Feliz Año Nuevo from ViVerde

By Amelie Rousseau

I am amazed by how much Diane, Gerard, and Brett have accomplished in only one year (not alone, of course). This place is beautiful, way better than I expected. Because I was there during rainy season, everything was green and lush. Since my arrival mid-September I met the wonderful farm staff, made fast friends with the dogs, and renewed friendships with my old friends, that is, the papayas and coconuts and tamarinds and mango trees that I had missed so much since leaving India.

I spent the first few weeks listening to Spanish podcasts and doing much-needed painting in the Centro building. The front porch is now a comfy hangout space in the evening where Brett and I play guitar and ukulele. Inside is now a tranquil turquoise. The second floor’s beautiful railings were installed so we no longer risk our necks every time we go up and down the stairs at night.

Back of centro

Back of Centro, painted with railings

Our locally handcrafted cement tiles are installed and polished. We had a special mold made for us. This is an ancient craft; you see tiles in Granada that are hundreds of years old.  If you like seeing how things are done differently, watch these short videos:  our tiles being made and tiles installed, the local way.

tiles

We painted Grandma’s casita; now with its iron grillwork windows, it is quite a charming cottage.

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Casita before

casita

Casita now, feeling better about itself

My lovely Americorps friends, Isabel and Ari, came to visit in September. Both farmers and women of the woods like me, we got muddy building a giant cob bench. All day we would dance around and around in circles, mixing wet clay and sand with handfuls of straw for tensile strength. After the cob was thoroughly mixed, we formed balls and carted them up the hill to our building site. Then, and this is the best part, we would pick each mud ball up and SMACK! it onto the bench for maximum adherence. After the bench is thoroughly dry, we will seal it with an earthen plaster and decorate it tastefully. Thanks Isabel and Ari for all your help!

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Gerard working with the Juans on the bench roof

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Diane building brick foundation wall

Making cob

Ari and Isabelle mixing cob with us

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Amelie and Ari, covered in mud,making cob balls

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Amelie & Brett building and shaping the back wall

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Finished bench, drying and awaiting final cob plaster

One of my favorite projects was transforming the bathroom and showers into a lush junglescape with my sister Brett. We now brush our teeth surrounded by birds of paradise, toucans, a jaguar and a waterlily lake filled with moonlight. Brett and I worked long days painting layer upon layer of massive arums, graceful palm fronds and vibrant snake grasses.

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Toilets and showers before…

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Largest mural by Rousseau sisters to date

mural lake

Look closely for the jaguar in the tree

I also had fun painting the kitchen backsplash below.

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Thieving monkey in the kitchen– watch out!

I am so thankful for this quality time with my family. These three months also gave me the mental space to reflect on my life goals, and I am happy to report I will be returning to Portland and intend to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition at the National College of Natural Medicine. America’s system of feeding and healing our communities is far past broken, and I can’t wait to dive deeper into the world of whole foods and holistic healing. In a year and a half I hope to organize cooking classes and wellness programs at ViVerde. Our farm will be, among other things, a restive place to inspire folks to treat themselves and the earth with kindness and patience.

Check out our Christmas Duck adventure! This was my first time ever butchering and roasting a duck. Delicious!

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Dulci with the duck

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Amelie with duck a l’orange

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The Finca ViVerde team wishes you Happy New Year!

A busy year at Finca ViVerde

By Diane

Okay, it has been a while since you heard from us, way too long.   If you know us, though, you know we  have been busy, so busy. Since the beginning of this year, Gerard and I both filed for and received our Nicaraguan residency, registered our business, ViVerde SA (Sociedad Anonima) in Granada, almost completed a large renovation and addition to the existing main house with hundreds of design details, and we developed an assisted living program for my mom, Edna with all of the necessary staff and protocols to provide for her medical and daily needs (she is suffering from Parkinson’s and pretty severe dementia) from 7:30 in the morning until 8pm at night.  And all of this in Spanish!

