Thursday, April 4, 2013

Alternare - A Win for the Monarch Butterflies in Mexico

Sierra Chincua 022213
True change comes from the bottom up. At first change is slow, then grows up and out much like a tree spreading out new branches, swaying with the wind, embracing the sun. The monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, live in Oyamel fir trees, Abies religiosa.  Monarchs cluster in the boughs and around the trunks of Oyamel trees for protection during the cold winter months. Monarch survival depends on Oyamel survival. The local indigenous people who live near the overwintering sites have always depended on the forest for wood for cooking and heating and building their homes. Helping the monarchs survive means looking at these necessities in a new way. Alternare stepped forward to offer this alternative way of living.

When Bob and I first landed in Morelia, we drove to Aporo and stayed two nights at Alternare. We were curious. How could they do this? Alternare is well known and respected throughout the region. It didn't take too long to see why - they care. They care about anyone and everyone who stops by and are eager to show people a new way to thrive, not just survive. Alternare believes in a hands-on approach to training, so they are training the trainers who will then share this information with family members and friends. It's a grassroots effort. They offer a nine month intensive educational commitment where members of the community live on campus during the week and return to their own homes on the weekends. There is no fee. The only price is a deep desire to learn a new way of living. 

Since wood is usually used for basic necessities, Alternare teaches how to make adobe bricks for building homes. Brick homes offer more protection against cold or warm temperatures and last far longer than wood homes. Everyone also learns how to make brick ovens that use less wood.

Alternare shows how to store bricks effectively to accumulate enough for their own building.

They live what they teach. All of Altenare's buildings are made of hand made adobe bricks. Alternare has also developed  waterless composting toilets that are part of all the facilities.  Flush toilets are not common in most homes in the area.

Survival is more than a place to live, however. So Alternare offers agricultural training. Farm crops are grown in rotation to prevent insect problems.  Fruit trees are grown in depressions to gather rainwater more efficiently.

Everyone learns how to use air-layering to start their own cuttings and trees.

Signs are made.

Herbs, onion, and garlic are dried.

Altenare teaches organic gardening, using no chemicals, and uses the same practices in growing their own food.

Because of Alternare's location, the nights are chilly when the cold air sinks off the surrounding mountains. So they use recycled empty wine or other beverage bottles filled with water within their crops to help stabilize temperatures and to keep them from freezing.

How and when to harvest efficiently is another art shared. 

People are encouraged to plant trees and at first to grow them close together. In time alternate trees can be removed for firewood. This reduces the need for people in the communities to cut Oyamel trees.

To reduce the spread of disease, improved methods of raising chickens are used. This includes raising feeders and mixing local soil in concrete for floors.

Sheep and goats keep grasses trimmed. Eventually their dropping are added to the compost for future plantings.

Alternare is also a major tree grower for the area. Here Oyamel firs are started with seeds gathered from the monarch biosphere. During their residency, people in Alternare's training program will learn this process and help maintain the tree nursery.

Trees are moved to new areas of the nursery as they increase in size and are ready for future planting events.

Recently Alternare created a well to store water during the rainy season for later use.

One of Alternare's newest projects is working with the community to create a garden of indigenous medicinal plants. The knowledge of the use of many of these plants is diminishing, and they hope to recover and preserve this valuable asset.

The garden is divided into sections by use such as medicinal, herbs, etc. There are plans for new plants to be added with signage as they are found. Shade coverings are made for those needing more sheltered growing conditions.

This is just a small glimpse of the many good offerings Alternare provides the local community near the monarch butterfly overwintering sites in Mexico. They are creating a stunning new holistic way of life that benefits everyone. We loved our stay there and will return. Did we tell you how outstanding their food was? Every meal was delicious and fresh from the garden. 

When we first started writing about Alternare, we mentioned their nine-month training is free. Their goal is to help everyone learn a successful way of living where they can care for themselves and their loved ones. This is a grass roots educational project, learning from their hands on the ground and sharing their new knowledge with others. Everyone wins, including the monarchs.  But Alternare can't do this alone. Luckily, several good-hearted organizations support their important work. The Monarch Butterfly Fund donations help fund Alternare and research in Mexico that benefit the monarch migration. You can read more about Alternare and other projects funded by the Monarch Butterfly Fund in their recent newsletter.

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