This is a brief draft proposal for an open source approach to the planning, design, and implementation of a field station for educational, demonstration, and operation of best-in-class sustainable development based on the 40 acre Belize property I own.

This 40-acre rural property is located in northwestern Belize near the Mexican and Guatemala borders about 18 miles from Orange Walk Town, between the villages of August Pine Ridge and San Felipe. It is about 2 miles to August Pine Ridge, 6 miles to San Felipe, 5 miles to Shipyard Mennonite community, 10 miles to Blue Creek Mennonite community, and 5 miles to Rio Hondo: Belize/Mexico border.

The property fronts the main government all-weather road for 900 feet.

The following from describes the region: Offers some of the most natural areas of Belize, with excellent birding and wildlife spotting, proximity to Mennonite farming communities of Shipyard and Blue Creek and ecotourism destinations. It goes on to say the road west from Orange Walk Town, past Cuello distillery, Yo Creek, and then back south to August Pine Ridge village and San Felipe village leads through agricultural areas to the 240,000-acre Programme for Belize Rio Bravo Conservation area and the 250,000-acre private estate of Barry Bowen. Or, if you go southeast from San Felipe, you end up at Lamanai (a major Mayan temple site) near Indian Church village. Two world-class jungle lodges, Chan Chich at Gallon Jug, and Lamanai Outpost Lodge on the New River Lagoon, await you in this part of Orange Walk District.

The scope of the proposal (see ProjectManagement for current tasks) is the entire life cycle – from:

organization, participation, and business structure planning and implementation; e. g.,
Non-profit, foundation, co-op with members, other models? (9/10/05 conversation with Vance and Judy Bante indicated their approach where have used a firm in Belize to set up a Belize corporation, then apply for Belize NGO status. They also use a non-profit in the U.S. so donations from U.S. citizens can be tax deductible)
Site management presence: safety and environmental protection have to be integral to it all as top priority
Community engagement and involvement
Local neighborhood, regional, Belize, broader Central American and Caribbean
Best-in-class community of experts world-wide
Funding, basically pay as go, based on participation – perhaps with basic membership participation fee, donations, endowments, other?
site master planning
phased approach to facilities, utilities, infrastructure design, funding and execution
uses; ongoing operations

I have initiated site planning. The initially identified approach is flexible and can be modified as needed, it includes:

Visit Belize to assess and inventory property, surrounding communities, and region (visited August 13-28, ’05 – update based on trip observations is in progress):
Take photos and video of features, hand note features on maps, and record associated GPS coordinates
Interview people in neighboring communities and others about issues and opportunities
Assess approaches and identify way to establish a team management structure to address key constraint that I don't live there and would only be able to visit from time-to-time.
Assess whether practical to use intensively managed goats or sheep grazing to reduce brush and clean the property to establish an ongoing goat or sheep operation and to prepare portions of the property for other uses (based on August 13-28, ’05 visit, this appears to be a sound approach)
Based on this, I am proceeding to establish initial staff presence and facilities. The initial steps include authorizing Manuel Soliz and Elda Gideon Soliz to assist me in arranging for a caretaker and executing specific work, installation of the electrical service connection concrete post, (first step to get electrical service), cleaning small area between road and area for caretaker’s thatched roof house and sheep/goat shelter, planting 50 improved selected cashew seedlings, initiating water line to the caretakers house area, arranging to fence initial area, and arranging to acquire initial goats and sheep.
utilities; water, power, phone, septic system, and a camping-like residence/office/workspace and caretaker's residence
secure (locked and vandal resistant) supplies storage area, shop, fenced yard, fenced goat/sheep handling corrals and shelter, and first increments of portable electric fenced goat/sheep grazing control zones
watering livestock from the APR water system is acceptable based on discussions with chair of water board (at least for modest numbers, plus they are planning to implement metering so paying for what is used makes this more acceptable)
industrial/agricultural well pumping and water storage (elevated tankage for gravity feed) and distribution system for other non-household uses, such as selective drip irrigation, process uses, or water larger numbers of goats/sheep
Acquire initial livestock and start goats/sheep grazing program to clean the property
Gather data for clearing and stocking rates and develop experience to adjust and improve approach
Establish approaches for marketing lambs/kids, transporting animals, breeding program, etc.
As the property is cleared, continue planning and evaluation of other potential uses. Examples include:
plant improved cashew varieties and incorporate the property into the national program for the development of cashew
plant selected crops with high demand/value such as habenero peppers
contract clearing or fire protection services for others using goats
improved goat and sheep breeder and supplier to Belize and region (in cooperative venture with Ministry of Agriculture), as appropriate use artificial insemination (AI) and embryo implants (EI) as alternative to importing breeding stock to upgrade local, acclimatized livestock
training center for local youth participation in sustainable goat and sheep operations, business skills, and other sustainable enterprises as they are developed and ready to deploy (in cooperative venture with Government of Belize)
microbusiness development program: business training, technical assistance, loan assistance, networking, mentoring and other asset building services
other eco-workshop type sustainable projects that would appeal to people who want to come, learn transferable skills, do good work, and use part of their time there to jump off to other attractions in the region. Some of these could be specific workshops with hands-on work experience, others could lead to ongoing programs
For example an aquaculture workshop might deploy a unit - the analysis would include the workshop costs and revenues, then the sustaining operation costs and revenues (from trip: many Mennonites in Shipyard operate tilapia fish ponds)
bio-diesel – (from trip: T. Tillett indicated Yo Creek soybean processing facility has equipment for bio-diesel)
light-footprint ecotourism oriented accommodations: both hostel/dormitory style and individual units (such as cabanas, tent-camper units, cabins, or the small houses); with common areas for dining/lounge, conference, (with all facilities designed to accommodate persons with disabilities), etc. (Elda Gideon boards visitors in her house, is renowned for her cooking, and welcomed idea of cabanas and facility where people could be served meals, e.g., if on bus trip to Lamanai, etc.)

Participating schools, or other entities, could develop classes or seminars where students could build on a conceptual master plan, flesh out more detailed designs consistent with master plan, or integrate other project plans at the conceptual level.

With the right management structure and suitable partnering and participation, the management team could seek funding to expand the facilities per the master plan.

Educational on-site participation could be integrated through the entire life cycle; e.g., coming to do a planning and design workshop, coming to participate in an expansion or building project, or later just coming to enjoy the place you had a hand in shaping and jump off to rest of Belize.

The vision for the initial outcome is the property set-up with a sustained presence consisting of a rotating crew of team participants and local caretakers who staff the place and take care of the daily operation. As other projects are approved, they could also check in the participants who come or other visitor/guests.

I am interested in identifying other sustainable projects on and off the property that would appeal to people who want to come, learn transferable skills, do good work, and use part of their time there to jump off to other attractions in the region. I've considered Tom Sawyer's "painting the fence" as a metaphor for it. Maybe a better one is “make a hand”. Come “make a hand” - do what needs to be done - paint our fence, or tend goats, or clear a path to visit a Mayan ruin, or learn to drill wells, or... enter the hostel addition design competition - winners come build it, ... well you get the general idea. These could be specific workshops with hands-on work experience.

patcoyle Tue, 01/31/2006 - 14:26