Tag Archives: North Carolina State University

Jumping for Joy at Oaxaca’s Jardin Etnobotanico — Ethnobotanical Garden

North Carolina State University students and faculty jump for joy, a tradition

While I edit and process over 1,500 photos from last weekend’s WARP textile conference in Oaxaca, I thought I’d share with you the last set of photos from the May 2017 study abroad program with North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Sciences from Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden. 

Tuna, the fruit of the nopal cactus, is rich in Vitamin C, makes a delicious drink

The garden was rescued from the hands of developers. In the last century, it was a military horse stable, a shooting range and a garbage dump. The plan was to build a luxury hotel on the site. But, through the efforts of Maestro Francisco Toledo and Alejandro de Avila, and others, the area next to Santo Domingo Church and monastery became the beautiful garden that we know and enjoy today. It opened to the public in 1998.

Cactus trees, over 20 feet tall, offer shade; Santo Domingo backdrop

Our bilingual guide, Georgina Rosas, was exceptionally knowledgeable, explaining that the gardens are divided into the diverse ecosystems that reflect Oaxaca’s desert, mountainous and tropical landscape. One can only enter the garden and explore it through an organized tour.

Guide Georgina Rosas explains botanicals to NCSU student Matt

The English language tours are on Thursday and Saturday mornings, starting at 11:00 a.m.  Tickets are a modest 100 pesos per person — well worth the two-hour walk through the plot. It is off-season and we were lucky.

Reflecting pools and organ cactus fences frame the space

There was our group of sixteen people, plus another four visitors on the public tour. A small gathering in comparison to winters when there can be 30 to 40 people participating.

Flor de Mayo in full bloom hot pink and yellow

It was delightful to be in the garden during the spring blooming season. The Flor de Mayo,  as it is known here in Oaxaca, was resplendent in color. We know it as plumeria rubia or frangipani. Of course, the landscape design students loved seeing it, picked up the dropped petals, and the young women attached them to their hair behind their ears.

300-year-old Biznaga cactus, rare and endangered, an unusual, mature specimen

The tropical section of the Jardin Etnobotanico is a lush oasis filled with palms, fruit trees and a dampness that mimics the climate of Oaxaca’s Pacific coast. Tucked into the far corner of the garden, beyond the plant propagation area, is a two-story glass greenhouse.

A metal bridge at the top of the greenhouse for long views

The greenhouse was designed by Mexican architect Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido. It is a transparent structure with a center staircase that we could climb for a second-story view of the city and adjoining countryside. Georgina says on a clear day you can see the distant village of San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

Looking down through the glass to earth below

We came to find out that Professor Ricardo Hernandez from NCSU is one of the world’s leading experts on greenhouse lighting. He took a special interest in this structure.

Orchids, bromeliads, moss cling to branches, drip in humidity

I think what the garden does best is connect the dots between past and present, and gives us an outlook to conserve the future of our planet. The plants are intimately connected with the indigenous people of this region. We get a perspective for this listening to Georgina.

The Garden is a teaching laboratory for Mexicans and visitors alike.

We hear about agave as a beverage and fiber source. How the leaves are pounded, washed and then the fibers woven into clothing and field bags.

Professor Anne Spafford explains something she sees to student Ricky

We see the stand of corn, growing with squash and beans — all native to Mexico, her gift to the world — and the agricultural system of milpas.  This is the interdependent chemistry exchange between these three plants that give sustenance for the people, and when grown together, nutrients for the soil.

Beneath the walkway, an ancient aqueduct

Sourcing and conserving water has always been a key part of living in Oaxaca. Georgina explains that there was a water capture system and that water came to the city center from San Felipe del Agua in the foothills above the town.

Maize crop, native to Oaxaca, non-GMO, higher fiber and nutrients

When the Jardin Etnobotanico was first conceived of, the space was barren, bare. It needed to be excavated and prepared with raised beds.  In the process, they discovered an ancient water system and well here, as well as a path that led to what we now know as the Pan-American Highway MEX 190.

