This is the second instalment with Cristela, a real family farmer from Colombia.
ÁD: The land you work has always been part of your family. How come you decided to start farming recently and not before?
C: Well, I’ve always wanted to farm on my land. Since I was a little girl. But the land had always been used towards animal farming. Using it to plant seeds that we could later eat or sell was something I was keen to do. Growing, eating and selling foods that were not contaminated with pesticides was an idea that excited me.
So one day, the animals were taken out of their barns and removed from our farm, then and there it happened! Because it was so fertilised from the animals’ manure I started ploughing immediately without any problems.
ÁD: What did you study in order to do this? I mean a person may have land but if he or she does not know how to plough or make use of the land, it’s different… so how did you learn all of this?
C: By trial and error! By going in with a mattock! Because what I studied… It wasn’t related at all! I studied marine biology and homeopathy. Enjoyment from working the land really kept me going. I’ve taken some courses but that happened when I had already started. Public education instructors gave a course about organic agriculture and I took it.
But you know how it goes with those public lessons. The same thing always happens, at first 20 people attend. The next class only 15 show up. The third time only 10 go and in the end it’s only 3 and the course can’t be finished because of it.
ÁD: What were the first crops you remember having planted?
C: Vegetables. Lettuces, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and then I moved on to rhubarb, pumpkin, quinoa, yacón (a local tuber). I kept doing what I noticed was working. I’ve never really fertilised, I’ve worked with the same manure that the land had at the beginning, and I try to give back with decomposed grass, that eventually becomes fertiliser. But, really, I’ve never used anything else.
Oh! Once I used this hummus. This liquid hummus.
ÁD: What do you mean by liquid ‘hummus’? What is liquid ‘hummus’?
C: With liquid ‘hummus’ I’m referring to the byproduct that comes from vermiculture.
ÁD: So we have the compost pile with worms and the liquid that comes from that is ‘hummus’? The one that smells kind of funny?
C: Yes it’s that liquid but it doesn’t smell funny. It doesn’t smell like anything really. It’s quite good.
ÁD: So going back to your story, after you were successful with vegetables, what did you move onto?
C: Well I got excited seeing that it all worked! So I decided to move on and separate what took a little longer like for example beet, celery, parsley from what was produced faster like lettuce, spinach, radishes, coriander.
I realised I had another section of land left and I started making the grooves for yacón. Because I knew I had to leave it there for 8 months.
ÁD: What is yacón?
C: Yacón is a tuber that works for diabetes, some people say that it cures diabetes, some others say it doesn’t but in my opinion it does work for that. And from the whole yacón plant you can use the stem, the leaf, the root, every part of the plant has a potential use.
ÁD: So why do you plant in the way of a spiral?
C: I had an indigenous friend who came to visit and he made the grooves in the shape of a snail. I noticed and liked it so this how I came to do these shapes in my family farm. It kept away the animals and I believe things grow more vitally when I plant them this way.