Cuenca’s Granja Integral Learnaya: Organic farming in Ecuador at its best

May 1, 2019

“Organically grown?  What exactly does that mean?” I asked.

My host replied, “The dictionary defines organic as relating to or derived from living matter. It means that every component of food production is working with live compounds. The seed is from a living parent,  and the soil is full of active living matter derived from, and feeding on, kitchen scraps, manure, brown leaves, and earthworms. If you have good compost, there is no need for additional fertilizers.”

I was speaking with Kiarash (“Kia”), an organic farmer and member of, Granja Integral Learnaya, a communal farm and spiritual retreat center he operates in consort with other commune members.

Organic farmer and spiritual leader Kiarash.

Kia is a tall, wiry man with a full black beard and dreadlocks. He came to Cuenca three years ago from Iran, married  Eli, a Cuencana, and started a family. They have two young sons.

He is fluent in English, Spanish, and Farsi, and studied mine engineering in Iran where he earned a baccalaureate degree.  His other interests include horticulture, culinary arts, and interior design.

Granja Integral Learnaya, is high above Cuenca, in the hills northeast of the city. The farm is surrounded by eucalyptus trees. The compound is a anchored by a 100 year old farmhouse which the owner, Fani, inherited from her grandfather. The property includes several outbuildings, sheds, animal pens, paddocks, two sweat lodges and a lovely meditation cabin.

When I visited, I felt I like I was on sacred ground.

Kia volunteers much of his time tending a plot of land on the farm growing food for his family, and although the land under cultivation is relatively small — perhaps one-quarter of an acre —  it is chock full of of produce.

The heart of the operation, as with any farm, is the quality of the soil; the soil in the garden is a deep black loam, enriched by liberal applications of the compost.

Kale and lettuce in the garden plot at Granja Integral Learnaya.

The property also supports a variety of stock animals that include cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, and geese, all of whom provide plenty of manure that is rich in nutrients. This is added to garden clippings and kitchen scraps and mixed into the soil.

Markku completed a Master Gardener course some years ago. Even my instructor would look at this operation with admiration. Unknowledgeable people may dismiss the commune as a bunch of New Age hippies, but they would be grossly mistaken. Here is a group of folks caring for the earth in real and meaningful ways.

After visiting the farm, we drove to his house, where I met his lovely family who asked me to join them for a “delicious Persian lunch.”

My wife, Jackie, has long admonished me to eat more vegetables, but I have resisted, preferring mac & cheese, or meat and potatoes. However,  I never tasted “delicious Persian” food before … and, was it ever!.

We started with a bowl of chilled pomegranate arils, sweet, refreshing and delicious. Next up: a flat carrot cake, about the size, shape, and consistency of a soft energy bar. I took one home to share with Jackie. The main course was  saffron rice with two different sauces and dips. My favorite was a tasty sauce of eggplant, tomato, and garlic. The other sauce was a hearty mix of beans, herbs, spices and pickled limon from Iran. A glass of hot chai completed the meal. Everything was delicious.
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Note: There’s just too much for one article about the Granja Integral Learnaya so Installment #2 will be coming shortly. In the meantime, contact information for Granja Integral Learnaya can be found under the name of the farm on Facebook. Email is learnaya@hotmail.com, the phone number is (07) 404-3363.

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