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Pachamama in Lock Down, South Africa

In an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19, governments worldwide have been closing their borders and implementing strict regulations. In South Africa, a nationwide lockdown was put into effect on Thursday 26 March 2020.

For Pachamama, this situation brought some challenges as well as opportunities and a shift in focus. National and international volunteers couldn’t just come and go as they used to, the AirBnb guest lodge had to be closed, going to town for groceries suddenly came with risks, and contact with the outside world had to be brought to a minimum. Our focus on forest restoration – clearing alien tree species and collecting and nurturing indigenous trees – had to be put on hold slightly, in order for us to reassess and prepare for these challenging times.

In this blogpost, we’ll go through some of the ways Pachamama is adjusting to this worldwide crisis.

Food Production and Preservation

As we try to minimise contact with the outside world, our permaculture garden has become of more value than ever. A lot of energy is now being put into the production and preservation of food, and we got some eggciting new community members!

Production – Permaculture & Potatoes

One thing this corona crisis is teaching us humans, is how invaluable it is to be able to grow our own food. As we heard the news about the lockdown, we immediately started collecting seeds and making compost, in order to really boost our food production. The garden became a big priority; we started preparing beds, planting seeds, nurturing the seedlings, weeding and so on. We were lucky to have a huge bean, carrot and corn harvest from the last season to provide us with lots of food in the beginning of the lockdown.

One of our food production projects was the preparation of a potato bed. We started by working the hard clayey soil with a hoe, creating ridges to plant the potatoes in. After they were planted, we filled the gaps in between with manure and mulch, to feed the potatoes and regenerate the soil. On top of the ridges we planted some buckwheat to top it all off. Now, a couple of weeks in, the potatoes as well as the buckwheat are really shooting up. And so are all the seedlings we started planting in the garden. Exciting!

We’re also very lucky to have had some rainy days lately, which means that our water supply has been filled up, and that there’s some yummy finds to do in the forest. The soft, humid forest ground is the perfect place to find pine rings and other delicious edible mushrooms… It’s so satisfying to go for a long forest walk and return with an abundance of ingredients for an amazing meal!

Preservation – Sauerkraut Factory

To limit contact with the outside world, we changed our shopping schedule from once a week to about once every 3 weeks. This means we’re buying our food in bulk. We focus mostly on dry foods, like lentils, beans, chickpeas, rice, pasta, barley, dates, nuts etc. For fresh vegetables and fruits, we had to think of some ways to preserve those longer than they usually hold. And so, Pachamama turned into a big sauerkraut factory. A big team in the kitchen was cutting cabbages, putting them through the food processor, massaging them with salt and stuffing them in jars. This allowed us to preserve a lot of cabbages, through fermentation. The kitchen team also froze a bunch of bananas and prepared apple sauce, in order to preserve some of the fresh fruit.

The Chicken or the Egg

While the kitchen team was working hard on the sauerkraut, the woodmill team was in a big hurry. The chicken coop that we started working on a couple of months ago, suddenly became a big priority… Right before the lockdown started, we got an offer to save 15 chickens from slaughter. We gladly adopted these little friends as our new community members, as they bring with them lots of joy, eggs and manure for our compost. They absolutely adore our garden greens and compost heaps, and get to run around and explore the land together.

Our Community

So, you might ask yourself, what does our current team look like? Are there still some volunteers on the land or is it just the core team? How are we taking care of our physical and mental health? Well, keep reading and you shall find out!

The Pachamama Covid-Team

As soon as the news of the lockdown reached us, we realised that the volunteer program and AirBnb guest lodge would have to be closed down. The team that was already on the land got to choose if they wanted to stay or make their way elsewhere… Everybody (very wisely) decided to stay, and we let 2 new volunteers come at the last minute. And so, Pachamama got very lucky to have a big team of stuck Europeans to help with our project during this time.

Initially, we had 8 volunteers and 6 long term team members on the land. Things did shift quite a bit over the last weeks, with some very sudden repatriating flights for some of the volunteers, and one shareholder that decided to spend the lockdown on the land, which now makes us 12 in total. The Pachamama Covid-Team consists of very unique, interesting, beautiful souls, each bringing their own gifts and skill sets to the community and the land.

Physical Health & Hygiene

With every contact with the outside world come certain risks that need to be taken into account. We decided upon a set of agreements and guidelines to deal with these risks, such as a period of time in quarantine for every new person that comes in, and some measures for the whole community to increase hygiene and reduce risk of infection. These include sterilizing kitchen surfaces, every person having their own plate, bowl and cutlery, social distancing from people who went out, etc.

We also decided to have a sweat lodge at least once every two weeks. In this age-old practice, inspired by the South American Temazcal, we come together in a round, blanket-covered lodge and by pouring water over hot rocks, create a steam room-like experience. This has proven to have huge health benefits. With its high temperatures, combined with herbs and menthol in the steam, the sweat lodge clears out toxins through the skin and breath, and boosts the immune system immensely.

Mental Health & Spirituality

The sweat lodge is not only a hygienic practice. In this ceremony, we honour our connection to Mother Earth, the Sun and the Moon. The sweat lodge is an altar to the Earth, where we humbly bow down and take a seat in her warm embrace, as if we were inside her womb. We sing, meditate and set intentions together. We let this experience help us release everything that doesn’t serve us anymore, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Something that is often forgotten in (social) media, is how mental health and spirituality are interlinked with our physical health and immune system. It is of vital importance to take care of our physical, emotional and energetic bodies. Other than the sweat lodge, we have a little meditation and check-in circle every morning, and a well-being circle once a week. The well-being circle is a bit like the check-in circle, but everyone gets the opportunity to share a bit more deeply and openly what they’re feeling and how they’re doing. It is so powerful to share open-heartedly with each other, and to hold space for each others’ joy and grief. Some community members also host yoga or workout sessions, game nights or workshops, which are a nice variation to the daily work tasks. And of course, music is medicine in so many ways. We honour that by having frequent music nights by the fire, where all the magical musicians we have on the land lose (or find) themselves in the flow of music, share their passion and help us raise our vibrations.

We give thanks

All in all, Pachamama proves to be a good place to be during lockdown. We give thanks for this amazing community, with a variety of people who complement each other so beautifully. We give thanks for the abundance of food our garden brings, and for the ability to go to the shops and buy everything we need for a healthy diet. We give thanks for the abundance of work the forest restoration project and garden provide us with, and the activities our community members initiate. We give thanks for our physical, emotional and spiritual health and all the measures we take to maintain these. We give thanks for the incredible beauty of Fauna and Flora all around us, for the freedom to explore the forest, and all the magic that it brings…

Thank You, Pachamama.


Written by: Tine De Wilde

Images by: Dylan Treeman & Katharina Paris

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