Obviously, we couldn’t have launched into all this if Gerard hadn’t already spoken pretty fluent Spanish (remember that he is French and they have to have not one but two foreign languages). I am speaking Spanish too, badly, but I do communicate with staff all day long . My French does help, it is so similar, but now the Spanish has pushed the French out of my head.

Our daughter Brett earned her permaculture design certification in Costa Rica and unlike most of her classmates, she actually had her own farm project to design right away. She measured and mapped   the topography of the property, plotted buildings and trees, where the water runs and the sun hits, and then drew beautiful maps of what we have and what we want to add. Then we got to digging and planting. This rainy season, we put in over 40 new fruit trees!

Our daytime staff, both named Juan, are so valuable, such hard workers; this job gives them the opportunity to learn a wide variety of things besides digging (which they are SO good at). They have now done plumbing and electrical, rock wall building, concrete masonry, composting, planning and transplanting. We could not move ahead without them.

In January we started our construction project.  When you speak Spanish you have a wider choice than the builders customarily working for expats and we took advantage of this.  We have experience building in the US, but here it it so different, mostly concrete, with ceilings covered with cane, metal roofs covered with clay tiles, and when it rains, it pours, so gutters need to be custom engineered to handle the water.  We have learned so much! And every day, we had to stay ahead of the contractors in design details or we could have easily ended up with something we would not have chosen.  We purchased the materials ourselves to stay in control of that process.  People work six days here, Saturday being a bit shorter, so crews were around most of the time and there was plenty of noise all day long.  We knew it would be stressful and it was, but we did it, we stayed on top of things and we are thrilled with the results.

We have had a string of visitors and volunteers. Our dogs, female rottweiler Dulci and male boxer Mario, are an endless source of delight. Let’s let photos tell the rest.

Posts later about our mandala garden, major earthworks and rainwater harvesting project, and more…

Centro demolition before

Demolition of old wall – The BEFORE

New kitchen

New kitchen walls

G getting stairs right

Gerard getting the stairs right

Centro early construction

New addition starts to take shape

Bottom level kitchen and dining room, top level multi-purpose space. Almost finished!

Bottom level kitchen and dining room, top level multi-purpose space. Almost finished!

Brett and I gave this sink a facelift with a colored concrete design

Brett and I gave this sink a facelift with a colored concrete design

John Dripps and Bess

John and Bess, the perfect people to put together these complicated Thai light covers

Tyler McRae and Justin Barth plan their table construction project with Gerard

Tyler and Justin spent 3 weeks with us, here they plan their table construction project with Gerard

Sister in law Laurie with nephew Adam, Edna, and caregiver Maria

Sister-in-law Laurie, nephew Adam, my mom Edna (when she was still walking), caregiver Maria, and Dulci

Stamblers and us

Barrett, Bobbie, Jamey, Sivan, and Dillon (not pictured) visited over spring break

Niece Danielle and Sarah in Granada

Niece Danielle and friend Sarah in Granada

Carol and Eliana returning after eleven years (we are in Granada based on Carol's recommendation)

Carol and Eliana returning after eleven years (we are in Granada based on Carol’s recommendation)

Diane in vivero

Diane in her element: propagating plants is so easy here in this warm weather

Beginnings of a growing garden

Beginnings of a growing garden

Dulci and baby Mario

March 2, 2015 ~ Mario’s first day on the farm!

Giving Thanks

By Gerard

For this Thanksgiving, we would like to thank all of you around the world who helped and supported us in our adventure, which started two years ago.  During that time our blog received 3,000 views from 65 different countries.  This week Diane, Brett and Nathan are returning from their hiatuses in the US.  I am looking forward to getting our core team back together.

Over the next months our project will enter an even more active phase which will see friends, family members and volunteers visit and participate in many exciting projects.  We’re working hard to make sure they enjoy Finca ViVerde and the experience as much as we do.

Settling in at the Farm

By Diane

We moved to our 15 acre farm at the end of August. The month before the move, we were busy procuring what we needed to set up our own housekeeping (the Granada rental was completely furnished). We had fun working with a local metal shop to design and make grillwork for our windows and doors. Granada is full of beautiful ironwork so there were lots of examples to choose from.

