Water from the Sun

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It’s Day 17 of our crowdfunding campaign “Our Quest for Water” and my eyes are sore. Budoy, one of our farm dogs, is beside me watching my tears while chomping on cherry tomatoes and papaya wondering why I’m not dirty and fetching water. I asked Budoy, “what do you say when you see three holes on the ground?” He just barked. The answer: Well, well, well!

I wish it’s as simple as depositing our humanure in our waterless composting toilet.  But it took us a year to plan a crowdfunding campaign for a solar powered deep well pump system.  After observing the wet and dry season for two years and doing other interventions such as gray water recycling, rainwater harvesting, digging a shallow well, swales and a mini dam, we know we need a deeper well powered by the sun to pump groundwater during the dry spell.

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Our dry fields

Crowdfunding is not easy. A realization comes to mind inspired by the Moneyless Man – “We live in a culture that values belongings more than belonging… Our culture needs to radically change. Which way it goes depends on what we give our precious lives to, and what we support.” To follow his thread, there are two things being crowdfunded in two different platforms. One has $649,199 pledged towards it with a goal of $100,000 with 39 days to go.  The other has $2,351 pledged towards it with a goal of $13,121 with 28 days to go.

One is for a phone app that locks and unlocks your doors wherever you are (that is if you have a home).  This is truly convenient and innovative.

The other is for a solar powered deep well pump for a small permaculture farm to thrive, a farm run by women who are investing in nature and giving back to its community. With

We get inspiration from our plants that despite the lack of water, are blooming and thriving like this young santol (cotton fruit) tree.

We get inspiration from our plants that despite the lack of water, are blooming and thriving like this young santol (cotton fruit) tree.

access to water it needs, it can be a farm that is productive the whole year round and showcase the potent of the sun as energy source. It can be a farm where people of all ages can come during summer to learn to build natural homes, a farm that can be self-reliant and can have a potential to share its surplus.  It can be a farm and a community that can have access to water in the event of drought and a disaster. It can be a farm and an alternative school that aspires to share and learn with others on how to address our needs that doesn’t cost us the earth.

This water from the sun does not cost $100,000 to become a reality, only another $10,770.

So why do I have teary eyes Budoy? Because I realize that this campaign is not just about the water and the well. This is about people and the future we want to build. We now know that our friends, families and whoever they can reach to spread the word will help us dig that well. We continue to have support for the campaign and we’ve gained a lot of new friends and have found many like-minded people and groups around the world. So let’s sleep and rest our weary eyes Budoy .

P.S. Making a pledge is easy and you can do it here.

Inspiring Us Back

Last year was great for us in terms of our exposure to the worldwide web.  We got inspirational feedbacks, insights and messages of support from all over. According to WordPress, our blogsite was viewed 4,300 times in 2014, viewers coming from 80 countries in all.  Most visitors came from the Philippines of course but the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Singapore, Germany, Bangladesh and other countries were not far behind.  Some of our posts were reblogged in other sites including the World Organic News (their site is currently being updated), Toemail and Idealistic Rebel’s Daily View of Favorites.  We were also featured in some blogs like in Bahay Campina and Travel Dive Connect.

We now have almost 7,000 hits and 28 blog followers.  Our Facebook Community Page has reached almost 600 “Likes.” And these first few weeks of 2015, our blogsite has more than 500 new views already.  Our listing in the Worldwide Permaculture Network is getting a lot of “Likes” as well.

Here are some of the feedbacks we got from our viewers and followers:

“Congrats. I’m amazed about what you did in a short time.  We also have future plans to develop a permaculture farm in our property in Polilio Island (Quezon Province, Philippines).  It’s a very remote site so still need to learn a lot to be self-sustainable.  Thank you for your information and keep writing about it!” -Pascal and Marigien Bos-Manlugon (Belgium)

“Congratulations on your successful SRI trial.  I have worked with the SRI team at Cornell since 1999 and now help the company Lotus Foods in California connect with SRI farmers to market rice in the US.  I just wanted to let you know that red and black rice are the healthiest rice, healthier even than brown rice.  Pigmented rice [varieties] have very high antioxidant levels.  I started a bibliography on research related to red and black rice. It’s my prediction that in the future, people will return to eating healthier rice. -Olivia (California, USA)

Aside from inquiries we received, we also got some messages of support since we started the project:

“I just want to say thank you for creating a sustainable way of life model and sharing it with the world through the internet. More power to you!” -Eric (Quezon City, Philippines)

