The Materials Economy — Alan Wright of SosteNica

“The materials economy” – that’s the name economists give to our system of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal.  We all participate in this linear economy most of the time.

But on our last day together in Nagarote, the Cornell/SosteNica collaborative exemplified a different idea.  On that day we brought to fruition a simple example of a better way of doing things.

A few days earlier, our “landscape team” had identified a valuable resource on the farm of Mario and Francisca Perez going to waste – their dirty bath water.  Mario had positioned his shower stall on the edge of a small hill, and for 10 years had let the family’s soapy shower water pour out a hole and down the hill.

Our agriculture experts said “Let’s capture that sudsy water and use it for some purpose.”  They designed a “banana circle” complete with ornamentals, ground cover, nitrogen fixation, compost, and of course, those sweet potassium rich bananas and plantains that are so good for us, and tolerant of phosphates in soap.

On our last working day together, we all gathered at Mario’s farm.  Some labored on to complete their composting toilet (yet another example of capturing and repurposing a wasted resource) while the rest of us turned to the banana circle.  Imagine a giant bagel, with a deep hole in the center, filled with compostable organic matter.  All around the hole is the bagel of excavated earth, enriched with composted chicken and cow manure – enough to raise the acid pH of the soil from a near toxic 5 to a perfectly neutral 7.

A four-inch pipe in a trench now delivers the shower water to the circle, directing the water to every plant in the bagel.  It took several days to dig this project, and at dusk that final day, when Nicaragua’s broiling tropical sun had almost set, we jumped in and planted the plantains and many of their companion plants.

It was a fitting conclusion to our two weeks in Nicaragua.  Together with Mario’s family and our supportive Nicaraguan staff, we converted a waste product into a vital, life giving resource.  In the process, we increased one small portion of the earth’s ability to support the community of life.  Helping to heal life on the planet…. one banana circle at a time!  It was a good two weeks.

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