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Dominican Republic homestead.

I can't say it's been easy, settling on a 9-acre farm in my wife s homeland, the Dominican Republic. But I can say life is getting easier by the day. Sometimes I can't imagine an easier way to live. On those days life is like freshly squeezed orange juice by the gallon--got to squeeze them, bur the effort is repaid a million times over by the refreshment!

To picture the beauty and variety of our "Monte Tranquilo" (peaceful woods), imagine you are visiting us for the first time.

The bumpy ride up into the hills from the coast comes to a stop in the absolute silence behind the wind in the coconut palms overhead. From the front of our turquoise-colored home you see the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean framed by royal palms.

You stroll about the grounds and look at the greenery impatiens in every color, avocados, huge tangerine trees, grapefruit, nispero, sweet and sour lime, "golden apple," bananas and plantains, old orange trees with tall canopies whose sweet juice has a reputation for miles. Beautiful tropical "laurels" and the evergreen mara trees signify high quality timber, and seedlings sprout here and there. Wild hot pepper bushes tempt mockingbirds and woodpeckers in their cheerful, blood-curdlingly spicy displays. Coffee beans ripen red in the shade of giant gourd trees.

You sit in a rocker, sipping tea or freshly ground coffee, and notice four milk cows with their calves, grazing meditatively, sniffing around for fallen fruit under the sour orange, mango and jugua trees which grace the surrounding pastures. One of the cows tosses back an orange, drooling some of the potent juice as her jaw works over the pulp.

"I never knew cows ate fruit," you are likely to remark. To which our four-year-old daughter, talkative and pleased to have someone new to converse with in English, might say, "I throw oranges to our cows when Daddy finishes milking them."

The shine and luster of the cows (Zebu-Swiss-Creole) and their beta carotene-rich milk fat are testimony to the results. Sour oranges are in demand for a chemical in the skin which has some military-industrial use, but I prefer to let our cows enjoy them, and make delicious yogurt.

"In times of drought," I tell visitors, "we lop branches off the `living fence' trees bordering the various pastures, the pinon (Gliricidia sepium) whose high protein leaf forage keeps growing long after the grass has withered. A neighbor makes farmer's cheese from the surplus milk he buys from us and other cow owners in the area, fetched on donkey-back. No health inspectors, no taxes."

I feel fortunate to be able to tell you that our farm is self-supporting, at our not-too-meager subsistence level. We do not need to work off the farm for our necessities, although we sometimes do, as short-term language teaching work arises.

For years we were English and Spanish teachers, trekking the world-Africa, North America, Asia, Latin America--until finally the need and desire to put down roots and harvest fruits overcame us. Japanese farmer/sage Masanobu Fukuoka (The One Straw Revolution) ended our vacillation during a visit we made to his extraordinarily natural farm on Shikoku Island, where he has learned to produce bumper crops without plowing, weeding, chemicals or even fertilizing. I decided to try his "soft touch" in a tropical setting.

With the exception of our pickup truck, our homestead economy is nearly Thoreau-like in its simplicity. Much of our livelihood is derived directly from our soil and what we barter with neighbors. The strictly "cash" portion of our 1993 economy looked like this: (All figures have been converted to U.S. dollars from the Dominican peso.)

Personally, I love living low on the energy chain, deriving most of our energy from the sun in the form of food we or our animals eat. Eventually it might be nice to have a propane refrigerator, but the lack of electricity bothers me almost not at all. Food is best eaten fresh, and most of the time we eat it within an hour of harvesting.

We have a cistern which is filled with rainwater collected from our rooftop and comes by gravity to a kitchen and bath tap.

Our pickup truck is useful for marketing our produce at a decent price, and it also doubles as an ambulance for our community. Occasionally I must work the truck to pa r for gasoline ($2/gallon) or minor parts. The farm cannot "pay for" the truck, or its replacement in 15-20 years, unless I were to drive it for pay on a regular basis, which I won't do. The farm production could support a small motorcycle.

The land is blessed with good rainfall most of the year, and the ocean winds and light soils make for a nearly mosquito-free environment, amazing as that may seem.

The children are growing up bilingually, but formal education is of such poor quality that we debate whether to start up a school ourselves once the girls reach school age.

The sweat, patience, hospitality and tolerance of many of our neighbors have been essential to our present health and well-being. From our neighbors we have learned what rural pride is all about--fabulous shows of homegrown generosity!

Of course, as with any place, we've I also learned the hard lessons of being taken for a ride by the unscrupulous one finds anywhere.

If anyone is interested in a visit or the possibility of exploring homesteading in the Caribbean, we would love to correspond with you. (Address at beginning of article.)
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Author:Bartlett, Stephen
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1995
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