A Permaculture Farmstay in Ecuador
About us (Parque Bambú)
My name is Piet Sabbe, I am a Belgian citizen living in Ecuador since 1990. In 1995, I bought 15 hectares of degraded land, depleted of topsoil, on the Western slopes of the Andes in the North of the country.
Parque Bambú is located in the valley of the Guallupe River, a small tributary of the main Mira River which flows from the Sierra to the Pacific Ocean.
The original name of the property was Bosque de Paz (Peace Forest), but since Bosque and Paz are often related to graveyards in Ecuador (Bosque de Descanso, Jardín de Paz), I decided to call the property according to what most characterizes it: Bamboo (Bamboo Park – Parque Bambú).
In October 2nd 1995, I planted the first tree. No one had dared to commit such a “rebellious act” in the previous 60 years, because the laws that regulated the land reform in the 1960´s required that all trees had to be cut down and replaced by crops in order to obtain the legal land titles.
As a result of this near-sighted regulation the whole area had been deforested. Once covered with lush humid rainforest the hills are now barren, scarcely covered with stubbly grass. Till today local farmers hate trees – you can´t blame them. To make things worse, farmers set fire to the hills every year.
As a young man, I travelled in the 1970´s to Israel, attracted by the slogan “We make the desert bloom” and hoped to take part in a heartwarming solidarity process to green the Negev wasteland. What I did find was a fraud; the Israelis are systematically harassing the Palestinians and robbing their land.
Their disgust towards the Arabs is built into their educational system, considering them as sub-humans, to the point that this profound brainwashing makes them blind for the cruel repression that their leaders and military impose on the Palestinians. The situation is reminiscent of what happened to their Jewish ancestors in the years of war in Germany. Exit Israel.
Years later I came to Ecuador to work as technical assistant in a Quichua bus coop. From the first day my interest was in the rugged but beautiful landscape of the Andes. Sadly, as result of the fast growing population and the tendency to “develop” even the remotest places in the country, pristine landscapes are destroyed, without any consideration of their intrinsic value or the environmental service they may provide for future generations. This time I was not confronted with a desert but with a landscape that needed help, focusing on a tiny little bit of landscape: my property.
In two decades I managed to convert my 15 ha wasteland at the edge of the village of El Limonal into an oasis of green, containing many different species of trees, vines, bamboo and plots of cropland.
I offered my daughters an education connected with the land, an open space full of life, challenges and discoveries. But my wife didn´t appreciate all this. She had developed an absolute disdain for the frugal simple rural lifestyle. She dreamed of cable TV with flat screen, design furniture on a shiny tiled floor and the whole array of electro-gadgets that a wealthy family is supposed to possess.
She divorced and took the daughters to the capital, where education is supposed to be much more decent.
My passion to take care of the earth had grown much stronger, and with the need of change and transition in mind, I am convinced that my daughters – and so many other young people who left the land for similar and other reasons – will return and will have to learn to live off the land again.
As a child I grew up in a densely populated part of Europe, in a quiet middle class town, at the time of the consumer boom in the fifties.
Cycling the countryside, I saw beautiful landscapes converted into landfills, highways, supermarkets and industrial parks.
The creeks where I used to fish stickleback with my brothers gradually got filled with motor oil, stinky matrasses and broken refrigerators.
This was wrong and I felt that it had to be corrected, but how? I volunteered with organizations that protect the few natural areas that still existed in this dense web of concrete.
My sleepy town got “modern” with the appearance of the first fashion shops, noisy entertainment events and trendy plastic shopping bags.
In a couple of years’ time, all my friends knew more logos of cars and sound systems than the names of trees and plants that used to grow around the town.
And this was just the beginning of our abundance and our alienation.
“About us” is about me and about all those people who have passed through Parque Bambú, as friends, visitors, apprentices, volunteers, researchers and tourists. And most of all, my local assistants who are hard working people. And hopefully one day my daughters.
I invite you to become part of “about us” by planting some trees, by harvesting manioc and mango or by putting your skills and initiative at work in Parque Bambú and the surrounding hills.
In the eighties a couple of old hippies mentioned me permaculture; they described enthusiastically the mandala circle, the herb spiral and the patterns of permaculture. All this surrounded by the scent of patchouli and hash, they were dressed in orange fluttering attires, copied from some enlightened Indian Guru. I dismissed these Flower Power people together with their dreamy and naïve permaculture concept. Though, I did join them in the protests against the Vietnam War and the nuclear installations in Europe.