Cactus flower, another beauty in the Jardin Etnobotanico, nestled among pulque

Today, rainwater is collected in cisterns beneath the patio of the garden as one of the many conservation measures.

Amazing place for reflection and photos

I’d like to personally thank Jardin Etnobotanico founder and curator Alejandro de Avila B. for permission to publish the photos I took in the garden. The space is unique, featuring only Oaxaca plants. It gives us remarkable perspective into the diversity of people and regions in this magnificent Mexican state, and the interdependence of plants to people as source of food and shelter.

This is definitely a space for meditation and contemplation

I also want to thank Professors Ricardo Hernandez and Juliet Sherk for putting their trust in me to organize this study abroad program for North Carolina State University. It was a pleasure to work with them and to know their very talented students.

Nopal cactus flower

This tropical tree produces fluffy seed pods that indigenous people harvested and spun for clothing fiber.

Seed pods emit fluffy tufts

Oaxaca is textiles, culture, history, people and plants. If you want to know all of Oaxaca, please take time out to visit the Jardin Etnobotanico, at the corner of Reforma and Constitucion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NCSU in Oaxaca: Crocodiles, Iguanas, Mangroves at Ventanilla Beach

Rooster in the rain, plastic bag lens protector

It was a rollicking day in the skies over Oaxaca yesterday as I made my way back to Teotitlan del Valle from Puerto Escondido via Mexico City, where Tropical Storm Beatriz was having her way with us.

Sheets of rain cover Aeromar window. What do you see?

Sheets of rain fell as I took off in the little Aeromar turboprop. In Huatulco, the news wasn’t so good as flights were canceled, and one North Carolina State University student who decided to stay a couple of extra days, couldn’t get home as planned.

Iguana, happy on a log.

But, I’d like to back-track. Another highlight of the NCSU study abroad trip to Oaxaca was a visit to the Ventanilla lagoon between Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel, where fresh and salt water mix to support cormorants, crocodiles and iguanas.

Crocodile protecting her nest

The bio-diverse tropical ecosystem is home to white and red mangroves, too.

Under the umbrellas in the rain forest

This is a protected area accessible only by canoe, paddles powered by local guides who volunteer as part of the preservation project of the region.

Let’s take the long view and protect our planet

Our admission fees help support the ecology of the region and the endangered species.

Red mangroves, an endangered specie, Ventanilla Lagoon

We started out by van in a down-pour with no inkling of the storm to come the next days. It was wet, wet, wet and I had to cover my camera lens with a clear plastic bag that I bought from a local food vendor on the beach.

Through the jungle swamp, Ventanilla lagoon, Oaxaca

I think the resulting images give you a sense of the wonder, the tropical humidity, and gauzy landscape shrouded by clouds and rain.

Diving bird drying its wings

By afternoon, the rain cleared. We spent the rest of the day enjoying lunch under the palapa and swimming in a Puerto Angel protected cove. (more about this in another post)

Cicadas hug a tree trunk

First stop en route, fresh coconut juice at roadside stand, Highway 200

We made a stop along the highway to sample fresh coconut, both the milk and the flesh. It was a refreshing break from the heat and gave us a chance to meet some of the local people who make a living harvesting from nearby trees.

Amber, a doctoral student, enjoying fresh coconut milk

Eating fresh coconut with salsa, roadside stand, Pacific Coast Highway 200

An offering of fresh, spicy peanuts — too hot for me!

Anna, Brianna, Kia and Makayla, camaraderie

A marker on the roadside, so we know where we are

Crocodile pond reflections

Professor Ricardo Hernandez and guide talk about preservation, biodiversity

In the lagoon, the families who protect the wildlife explain that they rescue parrots, alligators, crocodiles and monkeys that have been kept in captivity.

David wanted to take this species home, rare color

When the pets get too big and the owners don’t want them anymore, the refuge offers a safe place where the animals and reptiles can be cared for.

