June 27th 2010, a group of students from Los Altos, California's, Foothill College Anthropology Department, embarked upon an adventure in the small yet fascinating country of Belize.
With the generous help of Mic and Lucy Fleming and their land at Chaa Creek, the Students found themselves with the opportunity to work alongs side Ted and Linda Neff in their study of the agricultural practices of the ancient Maya.
As part of a larger Anthropology field school, the Foothill students were invited to work with the Neff's at Chaa Creek for a 1 week intensive on Maya farming, learning archaeological research methods, and participating in an experimental archaeology project.
In their gratitude for Mic and Lucy Fleming for so graciously welcoming them to work on their land, they have put together a small blog about their experiences.
I don't think I'm alone in my culture that I tend to view the earth as something we walk on, build on and navigate across in our life journey. Rarely do we pause to think about how dynamic and alive the earth, trees, birds, bees and even the dirt and the air we breathe are. The Maya of antiquity famously thought of life in terms of cycles, and spending three days observing the earth take in deceased matter and return it to the material realm I exist in as life again, I too was thinking cyclically. In an organic farm, such as the one we were working at, all sorts of processes practiced, constant compost creation, applying the used cardboard as fertilizer for plants, removing dying leaves from plantain trees and laying them at the base of the tree for soil consumption, and so on. It's hard to imagine the more mechanized farms we deal with in the states utilizing any of these methods. The farmers we worked with seemed to understand how to harness these cycles, their understanding of this dirt must be so intimate, so connected for them. At break times they would often just pluck a pineapple or a watermelon growing in the site, slice it up with a machete, and split it up amongst themselves and, gratefully, us as well. This land is their primary provider, in every sense of the thought. --(Daniel Klear)
When the heat became to much we had a lecture and then spent the afternoon relaxing and swimming in the resort’s incredible pool. I never thought I would have this much fun farming. --(Guy Thompson)
The entire week was very cool from working in the farm in the mornings and relaxing in the pool in the afternoons was the best way to spend the week. I feel like I got a once in a lifetime experience by working at Chaa Creek. --(Edgar Banos
While I was toiling on the farm (imagine that – having to work to eat) a single line from a song scrolled through my head over and over again. The line was, “working and waiting in the hot sun” from Waiting For A Miracle performed by the Jerry Garcia Band. There’s a catchy little intro too and that line really summed up much of my sensations on the farm. In fact, I got a little too much sun one day while digging a pit for testing soil composition and I started to feel a little sick. I’m still recovering from whatever illness presented itself that day. But the song’s title does mention a miracle, which I would argue came in the form of that delicious meal attentively served to us in our most informal attire. And if not the meal, then certainly the time we had to frolic in the pool while slurping fruity drinks delivered to the poolside by the resort’s courteous wait staff. --(Erik Neumann)
Mick, the owner of the resort at Chaa Creek, told me about the logistics he had gone through in getting and setting up solar panels. It looks like it's feasible, at least enough that he went through with it and has them set up at his resort. This makes my hopes to bring solar power to the local clinic that much more realistic. --(Ali Alkhatib)
Chaa Creek is a beautiful, high-end eco-resort in the Cayo district of western Belize. It features thatched roof cabins, restaurant and bar as well as a zen-inspiring falling water swimming pool. An overwhelming feeling of luxury as well as adventurous solidarity consume the visitor upon entering this jungle oasis… [Mic] has stuck to his agricultural roots, however, and still maintains a working organic farm on his property, where most of the vegetable and fruit matter as well as the flowers used within the resort are created.
