Demonstration Farm: Modeling Self-Sufficiency

The Demonstration Farm is a living classroom, showcasing over a dozen practical techniques. More than simply telling farmers about sustainable concepts, the Demonstration Farm shows them what works, how it is done, and enables them to envision ways to incorporate these techniques on their own land.

Biofertilizer: This strong fermented liquid can be applied in the same way as chemical fertilizer sprays. Made from a mixture of cow manure, milk, molasses, and yeast, biofertilizer not only provides important nutrients and minerals to growing plants, it also increases microbial activity in the soil. Unlike chemical fertilizers, biofertillizer feeds the soil, so less and less is needed over time.

Bocashi: Through the fermentation process, yeast, molasses, chicken manure, and organic farm wastes are rapidly converted to rich black bocashi, which can be applied as a mulch, incorporated into the soil, or made into a foliar spray. A powerful way to feed the soil while feeding the plants, costing farmers almost nothing.

Chicken coop: Many families in Mexico have chickens who range freely through the streets and farms. By intentionally incorporating them on the farm, chickens serve as free, organic pest control; aerate and mix the soil; produce a rich manure useful in all types of composting; and give eggs each day.

Greenhouse: A simple greenhouse provides a controlled environment for nursing herbs and vegetable seedlings, growing specialty crops like vanilla, and extending the growing season for staple foods such as tomatoes, which cannot grow outside during the rainy months.

Heap composting: The simplest form of composting transforms farm and household waste into rich fertilizer. With a minimum of management required, this is a good starting point for farmers beginning to explore ways to increase sustainability on their farms or in home gardens.

Interplanting: Many crops benefit from growing alongside certain other crops in turn increasing the harvests procured from one area of land. The Demonstration Farm models interplanting in raised herb and vegetable beds, in a terraced coffee-citrus-pongamia system, and in the ancient ‘three sisters’ method of intercropping corn, squash, and beans.

Land management techniques: When the whole farm is treated as an integrated, holistic system, production becomes more effective, efficient, and self-supporting. Mindful design and management techniques such as crop rotation, cover cropping, and intercropping serve as built-in pest control, fertility programs, diverse sources of revenue, animal feed, erosion prevention, and provide many other benefits.

Nursery: A shadehouse nursery provides a dim damp environment perfect for nursing seedlings and rejuvenating weak plants. Supporting its promotion of organic agriculture, HI Mexico currently operates the only organic nursery in the region, supplying organically grown flowers, vegetables, and tree seedlings.

Rainwater catchment and irrigation: PVC gutters on the shelter at the top of the land collect rainwater from the roof and direct it into a storage tank. Underground tubes passively deliver the water to taps around the farm, providing all the water used for irrigation and in the nursery.

Raised bed gardening: Raised beds are used to grow vegetables and medicinal herbs at a greater density in a limited space or above difficult soil. The soil in this area is rocky dense clay, so raised beds serve well. HI Mexico promotes raised beds especially to families as a way to grow healthy vegetables and herbs in home gardens for better nutrition and self-sufficiency.

Terracing: Terraces and berms constructed on the natural contours of the hillside greatly minimize erosion, improve filtration of rainwater, and facilitate long-term cultivation in mountainous areas. The terraces on the HI Mexico Demonstration Farm are interplanted with coffee, citrus trees, and pongamia, a biofuel tree. This demonstrates a method of diversifying the farm and improving the microclimate of the cafetal (coffee plantation), without asking farmers to give up production of their most important crop–coffee.

Vermicomposting: From small vertical systems using recycled tires to larger windrows, composting with worms is a fast and effective way to produce one of the richest forms of organic fertilizer from kitchen and farm wastes.

Every two weeks, HI Mexico hosts a free public workshop for local farmers at the Demonstration Farm. Farmers participating in the workshops receive hands-on training in techniques like building compost systems, terracing and other water-management methods, intercropping, and intensive vegetable production.

Crop diversification is a central concept incorporated throughout the Demonstration Farm. In just the past three decades, most traditional family farms have been converted to chemical-based monoculture producing corn or coffee. Reintroducing crop diversity, along with the best practices from agricultural traditions around the globe, gives farmers greater economic security, better control over their own production choices, and builds a stronger, more resilient natural ecosystem.