Today we visited an organic fruit tree orchard which was started by a man named Miguel Maya around San Pedro and Humilpan, Querétaro, Mexico. He started a land restoration project in the area in the early 1950’s in order to regenerate the landscape and water table. The watershed of Rio Laja that provides water to Queretaro, San Miguel and other areas has been seriously depleted from deep wells and watering from all the farms in the region. The decline of water causes cracking in the earth and therefore allows harmful chemicals such as fluorine and arsenic to deposit into parts of the water table, causing serious health problems for those who drink it. This problem of non-potable water creates the need for filtered water in so many areas of Mexico. However San Miguel and many other regions in Mexico with similar climates are capable of regenerating their water tables through using large and small scale water harvesting eartworks. Since the 50’s, Miguel Maya has been developing and restoring his land in a way that conserves water, rebuilds erosion and regenerates the water table
On his farm, he uses plastic and glass bottles to line the sides of his smaller beds. The bottles all have very small holes in them which slowly leak water overtime into the gardens; he fills these bottles very infrequently, about every 3 weeks. This method conserves water by allowing the plants to get just enough water they need and eliminating over-watering and run-off water that isn’t absorbed by the plants.
Miguel Maya is able to grow a little less than 2,000 fruit trees with swale and basin irrigation. In other words Maya uses contours in the land to harvest rain water to irrigate his trees instead of directly applying ground water. Swales are channels that are dug into the land that prevent run-off and store water, therefore distributing it into the soil below and making the most of every rainstorm. Central Mexico has a dry, arid climate. However it gets spring rains and has a rainy season in the summer when rain occurs daily. It also has many aquifers. However due to poor water management it faces water shortages that get increasingly more serious every year.
Through sustainable land management and restoration practices Miguel Maya is able to grow many fruit trees in this climate where they usually would never survive (fruit trees are usually grown in humid, warm, moist climates) without any ground water.
In order to provide water for the cultivating fruit trees and many other plants on the farm, Miguel Maya dug a pond, in Spanish called a “bordo”, similar to the one in progress on Luke’s land. This water is used for the farm and also water in Miguel Maya’s home.
In addition to the fruit trees, Miguel Maya also has a variety of plants and flowers growing in beds on the farm. The raised beds retain water because of they are surrounded by blocks that help to keep the water from leaking out of the beds. All of the plants grown on Miguel Maya’s farm are organic and are grown with a low environmental impact. Miguel also harnesses the sun’s energy with a solar dehydrator that is used for fruits and other foods.
Up the mountain a bit from the farm, Miguel Maya restored an area of slopping hillside with a series of terraces, berms and a dam. Hundreds of years ago when the conquistadors came to San Pedro Huimilpan area, they deforested the land for construction which caused serious soil erosion and consequently run off. The roots of living trees prevent erosion, but since the land was almost completely deforested, it became more and more degraded over time. To reverse this damage, Miguel has built a series of terraces that prevent erosion and allow the water to slowly seep back into the hillside. Miguel also constructed a rock dam in the middle of the wash that runs in the center of the land which collects all the organic run off that comes down the mountain. Every five to seven years, Miguel gathers this soil to make compost that he then returns to the elevations that have experienced the most erosion.
The terraces are built in such a way that channels the rain water into a series of outlets that then filter through the dam. This dramatically decreases rain water or organic matter run off during any given rain storm. Although the project is not yet completed, there is already evidence of more fertile soil!
About 500 feet from the dam is a natural spring. The landscape is dry and brown at this time of year but the 30 surrounding the spring are lush and blooming.
This water conservation project has taken Miguel Maya over 50 years to build. However, he did this project nearly by himself with the help of a few others. These techniques can signficantly restore so many areas that are suffering from erosion, deforestation and lack of fertility, which in reality is much of the planet. There is not an endless supply of usable water here on earth and this will become increasingly evident in years to come. Miguel Maya work is evidence how effective land restoration can be, and the potential for degraded landscapes. Even a climate that gets less than 20 inches of rain a year can grow food for a community without depleting the water table.!