Coming from a country where 90% of its food is imported and the agriculture industry is almost non-existent (although there’s a growing movement now!), working in a farm always seemed like the most far-off thing I could do growing up. The hard conditions, the heat of the sun, getting your hands dirty “just to see plants grow” sounded a little mundane and the idea of it felt disconnected from my technologically advanced city back in Singapore.
(Of course, my attitudes towards these things changed during my time in the army; the physicality of hard work is one of my favorite feelings now)
In Peru, however, my first choice for my internship placement was with Eco-Huella (EH), a farm based in Calca. On the first day, Jason and I met up with siblings Julio and Jessica, who would be our bosses for the next 3 months. Though the daily activities of farming were very much a part of Eco-Huella, we also did other things: learning about local specialized plants that cleaned chromium and lead from the river, building greenhouses for higher altitude communities to expand their possible agriculture & food options, learning about different methods of farming & creating composts (e.g. EH uses Bokatchi/Bokashi, a Japanese method, to create their compost), hosting other local initiatives (e.g. Las Verdes from Lima) that came over to cross-share information about sustainability in Peru, welcoming short-term volunteers/students who learnt about the farm’s sustainability model or helped with building it’s walls. Recently even, we were very glad to collaborate with Jessica to evaluate EH’s model of sustainability by drawing up maps and taking stock of the farming equipment we have, to ensure that their resources are used with sustainability in mind, and to keep track of the plants’ growth.
Initially, all these activities seem minute. They are, if you fail to consider the people behind them, and their stories. The Nina siblings believe that sustainability is important, and they are part of Andean Alliance (a US organization that promotes collaboration between farmers and the government to promote their livelihoods), as well as the growing movement against climate change. They also believe that the sharing of ideas is important, and in that endeavour, they are very open about receiving other and providing their own inputs. I was surprised during the first few days of work when Jessi mentioned learning about ‘vertical agriculture’, a common method of growing food in land-scarce Singapore, and how that innovative enterprise is the sort of spirit that EH is trying to build up; with that conversation, I knew that Eco-Huella was the place for me.
But let’s pull back for a moment. How did I end up in farming? Wasn’t I (excuse my pigeonholing) not a farming person? Well, it all started with how Eco-Huella was described to me (as well as Jason’s infectious passion for physical work): EH was a place where they were fighting for social change, against climate change and were a group of very passionate farmers. It was clear from how the instructors mentioned them that the people of EH had a thirst for adventure (and experimenting, which is why I sometimes reference the farm as a laboratory), and a pursuit for change based on collaboration and hard work. While I guess you could find people with these attributes anywhere if you look hard enough, there’s something about unfamiliarity that brings people together in unique ways because unfamiliarity demands initiative and trial & error. As Julio once said: “There are no problems, only opportunities”, and that spirit of courage and innovation is the driving factor for the farm (and our daily ventures under the heat of Calca’s weather).
In my journey, I hope to learn that we are both connected to our food sources and detached in our awareness of them in ways profound and intimate enough that the seriousness of the issues posed by climate change and pollution are both urgent and invisible to us. And while the rest of the world has much area for improvement, I’m hopeful that it’s better off with the minds and hearts behind the people in Eco-Huella.