Who are the Playa Viva Volunteers now?

See what our volunteers are up to now! We have a lot of exciting volunteer projects in the works and found some wonderful people to carry those projects out. Read on to find out more!

Farm to Table: Christabel Courtauld, UK

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Christabel in front of the volunteer house in town

Where are you from originally and what were you doing before you arrived?

I am from Bristol, England. Before coming to Mexico I was head chef at a restaurant called ‘The Canteen’ for 3 years. We practiced sustainability, local sourcing & minimal food waste. Now I am keen to learn about Organic farming to complete the farm to table cycle. I travelled in Oaxaca & Chiapas for two months before starting at Playa Viva.

How did you find out about Playa Viva and what drew you to Playa Viva? In other words, why did you decide to volunteer?

I discovered Playa Viva through WorkAway. I was looking for a farm with knowledgeable people to learn from but still a work in progress. The opportunity to cook in a local kitchen is always a bonus for me. I was excited to live in a village away from the usual tourist trail.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I am working with the connection of Farm to table- spending time volunteering in the kitchen and in food production at the farm. I am hoping to build more information about the seasonal availability of all the produce at Playa Viva.

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Christabel working in the garden

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

The people who we work with at Playa Viva, and in our village of Juluchuca, have all been so welcoming. It has been brilliant balancing our time between the two very different places. Oh, and the food is incredible!

Seafood Sustainability & Social Impact: Romain Langeard, France

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Romain with fishermen from Cayacal

Where are you from originally and what were you doing before you arrived?

I am from France and was having a tour of some organizations in Latin America before joining Playa Viva. Before that, I took part in several conservation and development projects in Asia, India and Africa.

How did you find out about Playa Viva and what drew you to Playa Viva? In other words, why did you decide to volunteer?

Playa Viva offered very good TOR for two interesting missions, so I jumped on the adventure!

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Gathering info from the Cooperative’s Treasurer

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I am supporting Melissa (our amazing volunteer coordinator) on a “Social Impact Assessment” and I am doing the first seafood sourcing sustainability assessment for the Playa Viva restaurant.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

When the pigs are coming! And more seriously, the meetings we’ve had with the fishing communities and gathering information have been the most interesting part so far.

Organic Farming, Local Sourcing and Community Gardens: Nathan Ellermeier, USA

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Nathan enjoying free time in the village

Where are you from originally and what were you doing before you arrived?

I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. But after spending 6 years in Columbia, Missouri for school, working and digging the town, I feel like Columbia is where I’m from. I did a lot of growing up around central Missouri, at the lively Saturday farmer’s market, cruising around on my bright green Peugeot, sipping growlers of local ales with friends at spring-fed watering holes

December this last year, I made peace with my town, rolled up my bed roll and packed away my portable Columbia life. After Christmas, I caught a plane to Peru to spend time working on my Spanish, alone somewhere that was completely different. Along the way, I worked on organic farms, met wonderful people from Peru and beyond, and learned heaps about regional cuisine.

How did you find out about Playa Viva and what drew you to Playa Viva? In other words, why did you decide to volunteer?

Travelling alone affords you with a certain amount of self-discovery that might only otherwise happen on long hikes in the woods. While in Peru, my multifarious interests in permaculture, cultivation and community building began to take shape as priorities. I wanted to invest time in community education, sustainable living, and delicious home-grown foods.

This revelation came around the same time that I’d become restless with travel and was looking for somewhere a little less transient, somewhere to invest my energy where it might be felt. Through ComFood, an email listserv run by Tufts, I found Playa Viva and its mission. With its focus on sustainable community development and regenerative agriculture, it felt like the position at Playa Viva had fallen into my lap.

What are you working on at Playa Viva?

I spent my first three weeks at the hotel working out on the organically cultivated farm with Guero and Abel, learning the permacultural techniques they employ. We grow cabbages, kales, nopales, sesame, drying beans, corn, and a cornucopia of tropical fruits (cashew apples have me enchancted). Since the hotel is moving into its low-season, production has slowed down and plants have begun to bolt. So we have been harvesting and saving a lot of seed, which is exciting to be a part of. I’ve also been selling our greens at a local eco-market up in Zihuatanejo.

This past week, I’ve begun my preliminary survey on where I might install gardens to give workshops to people that live in Juluchuca and provide produce for the local soup kitchen. At Playa Viva, we hold monthly healthy cooking workshops for people who live in town. The problem is that some of the ingredients (i.e. fresh, nutrient-dense greens) are hard to come by here in Juluchuca. As a way to save water and create a space that is attractive for future workshops, I’ll be collaborating with the volunteers at the soup kitchen to build a vertical garden out of Upcycled materials. Along with this, I am researching grey water and water harvesting systems that could be practically employed in Juluchuca. By extending the use of each drop of water, I hope that the idea of gardening will become more practical and appealing to water-scarce Juluchuca.

What has been the highlight of your experience so far?

This question leaves me with too much I want to say, but I’ll try and keep it short.

One of the most lively spaces in Juluchuca is a taco stand that sits along the highway that runs through town. During the day, the spot is sweltering and filled with the exhaust from rumbling buses and the heat that radiates from the road. But when night comes, Lupe sets out chairs, carries her supplies out to the exposed kitchen space, and turns on a few orange incandescents. The energy from the town, lagging from a hot afternoon, feels like it condenses under those lights. Her restaurant has the feel of a roadside diner with all its quirks, service lingo, and mix of community staples and passers-through. But instead of breakfast, there are delicious tacos.

Ferments and tropical fruits/climate Another thing I’ve enjoyed is the endless supply of new fruits that fall in abundance as they mature. So with this comes opportunities ripe for fermentation, a particular favorite pastime of mine. So far, I’ve got a delicious tamarind kombucha on the brew. Attempts at baking sourdough bread over an open fire are also being made.

Tianguis The Eco-Tianguis market ever Saturday in Zihua is one of my favorite parts of the week. I’m the kind of person that’s excited to talk about the greens and whatever else I’m bringing to market. Since we are some of the only food producers at the market, the market feels like an exciting time for collaboration. Everyone brings something unique and handcrafted to the market. There is an exchange of knowledge and community there that I really love.

Okay, I’m almost done, but I can’t leave this post without talking about my office. Let me sketch a quick image. 50 years ago (maybe more), when this property was probably just beginning as a coconut plantation, some forward-thinker planted three little Parota trees and built a small adobe shed near one of them. Now these trees have grown into gargantuan granddaddies that throw they’re Elephant-ear seedpods everywhere, are habitat and play space for a handful of lively birds, retain water, enrich the soil, and cast beautiful patches of shade on the garden here at Playa Viva. I feel fortunate to work in such a beautiful, lush space. There are these white butterflies that fly through the garden that look like floating napkins. Adding to this are the shenanigans and camaraderie among Guero, Abel, and the rest of the food and permaculture crew. At moments tranquil and quiet, the garden livens up while the day is at its hottest.

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One of the beautiful parota trees that hovers over the garden
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