Since July we have had two teams rebuilding our fence. The perimeter is .75 miles so it was no small task; this past Saturday was the day they closed the loop. It is a “living fence”, the branches are cut from certain types of trees (on our property) known to grow roots and become living posts. Once established they will not rot. To keep animals out, or in, we are repairing the barbed wire and adding new strands. As soon as the wire on the front side was complete, the neighbors’ pigs stopped coming in. We are also reinforcing a line of pinuelas, a cactus-type “hostile” plant with barbs that you do not want to get hung up on. To achieve the coverage we wanted, we purchased plants from neighboring farms that our guys dug up and had delivered with a horse cart. Once the front line was planted as densely as possible, the neighbors’ chickens stopped coming through (except for one very persistent one that Gerard is having fun chasing off). We also have a clean wide path now all the way around that we can use for walks and runs.

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Notice the green shoots emerging from the new posts.

Pinuelas planted tightly to block animals and people

Pinuelas planted tightly to block animals and people

Local horse cart delivery

Local horse cart delivery

Three weeks ago, we got a female Rottweiler puppy, Dulci. Gerard and I have never had a dog together so it is a new, fun parental experience for us.  Rotties are described as devoted, good natured, alert, obedient, calm, confident, fearless and they make excellent guard dogs and family pets.  She is going to be very big, 100+ lbs and she is growing, literally, before our eyes. I think she has doubled in size since we brought her home.  She is so smart and eager to please, learning new puppy tricks every day. We love her and so does everyone else who works here. I now get what all the fuss is about in having a dog!

Dulci when she was first put into my arms, at about six weeks.

Dulci when she was first put into my arms

With her furry friend

With her furry friend

It is great living here, so much cooler and quieter than Granada. With rainy season finally kicking in, everything has turned green. It rains every two or three days for less than an hour, usually toward the end of the day. Close to the house we have seen toucans, parrots and other colorful birds in our trees, and iguanas and frogs on the grounds. Our guys are clearing brush and we are thrilled to discover numerous fruit trees of many interesting varieties and 100+ coffee plants. We intend to bring these mature trees back to their productive best. We are pruning and using the fallen leaves and sticks from this and all the clearing as mulch (no organic matter goes wasted) and will soon add manure from the farm next door.

Everything is green now

Everything is green now

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Young iguana

Have you ever seen a frog like this one?

Have you ever seen a frog like this one?

Our first three weeks were with very limited wifi but now we have a seventy foot tower that transmits a good signal. Gerard spent mucho time on this, assessing the options and choosing the best one to meet our longterm needs.

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Installation of wifi tower

We are excited to welcome our first volunteers. Brett and Nathan will be back after Thanksgiving, two of their friends in January and my sister in law, Laurie and nephew Adam in February. We are getting ready for them!

Finca ViVerde is Born

By Diane

Have you been wondering what the heck we are up to here in Granada? Well, turns out, lots! We are now the proud owners of a 15 acre finca (Spanish for farm) with giant trees, fruit orchards, two houses (rustic but nice), infrastructure such as an 85 meter deep well (needs a pump), rainwater catchment system (needs work), city water and electricity, previous animal structures in various states of disrepair that will be perfect for developing volunteer housing/hangout areas, and many birds, butterflies, and a climate cooler than Granada proper.  We are only 2 miles from Granada, 20 minutes by bicycle.

After much research and many trips visiting properties with our local realtor, Carlos (who speaks very good English and “got” what we were looking for), and much deliberation, we tried very hard to “not leave our brains behind when buying property in a foreign county.” Brett and Nathan helped us choose the property and we all believe it was just waiting for us and will be perfect for our project. The previous owner, Yvan, who now resides in France, purchased the property twenty years ago when in his early twenties, and he planted hundreds of trees, now mature, with the idea of developing a place for people to retreat in a delightful rural environment. We had the pleasure of meeting him and his family recently while he is visiting his mother in Nicaragua. He spent much time with us, identifying trees, discussing water systems, sharing his story and his love for the property.

