself how beautiful it is, then you learn to love it.  And when you love something, you look after it. So we’re immensely grateful to you, dear donors, for your support in opening up new worlds to our children!

So here is our report, and it comes with a big thank you to all of you who’ve been and continue to be part of this this year and we wish you a wonderful holiday season with lots of fun! Let’s see if we can reach even more students next year!

With love,

Marina and the rainforest kids

PS: We just checked out the numbers of students who’ve been part of our programs this year and it comes to over a THOUSAND! Thank you, thank you – look what we’re doing together!      

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Dec 6, 2018

OUT OF THE STARTING GATE - TIME TO PLANT!

Dear Atlantic Forest Champions,

It’s raining like crazy in the rainforest and that’s why we’ve been working overtime this quarter!

By mid October it was already time to start buying our organic fertilizer. It was easy to get the lime, but organic fertilizer from chicken houses was another story! Apart from sending the truck along the wrong road (because we usually get around by motorbike) we stayed up late figuring out the right road and then we had to put it all into sacks - which was a bit of a nightmare, especially since it smells really, really bad. But, if you grit your teeth and keep smiling, things work out, don’t they?

We paid fifty visits to prospective farms, and chose thirty, based on interest and need. And the seven hundred fence posts donated by the local water and sanitation company were distributed to thirteen farmers who needed to fence off their springs.

After doing the soil analyses we learned that all the soils on these properties are degraded and not easily infiltrated. We applied lime to correct the acidity in the soil, and the fertilizer from the chicken houses which is rich in nitrogen, lime, phosphorus and magnesium - all essential elements for good plant growth. This organic material is essential to improve the structure of the soil, its capacity to retain water, and to help the proliferation of micro-organisms and worms. We used around half a kilo of chicken fertilizer for each tree, and different quantities of lime depending on the soil analysis.  

And this weekend we finished taking water samples, really interested in finding out the results. But we’re pretty sure the water quality is bad and we’ve already planned how to fix it!

PLANTING

Even in the pouring rain the planting doesn’t stop - lots of learning from one another, story telling, laughter, and like all country folk in this state, lots of coffee and cake at the end of the day. As for our volunteer coordinator Lisa - she even fell into a (shallow) well!

In the farms where the fencing has been done and the soil and water analyses we moved onto the next stage of the project with the help of Marcos, Vanderson and Gabriel, who helped getting ready for planting. Luiz and I delivered the seedlings and then it was time to move ahead.  

As part of our outreach program we managed to get twelve schoolkids to help outm and together we planted five hundred seedlings on Antonio’s farm. And of course had coffee and cake to celebrate.... Later we visited a different school and recruited another team of twelve who joined us after school to plant trees to protect water resources in the town. And this week we signed up a group of seventeen from another school to add weight to our team!  

First we give a quick practical lesson about our forest biome - some of the students don’t even know they live in the Atlantic Forest! - talk about the importance of water and the droughts of 2014/15, explain what is the water catchment area and why it’s important to reforest it. And we’ve been happily surprised by the energy of these kids. They always show up, climb up steep hillsides to plant trees and don’t seem to get discouraged. They’re real warriors! (We’re thinking of taking them on a hike up Graminha Mountain as a surprise - but don’t tell them!)

So we’re really happy and grateful, because, as well as helping families that have been really short of water, and families that wanted to reforest in order to avoid future water shortages, we’re also helping schoolchildren learn to love nature. We’re sure that whatever they do in life they’ll be environmentalists. And it’s great for the kids and the farmers to get together - they all learn a lot. Which is an added bonus, and something we never expected.  

So we’ve managed to finish platning on half the properties, and we plan to finish them all by the end of the month so as to give the seedlings the best possible chance during the rainy season which goes on till the end of March/April. And we’d like to send a big THANK YOU to each one of you for your help, because without you we wouldn’t have this project. And together we’re planting trees, restoring the forest and inspiring the next generation. Thank you, thank you! You are the real angels of the forest.

With much love,

Arielle, Luiz, schoolchildren of Limeira, Belisario and Ervália, local farmers and, of course, Mother Nature. (The family is growing, right?)

Links:

Nov 14, 2018

Agroecology going gangbusters!

The Iracambi Agorecology polyculture is evolving, by leaps and bounds, and we can’t wait to tell you about it! It started as a model project to demonstrate to local farmers the benefits of producing organic crops in an agroforestry system. We’re now doing three things: producing seeds for green manure, raising organic fruit and vegetables, and making natural cosmetics out of native medicinals. We want to demonstrate to our family farming neighbors that this system saves money through minimum use of chemical fertilizers and maximum use of organic pesticides and herbicides. We want to show that organic crops are good for the soil, taste great, and are good for the consumers. Although there isn’t much of a market for organic produce in the rural areas, there is a demand in the local towns, and farmers can get a better price for organic produce – which of course is a great attraction! Once our polyculture is in full production – and now that the rains have come you can practically see everything growing! – we’ll be giving our first workshops, sharing and learning with local farmers and students. Our first one is scheduled for early December and we’re being overwhelmed with candidates! So here’s a quick rundown of how we put it together. We started by plowing up the land and applying calcium to correct our acid forest soils. The great thing is that we won’t have to do this again because there’ll be enough organic matter from the leguminous trees that we’ve planted. We’ve planted 250 native forest trees to attract fauna, provide seeds, and provide inputs for making natural cosmetics: creams, soaps and shampoos. As you can see in the picture of one of the saplings, we’re using recycled margarine pots to protect the trees from one of our great plagues – leaf cutting ants! These trees will also recycle nutrients, retain humidity in the soils and protect them from erosion. Intercropped with the trees we planted beans and maize as well as green manure crops. We also planted a type of local potato which is much in demand and provides a good income for family farmers. So thank you so much, dear donors, for supporting this project. Between us we’re creating a model that will help family farmers restore their soils, grow, eat and market healthy organic produce, raise their incomes, diversify their outputs, and adopt a sustainable model of farming: good for the producers, good for the consumers and good for the ecosystem.

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