“There are millions of organisms in here. They make the soil fertile!” Alda says while holding up a handful of soil at the compost heap. We really lucked out. We were looking for a unique place to spend the night in the countryside of Uruguay and found Alda. She not only has a bed & breakfast, but is also an expert in the field of organic farming. “But the soil wasn’t that fertile when I came here,” Alda continues. What has she done to turn pasture into an organic neighbourhood farm?
Oasis in the Monoculture Desert
Our discovery of Alda’s farm seemed unlikely when we started exploring Uruguay a few weeks earlier. We soon learned that the country is obsessed with barbecue, known as asado. Fascinated by this cultural phenomenon, we visited the Mercado del Puerto in the capital Montevideo. It’s famous for the many parillas, grill-restaurants, where grill-masters show off their skills to locals and tourists alike. Although we eat little meat, the display of cooking meat to perfection on wood fires captivated us, too. After we tasted a particularly tender steak we understood why meat preparation is a kind of ritual in this country.
Anxious to see some of Uruguay’s countryside, we left Lucipara tied to a mooring buoy in Colonia. By rental car we drove into the hinterland. For hundreds of kilometresall we saw were meadows with grazing cows. Patches of trees offered them some shade. A closer look revealed that the trees were all eucalyptus. Its fast-growing, yet dense wood is the pulp and paper industry’s favourite. It is also widely used for the asado. “Monocultures of meadows, cows and eucalyptus wood. We are basically driving through the immense footprint of the asado culture!” Ivar assessed. Is the soil too poor for growing anything else, we wondered?