Previous owner Yvan and wife Delphine

Previous owner Yvan and wife Delphine

It is a beautiful place. There is much to do and if you know us, you know we love fix-it-up projects, and we can now do them in the shade and beauty of all those trees.

Brett and Nathan spent the month of June in Costa Rica, she getting her permaculture design certification and he at a cacao farm (yes, he knows a lot now about processing chocolate and yes, he brought back a pod from which we have 33 healthy plants.) Brett’s teacher, Chris Shanks, is a renowned permaculture specialist who has a farm, Bona Fide, on the island of Ometepe (a wonderful island formed by two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua). We hired Chris to visit and assess our property, give us advice on how to tackle things like rebuilding the perimeter fence, revitalizing the orchards, and clearing so we can plant new fruit trees, shrubs and vegetables to meet our needs. We got a good report card (tons of organic matter, lots to work with) and advice that will save us mucho time and money. Brett is working on a permaculture plan for our place under his ongoing guidance. We have two teams working on rebuilding our living fence. They will meet in the middle of the back side in approximately two weeks. We had some “milpa” beds dug with serious swales, they have been mulched, manure added (it comes from the dairy farm next door), vetiver grass planted to retain soil and water.

One of our first tasks in June was planting forty banana trees and they grow fast! We have a nursery now with trees and shrubs and plants we bought, started from cuttings, and grew from seed. Brett and Nathan are in the US now for four months, visiting family and friends and then working a season of the Naturalist At Large program in California. They will be back in December to move the finca to the next level. In the mean time, no shortage of activity. We are moving at the end of August from our rental house in the city to the farm, with grandma, caregivers, and all. Much, much to do to get our new home ready but we cannot wait.

See photos below.

Front of the main house

Front of the main house

Gerard and Nathan on the back porch

Gerard and Nathan on the back porch

Rustic outdoor kitchen

Rustic outdoor kitchen

Toilets and showers

Toilets and showers

Well and adjacent water reservoir

Well and adjacent water reservoir

Tumble-down house (future volunteer pad)

Tumble-down house (future volunteer pad)

One of the animal structures to be converted to volunteer quarters

Animal structure to be converted to volunteer quarters

Digging banana circles

Digging banana circles

Banana circle six weeks later

Banana circle six weeks later

Planting vetiver grass in milpa beds

Gerard planting vetiver grass in milpa beds

Diane labeling plants for the nursery

Diane labeling plants for the nursery

Fence team #1: Juan Lopez, Juan Sanchez

Fence team #1: Juan Lopez, Juan Sanchez

Fence team #2: Juan and son Ervin Garcia

Fence team #2: Juan and son Ervin Garcia

Farm’s Latitude: 11.917435 deg.; Longitude: -85.985989 deg.

 

A Week’s Venture in Northern Nicaragua

By Nathan Page

A little over a month ago, Brett and I spent a week exploring the more mountainous regions of Northern Nicaragua.  Our first destination was the breezy, caffeine-fueled city of Matagalpa.

A map of the three Major cities we visited on our trip!

A map of the three major cities we visited on our trip!

Matagalpa:

We took the bus up early in the morning, hoping to get up to Matagalpa by nightfall.  The bus schedule showed no direct buses and we figured it would be a complicated ordeal.  Mysteriously, when we arrived at the bus stop there was a bus going directly to Matagalpa that no one had heard of…  It was dubbed, “the miracle bus.”

The bus ride was full of mountainous terrain with low-lying clouds fighting to escape from the valleys containing them.  We arrived at Matagalpa before noon and set out to find a literal and proverbial place to hang our hats.  We were immediately struck by the kindness of the locals asking if they could help us find something or offer us directions.

