MMRF - Maya Mountain Research Farm

Not Verified What's this?
6.9 / 10 after 7 Reviews Based on overall, support & value average ratings
Program website: http://www.mmrfbz.org/

Submit a review

I spent 6 weeks at MMRF last summer and, looking back on the experience exactly 1 year later, I could not recommend it more highly. The time I spent there was challenging. It was mentally and physically taxing and within my first week or 2, there were definitely moments where I questioned whether or not it was an internship for me. However, the culmination of things I learned form the farm and my time there (self- knowledge, permaculture, appreciation for nature, work ethic, community values, etc) I now consider to be invaluable and one of my more important formative experiences thus far.

The Maya Mountain Research Farm is without a doubt one of the best examples of a working, small-scale permaculture farm available to young travellers interested in an alternative to picking fruit for 8 hours straight in large fruit orchards. Chris truly believes in the permaculture system. Rich polycultures cover the active acres of farm which staggering levels of biodiversity. He is more than happy to walk you through the various plant life in any part of the farm and explain the various ways in which they are mutually beneficial to one another. At the same time, he makes a point of showing each intern the first area he started planning/ planting when he bought the farm and the various mistakes in long-term planning he made. His willingness to point out his own early shortcomings impressed me and emphasized firsthand his honest desire to share his experiences with permaculture in order to aid others in discovering/ understanding this wonderful alternative to popular agricultural techniques.

The accommodations are rustic, but eventually come to feel like home. Let's be honest, you're in the middle of the jungle. The "pods" where the interns stay are small dormitory-style adjoining rooms a short walk away from the main house and communal area. Sleeping under bug nets, the sounds of the jungle and the midnight rainfall on the tin roof all take getting used to, but inevitably feel fantastic after a few weeks of hard work. The open-air kitchen and main house are breath-taking, made of river rocks and a whole lot of hardwork and ingenuity. There is access to electricity and internet, but both are dependent upon weather as they run off of solar panels and in the event of cloudy weather, must be used sparingly.

The food is good! While the beans and rice are sourced from the local village, all of the fruits and vegetables come from the farm. Elvira, the cook at the time, provided three savory meals a day, and on her day off, Chris would often make his pad thai, which was always a treat. Pizza day, as I'm beginning to realize is the case all around the world, was always the best day of the week! Everyone makes their own pizza in the wood burning clay stove with a wild assortment of anything and everything you could find on the farm (fresh pineapple and cactus, yum?!). First one up every morning starts the fire and puts the coffee on. Maybe it's the circumstances which really make the taste... but I never enjoyed a coffee more.

One disclaimer I feel it is incredibly important to make (after having read some of the more negative reviews) is the difference between doing an internship at MMRF and participating in their Permaculture Design Course. Those who expected to be taken by the hand and walked through permaculture step-by-step are bound to be disappointed as interns. Interns join the farm and become an integrated part of the daily life, learning about permaculture by leading a truly permaculture-oriented life. During the PDC, the participants are Chris' sole focus and receive all of his attention. During internships however, which are continuous with overlapping stays as interns come and go, Chris, Celini and the Mayans who help run the farm are all busy, as you can imagine, keeping up a working farm. As a result, you become integrated in the experience, sometimes working with the Mayan guys planting or clearing, helping Celini with the medicinal plants, the garden or other upkeep of the land, collecting food for Elvira's dinner plans or heading into a neighboring town with Chris to help install a new photo-voltaic (solar panel) system at a school. The internship allows you to learn through integration, it is not a concentrated crash course.

Chris is running a huge farm and an NGO. One of the ways in which my partner and another intern chose to help was through taking on some administrative tasks for him, such as putting together a press package. This is a key example of the ways in which you can integrate yourself into the farm life. Interns who are there for over a month are encouraged to pick a project to work on. Our friends/ fellow interns Emily and Tait built a 3-part composting structure to centralize and improve the efficiency of the composting. Past interns were responsible for the dual chamber Vietnamese style composting toilets that have become so integral to the Farm. I honestly feel that the independence you are given, coupled with the resources, support and knowledge provided by Chris and the others on the farm, provides for a greater learning experience than a more regimented internship could ever provide.

Despite being busy running the farm, Chris makes a point of giving the interns a good 5 to 10 talks on various key aspects of permaculture (agroforestry, humanure, "the big picture", etc). These all help to fill in some of the more specific areas of knowledge required to grasp permaculture systems. The talks are very useful and engaging, but more often than not, you will find yourself learning the most from the random conversations you have with Chris while he shows you the proper technique for planting Arachis Pintoi, hearing stories from Celini as she looks for a specific plant to help with (insert intern)'s rash, or having the local guys tell you about their culture while teaching you to properly use the machete while clearing a section of field.

This is an internship for someone who wants to feel like an essential part of a permaculture farm, not just a passing visitor. An absolutely worthwhile experience which think of every day and miss dearly.