“This is just a short message to let you know how inspired and enthused we are watching you (via your website) developing your wonderful project.  We intend to emulate your endeavour and just as you were before you got started, we have ZERO skills in building and being self-sufficient.  Please pray for us that we may gather the courage and start living the life of our dreams.” -Enver and Lerma (Ireland/Philippines)

“I just saw your site and read the articles and think you guys are doing great!  Your humanure toilet especially made me smile.  I have my own humanure toilet but acceptance is still low (just me), everyone else is a fecophobe at this point.  Anyways, I wish you guys all the best.” -Rommel (Mindanao, Philippines)

And here are some of the messages from those who visited us and volunteered in the farm last year:

“Thank you so much for sharing your bit of paradise with me.  Thank you for the generosity of your time in speaking of your experience but also listening and giving guidance as I contemplate on how to follow in your footsteps.” -Maria (New York City, USA/Batangas, Philippines)

“Visiting your haven of wonders made me think and realize a lot of things. Thank you for your selfless efforts in sharing your vision with us. My short stay made me feel very healthy and gave me peace of mind and tranquility. I will come back to build with you again. The SRI insights are pushing me to convince my family to adopt the method. I wish you all the best.” – Clyde (Hungduan, Ifugao Province, Philippines)

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Clyde and Maria

“I came to visit with a certain expectation of what to see.  I can say that my expectations have been surpassed!  What you are doing here is not just amazing, it’s inspirational.” -Alex (United Kingdom)

“Thank you for welcoming us into your home.  I’ve learned so much about sustainable living.  I’m inspired by your passion and dedication.  I’ve never felt so connected to the earth as I did when we planted rice and cleaned ourselves off in the river.  I’m going to take what I’ve learned and apply it to my life back in the US.” -Ai (San Francisco, California, USA)

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Ai

“I’m very impressed by your visions, dedication and tenacity in not only pursuing your dreams but creating one that is fluid, flexible and that will grow with you literally over time.  Your bravery in leaving behind a former lifestyle is not to be underestimated, and your inspiration to prove that the Philippiines can truly be a sovereign, self-sustaining land for our people is revolutionary in a daily, concrete and tangible way.  As a city girl, comfortable with cars, concrete, traffic and consumer goods, caring for the earth as it cares for us is not something I practice, but now hope to integrate into my urban existence somehow when I return to the US.” -Kristen (San Francisco, California, USA)

“The stories and experiences you’ve shared about The Pitak Project opened my eyes and made me imagine a place like this of my own, somewhere I can live simply and peacefully.  I hope someday, every farmer would replicate the system that you do here, I’m sure no one will get hungry.” -Mariz (Benguet, Philippines)

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Mariz and Kristen

“May The Pitak Project enlighten a lot of people into realizing that self-sustainability is just rght under our feet.” -Cha (Quezon City, Philippines)

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Cha

“You have a significant adobe brick upon the foundation of my house of dreams! I find words to be somewhat inadequate to enunciate and define the golden moments you have shared with me.  The whole experience at the farm, including those preceding the meeting, has bound me to thee.  May our organic advocacy be further strengthened over time, and this shall never be the last visit.” -Jesi (Negros Occidental, Philippines)

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Jesi

Because of our exposure, we were also invited in some speaking engagements to talk about our project in different provinces of the country, including Occidental Mindoro, Bicol, Nueva Ecija, Batanes, La Union, Ilocos Norte and Baguio City.

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Kalikasan (Environment) Youth Leaders’ Congress in Baguio City, organized by the Philippine Information Agency Region 1 and Cordillera Administrative Region. Photo courtesy of Cristina Arzadon.

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Climate Change Advocacy Campaign Media Forum in Currimao, Ilocos Norte organized by the Philippine Information Agency Region 1. Photo courtesy of Joanne Namnama Parrocha Dilim.

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Basic Environment and Tourism Course in Sorsogon, Bicol Province organized by the Blue Water Consultancy.

We are grateful for all the support we are getting. It feels good that we inspire people from all over despite our limitations and struggles. This in return inspires us to strive better in what we do to build a better world. How shall we live? We hope The Pitak Project gives a real and viable answer.#

What we’ve been up to (Part 1)

It’s been a while since our last blog and maybe a lot of you are wondering why we haven’t posted anything.  One reason is that work is always wanting at the farm – it’s true, nature’s work is never done.  And besides, our site is a dead spot for any internet service.

