Way back in 2011 I had a chance to visit an ecovillage called Huehuecoyotl near Tepoztlán, Mexico. I stayed with Toña Osher who showed me her garden and generously taught me many things about food, sustainability, and politics.
Toña lives high on the mountain surrounded by spectacular views. She uses discarded items and plant scraps to build terraces and increase her arable land. Nothing goes to waste.
She’s also an artist, working in paint, textile, video, and performance, so her home/guesthouse is a fanciful structure covered with images and bright colours.
From her patio to her terraces she grows chiles, wild spinach, anise, chives, nopal, chilacayote, chayote, comfrey, coffee trees, wild oregano, banana, geraniums, corn, avocado, pitaya, carrizo and epazote. Her plants provide about a quarter of her food. Toña takes her inspiration from permaculture, Masanobu Fukuoka, and the traditional practices of the campesinos around her, who she describes as her professors.
Toña highlights the benefits of her dry toilet with this sign, translated, “With your shit, we’ll never miss a harvest.” She raises rabbits, adding their droppings to her worm composters, where they are further processed into rich organic matter. She places rabbit cages above the roots of her banana trees to fertilize them. A grey water system, biodigester and cistern complete the circle of sustainability. The sediment from the biodigester flows onto a compost heap to keep it moist during the dry season.
She uses innovative gadgets for food preparation, like a solar cooker which can heat a meal using only the rays of the sun.
We all had a ride on her bicycle powered blender, which quickly puréed our sauce for the day’s meal.
Even though Toña strives to work in harmony rather than against nature, there’s a lot of hard labour involved. She sometimes works with WWOOF volunteers. She offers them her wealth of knowledge, gleaned from a lifetime of global activism on women’s, environmental, indigenous, community living, health, economic, peace and human rights issues.