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is a 23 year old political science graduate of Principia College, He is joining ten other students on the CELL middle east abroad led by Professor Janessa Gans Wilder

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bustan Qaraaqa!

I wish we spent more time at as a full abroad group at Bustan Qaraaqa. This excellent permaculture farm is nestled in a valley on the outskirts of Beit Sahour and embodies many of my favorite characteristics. The farm also operates as a guest house, but the times we ended up staying there we never payed. Travelers from around the world visit here, intent on learning permaculture strategies from Tom, the gregarious farmer/ inkeeper/ professor who keeps this place humming. We visited on a Thursday afternoon and didn't end up leaving until early Friday morning.

A long tour of the premises with Tom revealed more than meets the eye. To the casual viewer, the farm looks almost lackadaisical, mostly native plants and trees planted in the wadi at varying distances from each other, piles of empty beer and wine bottles along the path to the composting toilet, and cats everywhere. Through Tom's eyes however, I see projects! Here a contiguous canopy of forest cover, creating shade and enriching the farmland for the next generation of plants to grow, there a bottle-walled greenhouse/ shower room/ kitchen/laundry, and the cats, a family of strays much like the wayward travelers who come for a short visit and find themselves beguiled by the wonder that is Bustan Qaraaqa.

This colorful and smell-free composting toilet was a pleasure to use!
The compost toilets were some of the nicest I've seen, clean and not smelly in the slightest. Tom uses the “humanure” to plant trees and other shade bearing nitrogen fixers, but mentioned that he would be willing to use the humus for growing foods as well. “Compost toilets make me feel like an alchemist” Tom said, “taking the most base of materials and transmuting it into black gold, the freshest, richest soil I have ever seen!” I agree completely. It is time for us to stop this open chain of consumption of resources and production of waste and close that loop. Permaculture states that “Waste is energy in the wrong place” and this is no exception for human waste. The composting process produces incredible amounts of heat, (up to 80 degrees centigrade!) which kills all the human diseases and bacterias, rendering the soil completely inert and ready to produce excellent crops.

Other projects in the works included a pedal powered washing machine, sauna cave, aquaculture gardening, and some involved local tree plantings for West Bank bedouin families. The project is funded completely by donations and grants and does an immense amount of good in the area. To learn more or donate, visit BustanQaraaqa.org.

Volunteers are welcomed throughout the week, to take part in any of the multitudinous projects that the farm undertakes. We spent a Saturday demolishing some old concrete brick walls and digging out the area wherein the new bottle-walled greenhouse will be built. It was tiring work digging out the clay about 2 feet deep for the entire interior of the greenhouse. Though exhausting, it was rewarding work, especially seeing the excited look on Tom's face at the progress being made; Tom has been looking forward to this project for several years now so the groundbreaking was certainly a big step.

We continued to hang out with Tom and the Bustan crew for the rest of our time in Palestine getting into all sorts of mischief. Some even came down to help us South of Hebron with our biogas digester project which is the subject of my upcoming post entitled “The Alchemists”.

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