First news: We are growing.  Ranie, a 14-year old kid from Baguio City joined us in the summer of last year.  He’s a son of a very close friend whose family is struggling financially.  Since his father died, the family struggled to make ends meet.  Last year, we invited Ranie to spend the summer vacation with us in our farm.  Because he grew up in a city, it was a big change for him but he adapted quickly. He enjoyed staying in the farm doing what kids do like climbing trees, trekking and swimming in the river.  He also enjoyed helping us out in some farm work.  He specifically loved taking care of the animals especially the chickens and the dogs. Before that summer ended, he asked his mother’s consent if he could stay with us and continue his studies in the nearby public school.  He got his wish.  And now, he’s a full-fledged free range child who’s connected to the earth and nature.

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Since we started, we had a lot of volunteers and visitors from all over who were eager to learn and know more about The Pitak Poject. They came and helped us build, plant, harvest, cook and do the dishes.  We were overwhelmed that our blog audience, supporters and believers still continue to increase.

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Also part of our growing family are the animals.  We now have a handful of chickens, a pair of native pigs, a goat and some ducks.  And farm dogs too.

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Early this year, we were visited by some friends from the media.  We were featured in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on January 22, “Eco-friendly Earth House Rises in La Union Village.”.Rappler, a social news network, also featured our very own Cye Reyes with a quote on empowered love last Valentine’s Day.

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Here’s her full quote: “Our love for the natural environment should be reflected on the way we treat and value its beauty and grandeur. Nurture it like how a mother nurtures her child, with care, kindness and compassion. Cherish it like how you cherish your loved ones, with respect, thoughtfulness and gratitude. Care for it like how you care for yourself, with dignity, importance and appreciation. Give nature unconditional love and it will give it back in return.”  See the Rappler feature here.

We were also visited by the ABS-CBN Regional Network Group from Baguio City and featured our waterless composting toilet in their news show TV Patrol Northern Luzon.

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And last March 13, our Pitak/Mud House was featured in GMA News TV’s Motorcycle Diaries ni Jay Taruc.  Although it was just a short feature, we along with the community members organized a full bayanihan, a Filipino tradition where neighbours help each other like in planting, harvesting and building houses.  While the women cooked local delicacies for lunch, the men prepared the materials for the demonstration on mixing and applying mud to the walls.  Everybody participated in the demonstration, even the kids.  We all had a blast during the shoot. Watch it here.

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We were also featured in several blogs.  One such feature was by our friend Roda Novenario through her blogsite Travel Dive Connect.  Check out what she wrote about us here.

And the most important update we are thrilled to announce is that we already have a certified permaculture designer.  Carol Galvez got certified last February in Kho Phangan, Thailand under the instructions of Richard Perkins of Ridgedale Permaculture (Sweden).  We are thankful for our friends and relatives who contributed for her course fee, airfare and some pocket money.  Since her certification in the Permaculture Design Course (PDC), she has been busy designing and planning for our site.

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It Feels Good Naturally

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We choose to build naturally because of its low carbon footprint and sustainability.  We use natural materials like clay, river rocks, wood, bamboo, rice straw and carabao dung. Natural building is inexpensive, healthy, environment-friendly and the materials are readily available.  As much as we can, we minimize the use of industrially produced materials like cement and steel.

For our first build, we used the wattle and daub technique.  A wattle is a panel made of woven wooden or bamboo strips daubed with the mud mixture.   It’s a technique usually used for non-load bearing interior walls, but can also be used for exterior walls especially those built in regions that need no insulation from cold exterior temperatures like the tropics.  It is thick enough to insulate the inside of the structure from extreme high temperatures but thin, light and safe enough for earthquakes.  The wattles are then daubed with a mixture of clay, sand, straw and water.

The great thing about our project site is that the materials we need to build are locally available.  We have the creek for rocks, gravel and sand.     We use rice straw given to us by neighbors.  We have a bamboo forest with a particular species locally called “bolo,” which is good for making walls and  frames.  For posts, we use the bamboo called “bayog,” which we buy cheap from a nearby seller.  This kind of bamboo is good for building so we started planting for our future needs.  For the thatched roofing, we have neighbors who sell cogon grass, one of the traditional roofing materials used here in the Philippines.  And we get our supply of clay soil within the property.

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Last December, we started gathering the materials we needed for our first build – a tool shed with a small sleeping area for our friend Danny, situated in a shaded place because it gets really hot here during summer.  In January, we started the foundation, the posts and roofing frame.  We had a hard time with the foundation specifically on deciding if we’d be using cement for mortar.  We finally went for it to test how it bears with the amount of rain we get during the rainy season.  Our neighbor Zaldy who has experience in building traditional Filipino bamboo huts, helped us put up the posts and make the frames.