Ricky explores the wildlife refuge. These white tail deer were rescued.

Diorama feels real, snap, crackle, pop

David, enjoying the adventure

At the beach, examining the flora, a dreamy gauze

Reptile eggs have a soft, leathery shell. These chicks were just hatched. The reserve has a program to rescue and release.

Baby crocodiles, just hatched

An important message for us all, despite what Agent Orange says

Sea bird takes flight

Endangered sea turtle, National Turtle Center, Mazunte

NCSU, National Turtle Center, Mazunte, Oaxaca

There is also a reforestation project to protect and preserve the mangroves.

 

 

NCSU in Oaxaca: At Tierra del Sol Permaculture Farm

This week I’m traveling with twelve students, three faculty members and a videographer from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science. It’s a study abroad program that I organized for Professors Ricardo Hernandez and Julieta Sherk.

Go Wolfpack! NCSU students and faculty with Tierra del Sol staff

Many students are from rural North Carolina and have never been to Mexico before. They are studying sustainable agriculture, horticulture, nutrition, business, textiles, agribusiness and landscape design. They will become researchers, educators, managers and practitioners.

Making plaster clay from mud, water, straw

Mexico is our learning laboratory for comparing and contrasting the way food is developed, managed, commercialized and distributed.

At Tierra del Sol, alternative building materials include bottles and clay

A highlight of the week was our visit to Tierra del Sol in San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca,  in the Tlacolula Valley. We spent the morning on a tour to see small scale farming, sustainable agriculture, organic farming, respect for the land and the cultural history of the Zapotec people.  We talked about how education is the primary mission of the farm.

Leticia Hernandez Fabian bakes corn cakes in wood-fired adobe oven for us

It is a demonstration model for young children and families who want to keep the traditional methods of growing and fertilizing vegetables that have a 10,000 year old history here.

New cabins for volunteers constructed with bamboo, waddle and daub

Staff work with residents of the adjacent village of San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya who want to learn more about sustainable agriculture/permaculture. They also organize programs in the schools.

Biodiverse pond supports talapia fish and a swimming hole for people

Tierra del Sol has been in existence for about fifteen years, founded by Pablo Ruiz Lavalle. The farm manager is Julio Abimael, who is also a beekeeper.

The organizers are planning an internship program and we discussed the possibility of an exchange program where university students could come to work, study, learn and earn university credit for the experience.

Garlic pesto, fresh from the farm

In addition to eating some yummy, home-baked corn bread that we slathered with garlic pesto made in the farm kitchen, the students had fun making mud plaster and applying it to adobe bricks at the base of the Gaia building, covered with a thatch roof.

We take lunch, squash greens soup with Moises Garcia’s family

Recycling is an essential part of sustainability at Tierra del Sol. Baño seco, the composting toilet, is one feature. Both animal and human waste is used for plant fertilizer. Water is recycled and there is attention to using only what is needed, and then giving it back to the earth.

Carrot crop in the Tierra del Sol garden

We compared large-scale farming methods of agribusiness, complete with chemical fertilizers and irrigation systems, with the small, ten-acre plots of land with non-GMO seeds that indigenous people in Oaxaca depend upon for nutrients.

Overall, it was an excellent day.

Bare feet are the best mixing machine

On the van, ready for the next adventure

Bamboo is a wind break and building material

Professor Ricardo Hernandez reflects on day

Lily pond flower

A long view of Tierra del Sol

Solar panels heat water for personal use.

Our guides at Tierra del Sol

After lunch with Moises Garcia and family–Wolfpack Growl!

NCSU in Oaxaca: Monte Alban Archeological Site

Students and faculty from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science are in Oaxaca for a study abroad course on Sustainability in Emerging Countries.

NCSU students and faculty setting out to explore Oaxaca

Here’s what a few students say about our first day at Monte Alban.