But soon I got tired of protesting and shouting and felt the need to be constructive instead. I decided to collaborate with a group that prepared small wind turbines made from second hand bicycle parts, in order to be shipped to Ethiopia. After his two months mission, the technical assistant we did send out to Africa came back with a staggering message: “We in Africa use broken down bicycles to assemble new bicycles, not to make wind turbines… so thank you, but you can still send us more bicycles”
Years later, at the time I was planting the first trees on my property Parque Bambú, I got the story about permaculture right by attending a Permaculture Design Course, led by Jefferson Mecham, a friend who was applying some of the permaculture techniques with Indian families in the remote Quichua village of Chitachaka, high up in the Andes.
In the Bamboo Park (Parque Bambú)
For a long time I believed that technology was the way forward in our world, that we had to organize our daily life with the assistance of new techniques, push the green button when the red lamp flashes, that electronic circuits and the linear “if… then” logic should be able to keep processes under control. I worked in the refrigeration business, freezing 50 tons of peas and carrots to minus 30 degrees, a completely artificial techno world. Permaculture helped me see clear how alienated we are from our roots, from nature. Permaculture teaches us to follow nature.
The hippie couple had indeed focused on some picturesque details, however, Permaculture is an endless journey, far beyond herb spirals or sustainability or organic farming or low energy housing, though all these are certainly part of it.
Permaculture aims to re-organize our society in a conscious, thoughtful way, not as the result of a historical development but by selecting elements not only from traditional cultures but also applying knowledge of scientific research. For example: we use mulch as a ground cover not because our ancestors have always been doing so, but because now a detailed explanation can be given how mulch, humidity, micro-organism and fungi enhance the structure of the soil.
We respect trees not because there is a holy Shintu shrine (Japan) or a benevolent spirit (Africa) in the forest, but because we fully understand now how important trees and forests are for the fabric of life. Permaculture is all about observing the natural world, about reflecting on our dependence on fossil fuels, about re-designing our society without this abundance of cheap
energy, and come up with simple, small and slow solutions. “Less is more” and “Small is beautiful”.
I have always been fascinated by landscapes, because they tell you a lot, about their own history, about the history of the people that live in the landscape and how they treat their environment. I climbed mountains and hills, not to plant my personal flag on top but to study the valleys beneath and how people use them or… abuse them.
In the same fashion, a well oriented permaculture project starts with observing the specific characteristics of the location: climate, geography, type of vegetation, human history and the interaction with the environment, soil, the presence of water, steepness of the land, presence of communities or neighbors.
the Structure of the Soil
Any project, business or corporation has to base its activities on four legs, like a chair is sitting on four legs:
1. Be Productive
2. Be Economically Lucrative
3. Be Ecologically Reponsible
4. Be Socially Just
Most businesses and corporations rest only on two legs, avoiding social and ecological responsibility. It is in the nature of capitalism to externalize all costs which are not directly linked to their profit or which are not imposed on them by the government. “Externalities” are defined as consequences of an industrial or commercial activity that affects other parties without being reflected in the price of the goods and services sold.
An example: For many years Alteo Gardanne, a bauxite processing plant in southern France, has been discharging polluting red aluminum sludge into the Mediterranean Sea.
By avoiding the cost of processing the waste product, the companies’ benefit is much higher and the shareholders are happy (and rich).
The virtue of permaculture is exactly to take into account all the aspects of our actions and establish a Permanent Culture of Care for the Earth, Care for its People and Share Surplus.
With these fundamentals in mind, a proper design can be set up. But be realistic; if you have to start from scratch, consider at least five years of hard work before you get your project running on its four legs. It took me much longer than five years, but finally Parque Bambú is running on its four legs and it is satisfying that I have been able to add to the local economy by giving jobs to local farmers, use all kind of services such as transport, the local welder, the seamstress or the occasional catering with the restaurant in the village.
I also share my experience with visiting students and regional NGO´s and give guided tours in the property.
Their writings and interviews, and those of so many others after them, can be found in internet, in bookstores, in specialized magazines, but most of all in the hundreds of places around the world that are applying the principles of permaculture.
You may also find that people use other terms like Regenerative Agriculture or Natural Agriculture.
I do not consider myself as a “master of permaculture” but I did learn a thing or two in the past decades. I will be glad to share my experience in Parque Bambú with you.
of care for the Earth, care for its People
Vetiver, a Perfect Solution for Permaculture.
Watch our video now (spanish version).
Our Vetiver Website (spanish version).
Where we are located in Ecuador (Map of the Bamboo Park)
Parque Bambú | Bamboo Park | Vetiver | Bospas | Bosque de Paz
Parque Bambú Ecuador
Km 108 desde San Lorenzo a Ibarra
El Limonal | Imbabura | Ecuador
Teléfono: +593 (06) 3 016 606