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We then prepared the cogon grass roofing using the “bolo” bamboo as frames and strips of young “bayog” bamboo for tying.

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When we were finished with the wattles and had all the other materials for the mud walls, we called on our neighbors to help in the daubing of the walls.  We were overwhelmed by the support of the community including some of the local officials.

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We mixed the mud with our bare feet.  Everybody enjoyed doing it especially the kids!

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The daubing part was a bit tricky for us at first.  But when we got the hang of it, it came naturally and it was a blast!

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Since we started the tool shed, friends and relatives have visited and helped in the build.

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It is still an unfinished job, but we have the whole summer to do it… come and join us!

*This is just our first build, if you have any suggestions on how we can do the foundation of our next building project without using cement as mortar with consideration on the amount of rain we get, please let us know.#

(Photos by Cye Reyes and Carol Galvez)

Cob Workshop

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Cob is a mixture of clay soil, sand, straw and water.  It is a way of building houses and other structures, a building technique used for centuries all over the world.   Its wide use eventually died down because of the emergence of modern building materials such as concrete and steel.  But it was revived in the 80s as a result of having alternative building materials that are environment-friendly, inexpensive, healthy and readily available.

It was in the late 90s when we were introduced to natural building, when our close friends Jonilyn and Zeli Strugar built their cob house in La Trinidad, Benguet, Cordillera Region, Northern Philippines.  We were amazed then but at the same time reluctant with the idea because we were used to the conventional way of building.  But after consuming bottles and bottles of their home-brewed schnaps and wine through the years, we were finally convinced.  We did a lot of research and found out that there’s a growing international community of natural builders who are making a political statement  against the conventional industrial building practices, which is extractive, destructive and expensive.  As activists, this made us decide that natural building would be a perfect way for us to make a political action as part of our choice to have a sustainable living.

When we decided to build our own cob house, the Strugar couple along with their two lovely daughters, invited us to their place for a cob building workshop.  After reading so much materials on natural building specifically cob, it was a great opportunity for us to have a hands on experience in making cob walls.

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We learned a lot and we had so much fun doing it.  It was truly an enriching experience.  It made us more confident in building our own cob house.

If you want to know more about the Strugar family and their story, visit http://www.greenarchiadvoc.org/?p=416

(Photos by Cye Reyes and Carol Galvez)

Building the Kalapaw

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Last October, after the rainy season, we assessed the project site and we chose a spot to be the site for the main living area (Zone 1).  This is the boundary of the rice field and the forested hill.

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We cleared some of the vegetation and gathered materials to build the kalapaw for temporary shelter.  A kalapaw is a small hut used by farmers as their temporary shelter whenever they’re in the fields.  The species of bamboo we have, locally called bolo, is good for making walls. We got some really big ones (bayog) from our neighbors, to use as the main posts for the kalapaw.  We’ve already started planting this kind of bamboo for future use.

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We started building the kalapaw first week of December.  We called on our friend Danny who’s an all-around carpenter, to help us build.  We also hired some locals, Allan, Zaldy and Noli, to help us.

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We finished building the kalapaw in two weeks.  It has a small sleeping area, a semi-outdoor kitchen and dining area.

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We also built a small outhouse with a waterless composting toilet and an outdoor shower area.  We only use sawdust (kusot), rice hull (ipa) and some weeds to “flush.”  And we plan to harvest the humanure after some time to be processed and used as fertilizer.  Our waterless toilet became famous in the community, and every now and then some neighbors visit just to see it.  They’re so amazed with it, they want to replicate it, because water is hard to access in some parts of the community.  Our supply of sawdust and rice hull are all given to us by our neighbors.

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This is our shower area made of bolo.  We get our water from the community water service, tapped from a mountain spring.  We will soon establish a rainwater harvesting system for our other water needs like irrigation.

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We made our own filtering system for our graywater coming from the shower area, kitchen sink and the outdoor wash area.  We used river rocks, gravel and pebbles to filter the water. The soap residues and other impurities settle at the bottom.  We make sure we use natural or mild soap.  The filtered water drains to a pond where we’ll put assorted water plants for further filtering.  We’ll make a third pond where we’ll put some tilapias.  We covered the filtering system with lots of mulch like sawdust, rice straw, rice hull, bamboo scraps and dried twigs.  The mulch will eventually turn into rich compost, by then we’ll be able to plant on it.

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(Photos by Cye Reyes)