Upon completion of our three days of labor on the farm we were rewarded with an absolutely outstanding meal, of Garifuna origin, at the fabulous restaurant at Chaa Creek, cooked mostly with ingredients grown at our worksite. They tasted amazing when consumed with the appreciation for the work we'd done over the week. The cycle was complete, we were finally able to reap the benefits of our labor and it was delicious.--(Daniel Klear)
Our farm was at the Chaa Creek resort which is an incredibly beautiful eco-lodge nestled in the hills a few miles away from Xunantunich and San Ignacio. The owner of the lodge, Mic, let us work on the farm and record our activities so we could better understand how many people could be supported by intensive agriculture without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
I did not know exactly what to expect, but I did assume that it would be simple. I always thought farming was a matter of making some holes in the ground, dropping in random seeds and a lot of waiting. I never thought about the planing that goes into deciding which crops to plant on what plot at what time. Unlike the farms I’ve seen driving through the Midwest, which were simply endless fields of wheat or corn, this farm was very dense and used a process known as multi cropping. The days started early to avoid the tropical heat, but the work was great. I learned what mulching is, and how to do it so the plants won’t rot in the rain. I got to hone my machete swinging skills clearing vines, and had deep thoughts while weeding carrot patches. --(Guy Thompson)
we worked on moving compost into the designated bins, learning that compost can get incredibly hot (160 degrees F) and can be prone to igniting into flames if not properly monitored. --(Jonathan Schneider)
In order to dig a mountain, you must first dig a hole. Holes. Holes, holes, and more holes. Redundant? No way. As tedious and grueling the work was at Chaa Creek, I found the whole experience to be a completely rewarding one.
The most interesting part of the farm was the harvesting of the pitaya, commonly known as dragon fruit. This crop was especially peculiar because it grows from a cactus. The cacti take about two weeks to germinate and once it reaches maturity, it will begin to bear flowers. The flowers will then blossom and fall off to reveal a dragon fruit. Dragon fruit rely on external fertilization during the night and the cacti can flower up to six times a year. The meat of the fruit is bright magenta a bear a taste that is similar to a kiwi. --(Andrew Ignacio)
With farming, organization, practicality and multipurposeness is the name of the game. Fields hold more than just one vegetable species and rows of raised beds show lettuce buds staggered in all different stages of life. The dragon fruit cactuses have handmade birdhouses attached to their branches, in order to give life back to species that have had their original habitats destroyed or relocated.
There’s such a harmony with farming, a balance between human work, and nature, especially with the organic farm at Chaa Creek. --(Claire de Louraille)
Aside from learning organic Maya farm practices, working on the farm also seemed to reinforce the importance of food quantities as well as the work that goes into making the food. We were lucky enough to get treated to a delicious traditional Garifuna meal at the Chaa Creek Resort at the end of our workweek. Knowing exactly how much work went into the fresh organic meal we ate definitely made me appreciate it for more than its delicious flavors. --(Anne Garcia)
All the hard work paid off when we had our lunch at Chaa Creek. It was very delicious, and probably the best meal that I have had in Belize. Thank you Mic for letting us do this at your resort, it was a very good experience and taught me a lot about farming. --(Katya Kleschevnikova)
Even though it was hard work and I was definitely in a different world, I have to thank Mick for letting us all relax at the resort for hours after each day. --(Galen Brill)
I took away from my time at Chaa Creek a huge amount of respect for all of the people who are involved in producing the food that we eat, a much better understanding of how much labor it takes to feed a community, as well as immense gratitude for the man who made it all possible, Mic.Mic, the owner of Chaa Creek, allowed us to not only use his farm in order to understand agriculture, but also gave us the opportunity to practice and participate in it first hand. The entire staff at Chaa Creek, and especially Mic were some of the most gracious and generous people that I have ever met. Thank you for everything! Chaa Creek is definitely a place that I will never forget. -- (Caitlin O'Brien)
The organic meal at the resort and canoeing back to town was a nice way to end this farming experience. I am definitely glad our program had included this agricultural aspect for us. --(Anita Song)
After a long day of farming, we got to go to the Cha Creek resort to relax and swim in their pool. It was a wonderful ending to each hard working day. --(Liz Marshall)
Thanks to Mick Flemming, we got to enjoy a couple days of lounging around at the Chaa Creek Resort pool after a long days work :] which was absolutely luxurious and wonderful.
I had a wonderful time at Chaa Creek Farm and I would love to visit again!A big thanks to Mick, who let us run amok all over his property and to Ted and Linda for having us work with them on their project. I had a great time!!-- (Allison Flynn)
Overall I think I learned a lot from working on this farm, it put me not only in harmony with growing food but also with the cycle of nature as a whole, which is something I had a limited perspective of until this week. --(Ryan Sordel)
It was a great learning experience, but it was really hard work! Living in America you tend to forget that actual labor went in to growing/making the food you just drove to the grocery store to buy. The Mayan farm was a great reminder in that sense of just how different our cultures are. --(Jessie Mesirov)