Saturday, May 28, 2011

National Geographic Assists Belize

National Geographic Society funds to Develop the Santa Familia Primary School Forest Garden Känan K’aax

Strengthening our collaboration, Exploring Solutions Past: The Maya Forest Alliance of Santa Barbara California has joined with the El Pilar Forest Garden. Network of Santa Familia, Cayo, Belize to work in their beautiful and creative Maya forest garden named Känan K’aax, well tended garden in Mayan. This joint project has been enhanced this year with a grant from the National Geographic Society supporting the construction of a protective fence, outhouse, and galleria for school class assembly within the acre forest garden plot that the Santa Familia school administration set aside for the promotion of the model heritage conservation food forest.

The dream of the El Pilar Forest Garden Network began with the work on the school plot in 2008, clearing the untended bush within the school land. With their skillful eye to important trees, selecting plants and eliminating others, and considering planned reforestation, this noble group of traditional Maya forest gardeners demonstrates how they manage the forest as a garden. Their familiarity with the landscape gave them the advantage and only three years later the canopy is growing, food and herbs are flourishing, orchids are blooming, and life has thrived in the forest garden. With all this design as a hands-on teaching center, the group faced problems: horses were tromping in the garden; chickens were scavenging from the plants, while some people were throwing trash and others were plundering the garden.

Alcario Cano, the late president and true visionary of the project, lamented the lack of the fence to honor their remarkable efforts and to protect the site from marauders. He would be proud of the activity at the site now. It was on the hot afternoon of the 19th of May when President Rusel Aldana and Anabel Ford proudly signed for the first installment of the funds that will realize the group’s plan of a garden teaching center for their community school children. The dry season has prolonged, and taking advantage the team will be busy over the next 6 weeks.

The Maya forest, once home to the ancient Maya civilization, provides a source to explore solutions past. Adapting to the changing conditions and managing with designs is a crucial requirement to meet both short-term and long-term development objectives in the past as for the future.

Research on the ancient Maya landscape reveals a new interpretation: The ancient Maya creativity resulting the the Maya forest garden. This was accomplished by intensifying an essentially skill based strategy of the Milpa Cycle, clearing and planting a maize field that managed with some 30 domesticated crops and more than a hundred volunteers that build towards a food forest.

The innovations of the El Pilar Program with its integrative and interdisciplinary vision for the role of the Institute of Archaeology's El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna for the Maya forest has taken the lessons learned and begun to apply it in the area.working with traditional Maya forest gardeners, we have learned together the inherent value of the time honored skills. The aim is to incorporate the forest garden practice as a landscape model for the ancient monuments of El Pilar.


Dr. Anabel Ford, a distinguished Maya archaeologist, has decoded the ancient Maya landscape. Living in the forest and relying on its bounty, Ford gained admiration for the local knowledge of the Maya forest garden. She discovered El Pilar, a major Maya city linking Belize and Guatemala, where you can see the archaeological discovery of the site and appreciate traditional knowledge of the people living in the region today. Currently she is working with the Sta Familia Primary School and the El Pilar Forest Garden Network in the development of a model Maya forest garden called Kanan Kaax with funds from National Geographic Society. She brings her extensive field experience and broad inquisitive mind to demystify the Maya. She is currently in Belize and can be contacted at BRASS Base 824-3612 or cellular number: 626-4008