The mountians surrounding Matagalpa

The mountains surrounding Matagalpa

Matagalpa is a region known for its temperate climate (by Nicaraguan standards) and its ideal coffee-growing conditions.  There are several large farms as well as small cooperatives that produce some of the finest organic and conventional coffee in the world.   Brett and I had a chance to visit one of these plantations known as Selva Negra.  They produce and import coffee directly to the United States to a small vendor you may recognize… “Trader Joe’s,” I believe?   In addition to coffee, they also have a world-class Eco-Lodge with several miles of hiking trails and beautifully maintained gardens.

Living gazebo at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation

Living gazebo at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation

The gorgious, orchid adorned church in at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation.

The gorgeous, orchid adorned church at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation.

Brett doing, "the goose" at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation

Brett doing “the goose” at Selva Negra Coffee Plantation.

Brett gazing at a map of Northern Nicaragua

Brett trying to untangle the many roads and trails winding through Northern Nicaragua.

Lookin good in the bottom left...

Lookin good in the bottom left…

I loved the hostel bunny in Matagalpa

I loved the hostel bunny in Matagalpa

Jinotega:

After our 2-night stint in Matagalpa, we ventured even farther north to the town of Jinotega.  Jinotega is a long and slender town, steadily expanding from the valley floor, encroaching on steep slopes on either side.   We stayed at a permaculture-inspired farm known as “Biosferia” and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset & fine company. We then ventured out to an agricultural trade school that also had a eco-lodge as a part of its diversified revenue sources.  The lodge was a bit difficult to get to and involved a 5km walk up a dirt road; eventually we reached the center and boy, was it a view.  The light was especially brilliant reflected off of Brett’s radiant face.

Brett walking down the magical road towards Jinotega

Brett walking down the magical road towards Jinotega

The jungle of Northern Jinotega from the Agricultural School's Eco-Lodge

The jungle of northern Jinotega seen from the agricultural school’s eco-lodge.

Brett glowing in Jinotega

Brett glowing in Jinotega

Reflecting at the Eco-Lodge in Jinotega

Reflecting at the Eco-Lodge in Jinotega

HUGE boulder and cave full of fruit bats at Biosfera

HUGE boulder and cave full of fruit bats at Biosfera

Enjoying coffee on the front porch of Biosfera

Enjoying coffee on the front porch of Biosfera

Travel Tip:

All buses in Nicaragua have seats for approximately 40 people. A bus is not considered “full” until the isle is full of people, the headspace is full of people and there are three layers of kids sitting on top each other giggling. Nicas laugh at a bus’s supposed “full capacity” and pack at least 50 people into all that “wasted” space.  We experienced this situation for a total of about 20 hours during this trip.  All you can do is laugh and take shallow breaths. :) 

Sunset over looking Jinotega

Sunset over looking Jinotega

Esteli:

Our last stop was in a beautiful cowboy-inspired town of Esteli.  The town of Esteli is known for its “world class tobacco” that supposedly rivals Cuban tobacco in quality.  However, valuing our lungs and Diane’s approval, we abstained from trying this local commodity.   We had some delicious meals from a local organic café and walked through the various leather-working shops that make Esteli famous.

Provocative murals in Esteli

Provocative murals in Esteli

An interesting sidewalk in Esteli. With one side heavily contrasted by the other.

An interesting sidewalk in Esteli with one side heavily contrasted by the other.

On our way back to Granada we had the opportunity to meet up with a group of students and faculty from our Alma Mater!  We met a group of Pacific Lutheran University students and Dr. Mulder in the capital city, Managua. They were on their way back from a truly amazing project helping a small village in Nicaragua receive reliable drinking water.   They had fantastic stories to tell and we loved hearing their enthusiasm for Nicaragua and their positive experience.  Proud to be Lutes!

We made it back to Granada weary, yet thoroughly satisfied, knowing a little more about the beautiful and diverse country we are currently calling home!

 

 

Grandma joins us in Granada

By Diane

Since we last posted, much has happened.

