The Casita de las Bucari, a volunteering that was supposed to last two weeks and finally turned into a more than one-month experience. Hours spent in the garden and the kitchen, discovering everyday the principles of permaculture and regenerative agriculture and practicing yoga in the evening… a perfect combo for me!
The Casita de las Bucari
Located in the region of Catamarca in Argentina, about 30 minutes from the capital San Fernando de Catamarca, the Casita is the fruit of labour of two sisters, Luisa and Sylvia Bucari. They bought the estate about 18 years ago and kept on developing it since then, which now makes it a very complete model of permaculture: buildings made in bio-construction, dry toilets, shower with solar energy, flourishing garden, healthy, veggie and fermented food, creation of home-made products (jams, syrups, flours, infusions, etc.), organization of trainings in all of these fields.
The place stretches from a main house (which was already there at the beginning) where Luisa lives and where a room for the volunteers was set up. Throughout the years were built – all in bio-construction – a kitchen, dry toilets, two outdoor showers including one with solar energy and two independent houses, occupied by relatives of Luisa or sometimes rented.
The garden is currently located on a space composed of three terraces and was started two years ago. Another spot was used before, now let in rest and for the growth of fruit trees. The environment is arid here (mountains where only cactus and spine bushes grow) but it’s astonishing to see the results that one can achieve with this kind of agriculture and how fertile and prolific is this garden.
Working in the garden
I arrived at a period of interesting change in the garden, as it was the beginning of autumn. The last summer products were ending (melon, squash, squash flowers, amaranth, basil…); it was now time to prepare the soil and sow winter vegetables: lettuce, rocket, nettle, carrots, turnip, coriander, parsley, artichoke, etc.
Apart from the daily tasks of watering in the morning, harvesting (for our lunch) and collecting the seeds (for example cutting the basil or calendula flowers to dry them and keep them in a bag for the following season), there was a progressive work to renew the plots. It consisted in moving the earth (among other things to remove the stones), covering it with compost, preparing rows to sow the seeds and covering them with hay to protect them from the sun – knowing that this material has the advantage not to prevent the plants from growing through it.
Once the young sprouts out, which was very quick given the sunny and warm climate of the region – with more than 300 days of sun per year – we then had to transplant them in new plots so that they have more space to grow. This technic, which is done little by little everyday, is a good way to spread the growth of the vegetables and of their consumption.
We also planted trees seeds in pots so to make trees grow, which can be sold later on. All these tasks were done according to the biodynamic calendar, which told us when can be sowed which kind of plant – leaf, flower, root or fruit – and which days are more appropriate to transplant or not. This work was even more interesting that I could see the results very quickly!
Les heures passées en cuisine
The kitchen was a central element in life here. Impossible not to like the place if one has a minimum of interest in a healthy and creative food! Everyday we would prepare vegetarian lunches, all more colourful and tastier than ever, always starting with a multicolour salad that we tried to make look even more appetizing than the day before. Then came a main course composed of vegetables cooked in the pan or as a soup, eaten with rice, leguminous… I really had a great time inventing new meals there!
Among others, I learnt how to prepare kimchi – fermented cabbage -, continued to make kefir, and discovered the jugo verde – a delicious detox beverage, which I will present in another post later on -, how to make homemade pasta, raw and vegan chocolates, cook squash in the oven or as a jam…
Several times with the other volunteers, we also cooked food to sell on ferias and so to earn some money. We prepared my excellent recipe of vegan cookies and also sold some “roulés méditerranéens”, a kind of tacos (with the dough also homemade) with vegetables cooked à la provençale, accompanied with some fresh cheese with olives and a vegan cream made out of linseeds, garlic and parsley. It was a successful and very good experience!
We also kept as much as possible the seeds and peels (for example the ones of citrus fruits or pomegranate) of the fruits and vegetables that we cooked. We would let them dry for future plantations, sells or even for our own consumption (like the squash seeds).
Last but not least, one of our greatest pleasures was to learn how to make bread with sourdough, which we prepared with chañar flour (a local fruit from which can be cooked an excellent syrup, plenty of healthy properties and which peel can be dried and then grinded to get flour), giving it a delicate sweet taste and smell… a delight! When we bottled the craft beer – another product that I learnt to produce there -, we would also keep the leftover at the bottom of the tank so to use it in the bread, hence giving it another inimitable taste.
Preparing homemade products
One of the central projects going on was to set up a small shop to exhibit and sell the products that were created there, so I also helped to prepare a lot of products: bottling the chañar syrup and then label it, same with the jams, putting seeds into small bags… there were still a lot of products to pack when I left, but this work shall be done little by little. Still, it was very interesting to see how long it takes to prepare a homemade product, which also helps understanding its value.
During the first days of my stay, I had the occasion to help on a bio-construction work to build a temazcal. It consists of earth, water and hay that we mixed directly with our feet and then progressively added with our hands, everyday about 20 cm more (so to let the time for the earth to dry in between). I won’t have seen this work finished as we then went on other tasks but I’m delighted to have had an insight of this kind of work.
Bilan de l’expérience
It was hard for me to leave the Casita. I felt good as soon as I arrived and found there a rhythm of life that was suited for me and enriched me every single day. It made me want to keep on discovering more about permaculture in all its aspects, for it is much more than just a type of agriculture or building that respect the environment, but a real way of life.
There are many other aspects of our daily life that I could have mentioned – how was prepared the compost, how we produced the craft beer, the numerous recipes that I tried, the amount of squash that were harvested, and still many other things… but this post would be never ending!
I am endlessly thankful to Luisa for her trust, to Martin for his yoga classes, to all the volunteers with who I shared this experience, to the cats and dogs for their loving presence and to the mosquitoes and their incessant bites 😉
It’s now time to move on! Let’s go for a few days in Córdoba to see my couchsurfer friend Juan and then go to Bolivia!
To be continued…