Sustainability in the Andes | #4

One of the main features of the ranch is that it is completely ecological. And I mean completely. Even though it is a half an hour walk down to the town (and an hour’s walk back up), we have to carry down any plastic wrappers we’ve brought down with us before we can throw them away. Any burnable waste is used in our stone-fire oven to heat our dinner at night. Food during the day is heated on solar ovens and stoves, giant silver parabolas that reflect light so exactly into the center that they can boil a kettle in less than a minute. We have a water storage container that collects run-off from the mountain. It is connected to a series of solar panels that provide us hot water. And the run-off from our showers and dish-washing runs underground past some lilies that chemically purify the water until it is clean again, emerging into a stream that quenches the cows, from whom we get our milk and butter. So the ranch is not only ecological, it’s pretty self-sustainable, too. We host a lot of villagers and student groups during my stay, because everybody wants to learn how to be more environmentally friendly.

This is particularly important in the Highlands, as the Andeans experience the beginnings of the industrial world and continue to deal with climate change. Plastic is becoming an increasing problem. It is given out in markets and it comes as packaging of foods that were once straight off the farm. In my town, they have developed a recycling system that includes composting bins, but it still requires a lot of public marketing to get people to use it mindfully. Sustainable farming is growing in importance, too–something that wasn’t a problem before the demand from the US pushed farmers to start growing strawberries, whose pesticides are so toxic that they prevent any other crop from growing in the soil afterward. On top of it all, the ice from the mountains is melting, leaving people wondering what will happen when there’s no more water, and no more traditional medicine.

I feel proud to be able to stay in this place that serves as a model for fellow townspeople as they search for ways to adapt to these new modes of life, and do their part against climate change. Frankly, it’s more than we in the US do, and we have far more resources.

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