First, a news flash:  Brett and Nathan were featured in the most recent issue of Pacific Lutheran University’s PLU News. We are very proud of them.  http://www.plu.edu/news/2014/04/centralamerica/home.php

My mother, Edna, joined us in Granada, Nicaragua in early April.  I went back to Portland for the latter part of March to arrange her affairs, move her out of her assisted living, and fly back with her to the capital city of Managua.  Here in Granada our beautiful rental house has plenty of space to move around, we are taking turns preparing delicious nutritious meals, and we have hired two wonderful caretakers to help us with Edna. Dina is from Corn Island in the Carribbean (part of Nicaragua).  She is very stylish, speaks both English and Spanish fluently, AND she makes us whole wheat bread every week.

Caregiver Dina with Edna

Caregiver Dina with Edna

Esmeralda is from Granada and she just graduated from law school; she also works part-time for our friend Carol while waiting for a professional job (unemployment is very high). She is very good for our Spanish, because she patiently listens while we formulate sentences and she corrects our mistakes ever so gently.  She is too shy to speak English with us but I hear her speaking it with Edna; somehow they are communicating.  We are blessed to have them both!

 

Esmeralda

Caregiver Esmeralda

To give you a look at Granada from grandma’s perspective, read below an email she sent to some friends and family (Brett as ghostwriter):

 

Granada has its own personality. It is an old colonial town, colonized by the Spanish in the 1500s. There are impressive government buildings surrounding a central park as well as the big yellow Cathedral often featured as the cover of Central America guide books. It’s sometimes fun to be a tourist and walk 3 blocks from our house to the central park, which in the evening features lights, music, locals selling goods and enjoying themselves and tourists – all adding up to a colorful scene. We should stop here and describe the way in which we make our way around town. Diane and I picked out a transporter chair to take to my new home, and it is proving satisfactory except for one thing – it doesn’t fare well on the bumpy sidewalks and streets. So my rides are textured. We would not be enjoying our evening out without Nathan and Gerard’s efforts to push me around. Nathan leads the parade to clear a way obstructions such as restaurant tables and chairs. He’s followed by Gerard pushing me in the wheel chair. They each grab a hold and hoist me over pot holes and up and down sidewalk edges – I hold my breath and close my eyes, but deep down, I love it!

 

Last night was the second time we’ve gone out in the evening for drinks and nachos, enjoying the tourist scene. The Calzada street feeds out of the city park for several blocks, stretching towards the lake. Both sides of the street are lined with restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk. Waiters flip their menus, attempting to entice you in and before sunset it is already a bustling scene. Last night I tried a fresh-squeezed limonada while the others got their usual happy hour mojito/ margaritas. Our drinks came with complimentary yucca and plantain chips. Yucca is also known as cassava, manioc, or tapioca root; plantains are relatives of the banana, only bigger and starchier. 

 

We then worked our way down the street. There are other fun things to see like art stores, an occasional hotel, and a chocolate museum. There is also a delicious gelato shop –  I got the Nutella flavor and it was decadent!

 

The Calzada, the main tourist street with restaurants and bars in view of Cathedral

The “Calzada”, the main tourist street with restaurants and bars in view of the big Cathedral

A typical colonial courtyard, we like this one for drinks

A typical colonial courtyard; we like this one for drinks

Tour of Las Isletas, one of the small islands with Volcano Mombacho in background

We took a boat tour of Las Isletas, right in the enormous lake near us. Here is one of the inhabited islands with Volcano Mombacho in the background

There are island for sale.  You can build a home like these people did!

There are islands for sale here. You could build a home like these people did.  It is very enchanting, especially at sunset with colorful birds feeding along the water’s edge.

One of the monkeys, Lucy, from Monkey Island climbed onto our boat

One of the monkeys, Lucy, from Monkey Island climbed onto our boat and onto Nathan

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Sunset from our mirador (third story lookout)

As you might as guessed, we like it here in Nicaragua.  We think this may just be the place we were looking for.  Why?  Because Granada is an attractive and culturally rich city with an interesting landscape.  The “Nicas” are friendly, peaceful people living in vibrant communities and they have a tradition of sustainable farming.   The government is stable and interested in renewable energy.

We continue our search for a property to launch our sustainability living/learning center.  Stay tuned.

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