I headed west into the mountains, up and down winding roads covered in flowering Roble de Sabana and Brahman cattle. I soon learned that Verd Energia Permaculture Ecovillage was planted in a remote location for a number of reasons. It was founded on fifteen hectares of land that had been severely degraded from years of grazing livestock. In vast expanses of the country, the jungle had been burned down and knocked over to make room for fodder.
The ecovillage’s mission is to serve as a “communiversity” where travelers can live immersed in permaculture practices and work on building soil, regenerating the land, and gaining a wide range of other sustainable living skills. As an intern, I focused on observing and interacting with the permaculture systems at play. I did a lot of “soil loving” which involved chopping down organic material to build thick layers of mulch in swales that held water and retained nutrients on the steep mountain slopes. I planted turmeric under the dappled shade of young cacao, avocado, and jatropha trees. Every project had a multifaceted purpose. As I learned their functions, I integrated myself into the intentional web of symbiotic relationships formed among people living in the ecovillage and closely to the land.
I felt so at home sharing meals each day with forty new friends, swapping stories about our own areas of expertise. There is a culture of celebrating diversity and sharing knowledge among the group in order to build one other up, developing a solid social network. We were encouraged to add new skills, inspiration, and fresh energy to our bundles in order to carry them with us to the next place, planting the next seed of change in whatever community we ended up in later.
My experience at Verde greatly fed into my desire to feed pure energy back into the land in order to nurture beautiful, well-functioning ecosystems that harmonize human needs and the needs of all other living and non-living components of the landscape. My concept of sustainability expanded to include not only physical components of the land, but also emotional and social aspects. When we realize that we are all sharing one grand energetic system, it starts to click that these are also important components of building strong, resilient communities. I am forever grateful for this season of life spent living close to the land in the jungle. Today, I continue to seek out opportunities to explore other ecovillages and intentional communities. Each one does some things extraordinarily well, and also has its challenges. I am finding that we are all on this journey together, figuring out how to best create the systems that can allow us to thrive as a colorful global community.
Sarah Nordseth is a JMU alum who currently resides in Virginia, dedicating her time and energy to sustainable agriculture and permaculture practices. She seeks to discover how we can best relate to soil and plants with their abundant gifts and capacity to support sustainable communities. You can follow Sarah's adventures on Facebook and Instagram.