To learn how living things are connected in an ecosystem, as illustrated by Carmen’s Farm
- Paper (large pieces of butcher paper are ideal)
- Drawing utensils
- Art supplies
Carmen’s Farm is the extraordinary creation of the family of Fernando Gonzalez, Peace Corps/Paraguay staff member—and especially his mother, Carmen. In less than a hectare (2.2 acres), they have planted at least 10 different crops; 13 species of medicinal plants; over 40 species of trees, including 18 kinds of fruit trees; and a variety of miscellaneous plants such as bamboo and Leucaena. They are also raising honeybees, chickens, quail, pigs, rabbits, and even a few cows. A fishpond is the home for tilapia. All this comes together to make a beautiful, comfortable, and always interesting human habitat, and all accomplished without the need for pesticides and artificial fertilizer. The farm succeeds because of its great diversity and because it is a high-functioning ecosystem. By diagramming how everything in the farm is connected, kids can see how healthy ecosystems can sustainably provide for human needs. Organize the kids into teams of two to four, and distribute paper and drawing utensils. Have them diagram and illustrate the following Carmen’s Farm ecological connections:
- The honeybees pollinate many of the crops (for example, watermelon and peppers), medicinal plants, and trees.
- Bumblebees and stingless bees pollinate other crops (such as tomatoes and mangoes) and plants.
- Tiny wasps pollinate the figs.
- Bats pollinate some of the trees (for example, Inga and Genipa americana).
- Hummingbirds pollinate some of the trees (for example, Albizia) and garden flowers.
- Bumblebees nest in holes in the bamboo.
- Stingless bees nest in a couple of the trees.
- Bats nest in tree holes.
- Hummingbirds nest in bushes.
- Some crops feed the animals (for example, sugar cane, cassava, sweet potato, pigeon pea).
- Most crops and fruits feed people.
- Some crops feed the tilapia (for example, Genipa americana, star fruit, pigeon pea).
- At least eight species of birds nest in the trees.
- The birds help control insect pests.
- One species of bird, a falcon, feeds on snakes.
- Bats nest in tree holes.
- At night, many bats help control mosquitoes and other insects.
- The animal manure and crop residues go to a worm bin where the worms process it into compost.
- The compost goes to fertilize the crops.
- The leaves of legume trees (Inga, Albizia, Leucaena) provide the nutrient nitrogen to the soil.
- Insect larvae in the compost serve as food for the chickens and quail.
- Animal manure also goes to a biodigester that provides gas for cooking.
- Some plants are planted among the crops to keep away insect pests.
Once the kids have finished their illustrations, wrap up the activity by asking them how the Carmen’s Farm ecosystem does the following:
- Provides nutrients to the crops and trees without fertilizer. (Compost is made from recycling crop residues and manure. There is no soil erosion because all the plants keep the soil in place.)
- Provides pollination for a wide variety of plants. (There is a lot of food year-round for pollinators; nesting and roosting pollinator habitat includes trees, bamboo, and honeybee hives.)
- Controls insect pests. (There is plenty of habitat for insect pest controls such as natural vegetation for predatory insects; the garden has much plant diversity so populations of any one species of pest don’t get too large; the garden has trees for nesting birds and roosting bats; natural plant repellents are planted among crops.)
- Does not produce waste. (Crop residues and manure go to compost; manure goes to the biodigester.)
- Does not need fertilizer. (Crop residues and manure are recycled as plant fertilizer; legume trees provide nitrogen.)
- Provides so much good, nutritious food. (The plants and animals have the fertile soil, food, pollination, and insect pest control they need to thrive.)
- Provides such a pleasant human habitat. (The garden is shady; no chemicals are required for fertilizer and pest control; there are many different plants and animals to observe and many flowers.)
This lesson plan is an activity from the Environmental Activities for Youth Clubs and Camps, a resource developed by the Peace Corps Office of Overseas Programming and Training (OPATS). It was contributed by Peace Corps/Paraguay.