“We went to see Monte Alban first to give us background about Oaxaca and culture we are stepping into.”

Climbing the pyramids for a long view of the archeological site

“People here in Oaxaca take pride in this historic archeological site.”

Copal tree flowering and with seed pods — sap used for ritual incense

“You don’t know what people are talking about until you see the significance of this place.”

A long view of Monte Alban, with Observatory in distance

“It was a good foundation for what we would see and experience.”

Monte Alban is one of those spectacular archeological sites that grasp your attention, teach about the sophistication of Zapotec leadership and demonstrate the astronomical prowess of indigenous people.

Guide Pablo Gonzalez explains development of this major Mesoamerican site

The visit there gave students an opportunity to see native plants and understand the local plant life and landscape.

Pencil cactus becomes tree, with poisonous sap

As we climbed the temples and examined the plant life, saw the glyphs carved into the stone, and understood the ancient systems of water retention and cultivation, we gained a greater insight into the importance of Oaxaca as the source of corn that was first hybridized here almost 10,000 years ago and spread throughout the world.

At the top of the Zapotec world, 1,000 BC to 800 AD

We approached from the north side of the Monte Alban. The site is on a mountain-top between the city and the ancient ceramic making village of Santa Maria Atzompa.

Caretakers take a break in front of “Los Danzantes,” the Dancers, carved stone

The glyphs and carvings tell a story of conquest and dominance over surrounding villages, as well as the glyph language of rectangles and circles. Figures carved upside-down into the stone represented conquered leaders from local villages.

Another view of Los Danzantes

The gold treasures from Tomb 7 are on view at the Santo Domingo Cultural Center next to the church. They were wrought by Mixtecs who occupied Monte Alban in the late classical period.

Stelae carved with circles and rectangles — ancient vocabulary

Students participating are studying agriculture, horticulture, landscape design, business, and nutrition. Each day, they have an intensive discussion with their professors about food sourcing, fertilization, bio-diversity and cultural impact on climate change.

In the clouds at the top of Monte Alban

Zapotec rulers lived high above the agricultural valley below. Humans leveled the mountain where the elite lived. The Spanish named the place Monte Alban. When they arrived the mountain was covered in trees with white blooming flowers.

A videographer with the group will make a documentary about the experience

Students will write a paper and receive three-credit hours toward their degree program. We have one doctoral student with us, too.

North Carolina State University Comes to Oaxaca for Study Abroad

The Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, is sending a group of sixteen people to Oaxaca to study organic agriculture, permaculture, indigenous farming techniques, and methods of converting native plants to dye materials, food and beverage. The group includes students, faculty members and a videographer who will document the week-long program.

They arrive tonight!

Sunset at Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

I’ve organized a full week of activities for them that starts with an understanding of Zapotec history and culture as a foundation for our time together. We will explore the archeological site of Monte Alban with a knowledgable local guide that includes a discussion of social and political organization, food cultivation and sourcing, and farming.

Monte Alban archeological site

We will visit Tierra del Sol in San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, have lunch in the home of a local family who farms the land, visit a mezcal palenque to see how agave is cultivated and made into mezcal, and stop at the home of a Teotitlan del Valle weaver who works only in natural dyes.

Corn was first hybridized in Mexico about 8,000 years ago. Remnants, discovered with DNA testing, were found in the caves at Yagul, about five miles from where I live in the Tlacolula Valley. It is one of the most beautiful sites in the region.

Shucking dried corn kernels for planting in the milpas

Then, we fly to Puerto Escondido in that teeny-weeny airplane run by AeroTucan to visit an organic coffee farm, explore the marine biology of the region and tour the Mexican National Turtle Sanctuary in Mazunte where wildlife preservation takes priority.  We have plans to meet with the local university to learn more about Mexico’s commitment to doing things naturally.

I’ll be writing about the study abroad program this week. I hope you’ll follow us.

Plowing my neighbor’s corn field, a five-hour project with bull power