BIO BIO, Chile — It’s almost eerie the way the history of the El Manzano (the apple tree) community has mirrored the history of Chile. In a country inhabited largely by the descendants of early 20th-century European immigrants, El Manzano occupies 120 hectares (300 acres) of a ranch in the Bío Bío region of Chile. The land was bought in 1930 by an Englishman, a great-grandfather of Manzano co-founder and co-director Javiera Carrión.
Like much of Chile, El Manzano’s land was divided up, sold to big logging companies, deforested and then replanted with pine trees—all of which impoverished the soil. The land was again broken up in the early 1970s, under a nationwide agrarian reform initiative implemented under socialist President Salvador Allende.
Now, El Manzano is on the cutting edge of a growing Chilean wave of organic farms and educational centers for eco-social regeneration.
“Ten or 12 years ago there were very few of us doing this,” says Carrión. “We’ve been pioneers, innovators. Our main strategy to survive in an adverse context for regeneration has been to make alliances with international partners—Gaia University, Gaia Education, GEN, CASA, Regrarians, and recently Regeneration International. And we have been active in offering trainings for our team and the wider network.”
According to Carrión, when El Manzano was formed in 2000, there were no other intentional organic-agriculture communities in Chile. But now they are starting to sprout up.
“It’s been incredible this year,” Carrión said on the phone from El Manzano. “People have been inviting us everywhere all the time. Before, we had to reach outside of Chile to find like-minded people and to learn. Now it’s exploding all over. There are people transforming their lives with what we do here. Our educational offerings are very transformative and they lead to action.”
Carrión thinks December’s COP25 in Santiago, 500 kilometers north of Bío Bío, is spurring interest in regenerative agriculture, and she hopes it will do even more to spur more of her countrymen to start communities like El Manzano.
Under its mission of organizing learning for eco-social regeneration and catalyzing change, El Manzano has been running an Incubator for Regenerative Projects in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America. The 2019 incubator was funded by the Chilean Ministry of Economy in order to create a regenerative hub in Bío Bío.
El Manzano is doing everything it can to support the COP25, but the December date falls right in the middle of the community’s busy southern hemisphere growing season, which runs from August to April. Still, the community hopes to send three members to the COP and will support the events and assemblies of Regeneration International at the COP.
El Manzano is a comprehensive community of about 80 people, with everything from housing, housing construction, a one-teacher primary school, and an education center that teaches permaculture, organic farming, ecovillage design, meditation and yoga, among other things. According to Carrión, El Manzano is financially self-sufficient, sustaining itself through three businesses: education and design for regeneration, logging and milling trees, and organic agriculture. Its crops include wheat, rye, blueberries, buckwheat and quinoa, a grain that has been cultivated in South America for millenia.
But El Manzano is about more than just sustaining itself. It’s about creating a viable future for the next generations, inside and outside of the community. Like many rural areas in Chile and throughout Latin America, the region around El Manzano has lost much of its younger generation to the lure of cities with more economic opportunities.
“We provide basic services so our young people can stay here and make a living,” Carrión told me. “This is an intergenerational project. We want to create an amazing little town in an ocean of pine trees.” But Carrión says it will take more than just their small community to protect and preserve what they have. One challenge the community faces is the danger of forest fires.
Reflecting the thinking of regenerative agriculture activists around the world, Carrión says El Manzano can’t go it alone. “We can do what we want with our property, but we need to work with others to protect and regenerate our whole area. We need to create a regional response.”
So far, that seems to be going well, and it looks as if El Manzano is getting out in front of the history that has done so much to shape the community it is building in the pine forests of central Chile.
Lawrence Reichard is a freelance journalist. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.