Question from Chris:
I am not a beginner gardner but I am definitely not at your level yet. I am on a mission to gain as much knowledge as possible regarding organic gardening, I am seeking an internship of sorts in Panama to work on a new sustainable community called the Kalu Yala (Kaluyala.com). I feel I have a good chance of winning this competition as my video has got a lot of positive feedback. If I win I would get a 25,000 dollar grant to start my first organic farm and 5 acres to work on. The soil is excellent and I am excited. Do you know of any farms or organic gardens in the area that I should visit?
Answer from Pat:
Thanks so much for writing. First, I want to encourage you in your desire to get an internship in Panama on a new sustainable community.
A glance at the site indicates that this community may be early in its development, may offer great learning and service opportunities, and may be an exciting adventure as well as one of lasting value. When and if you arrive there, you will doubtless have opportunities to learn a great deal about the area and the work required of you to make your 5 acres into a productive farm or garden while growing plants adapted to the climate in Panama and recycling back into the land all the organic waste products from the animals you raise and the plants that you grow.
I’m sorry I do not know of other organic farms in Panama, but once you arrive there I would suppose you will have the opportunity to meet other gardeners and learn from them the rhythm of farming and gardening there, what crops to grow, and when to plant and harvest. Every climate offers its advantages and drawbacks, but timing is all-important. The best way to learn these things is to talk to long-time organic farmers in the area. If there are none then you will have to rely on books and scholarship to know what to do when. In the 1940′s, my mother purchased and then ran an organic farm mainly by reading “Rodale’s Organic Farming and Gardening Magazine” and also a current, multi-volume encyclopedia of farming. Then she would have us all do exactly what that magazine (which was very good in those days) and also the encyclopedia said to do. She also wrote lists of tasks and then crossed them out as we accomplished these items. Another way she learned was from the County Agent, which was the name in those days of the Farm Advisor. I doubt you will have anyone like that in Panama, but it is important to listen to experts whenever you can and to learn from them.
When we had our farm we were living in a cold-winter climate. You will be in a tropical one and tropical gardening offers totally different and new challenges. In Africa several years ago I flew over a large area of small individually farmed and owned “strip farms” Each one was about an acre in size. These were hugely productive, but this one area (near Lake Victoria) had a nearly ideal growing climate with ample year-round rain. Torrential rains can ruin crops and rot seeds and roots, just as longtime drought can kill crops also. Dealing with insect and animal pests and plant diseases organically in Panama may also present challenges and be quite different from anything you have faced prior.
You say the soil is good and that is excellent news, but your task as an organic gardener will be to put back into the ground at the end of each season and before the next season, whatever nutrients your plants subtracted from the soil. In this way you can eventually leave it even better than you found it. You also have a chance to learn the economics and time management of farming. I wish you good fortune in all these endeavors.
With good wishes for your success and happiness in this project.
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