Oh... and they have a trampoline!

Program:
Location:
Posted: June 24, 2013
Overall:
10
Support:
8
Value:
9
By: MDW
Age:
23

I interned at Maya Mountain Research Farm (MMRF) in the summer of 2008 for 9 weeks. It was part of my overseas work experience for my undergraduate degree.
Nestled in the beautiful tropical rainforest of southern Belize, MMRF's location is peaceful and beautiful. A great place to come to if you want to reconnect with nature, learn about sustainable farming methods and simply be.
Christopher Nesbitt, the founder and manager of MMRF, was quick to respond to my emails, inquiring about signing up and getting everything going. This made the whole process of finding a suitable program easier. The low cost of the internship was also appealing, considering all the other volunteer/internship programs I found were nothing under $1000/month!
I was there at the tail-end of the dry season, so I got to experience the transition into the rainy season and really see how the land changes.
I also arrived soon after a terrible slash-and-burn operation gone wrong on a neighboring farm. Several acres of MMRF forest were lost to the fire. Together with the other interns there and the local staff, we worked together to minimize nutrient leaching and took advantage of the cleared land to grow corn. We also planted several species of trees to reforest the area as part of a long-term plan to create shade and a habitat for flora and fauna to return to. This was incredibly rewarding as I got to witness the growth of the plants and crops we planted. As for the trees, I hope to see them upon returning!
In 2008, the farm was undergoing changes in management and it appears to have all been for the better. I have kept in touch with Chris and there have been many improvements since my time there with more projects having taken root: biochar and aquaponics. Above, I alluded to returning and I intend to at the start of next year. I cannot wait to get involved in these new projects, expand my agroforestry and permaculture knowledge and also take part in the Permaculture Design Course.
The the local staff, all Kekchi Mayans from the nearby village, San Pedro Columbia enriched my everyday experience and were so much fun to work with. They were so knowledgeable and happy to have us involved. I cannot wait to see them again!
I wanted hands-on, outdoor, field experience and that is what I got. So if you're willing to get dirty, sweaty and really see the 'fruits of your labor,' MMRF is the place to be. Your experience will depend on how involved you want to be. So if you are a proactive, adaptable and receptive person, your time at MMRF will be physically and mentally life enhancing. And of course, unforgettable.
Christopher knows his stuff and wants to impart his knowledge on all who pass through. Whether it be about agroforestry, permaculture or solar and wind power. He's an approachable person and passionate about what he does. I learned so much and this is the reason I am going back: to learn more and give back to an organization that has influenced me greatly.

Program:
Location:
Posted: June 20, 2013
Overall:
9
Support:
8
Value:
10
Age:
25

I found my time at MMRF to be extremely rewarding. Chris, the director, gave all the interns a lot of autonomy once they had learned the ropes, and between his partner Celini and the Mayan farm hands I was always able to find help when I needed it. The food was great (all the fruits and vegetables were fresh from what we harvested that day), accommodations were quite nice, and there was Internet.

I would definitely recommend MMRF for people who are fairly self-directed and want to get hands-on experience with tropical agroforestry. Sometimes I worked with the Mayan guys on whatever they were doing that day, sometimes I helped Celini in the kitchen garden, sometimes I worked on a personal project-- I had a lot of control over what I did each day, which was great. MMRF was a very welcoming environment, and as someone who hadn't had much experience with farm work, I found it to be a great place to amass skills and try out lots of different tasks.

Overall, my time at MMRF helped me get hands-on experience with something I knew almost nothing about and has absolutely informed my current studies (I'm a Biology major). Chris and Celeni were wonderful hosts, I learned a ton, and the locals were incredibly kind. Great experience-- highly recommend it for self-directed individuals looking for physical labor and experience with farm work!

Program:
Location:
Posted: May 19, 2013
Overall:
10
Support:
7
Value:
10
By: bug girl
Age:
19

I interned there in 2011 for six weeks, and I loved it! I found the location to be beautiful, the food was incredible. I loved the open air kitchen. My room was basic, but clean. There is always coffee and there is wireless internet in the main building. The library has a lot of good book
s on a lot of things, and I had plenty of time to read while there.

I see some people had very different experiences. I agree that Chris can be a bit disorganized. He sometimes would be writing all day, and he has a lot of things gong on, like working to put solar panels on schools, or planting cacao. He was, though, always available to talk with.

Celini, his wife, is also very nice, too, and was a good hostess. She helped me learn medicinal plants when we did a tea walk.

Chris has a LOTof information about plants! There are over 500 species of plants there, and Chris knows the names of all of them in both Latin and in the Maya language they speak there! The farm itself is a incredibel agroforestry system with lots of big trees.

While there I got to help installing a water system with the staff of MMRF in a Maya village, which gave a whole village water using solar panels. I also got to help delivering food from MMRF to an elderly feeding program that they support.

He also had a workshop with local farmers while I was there from one of the villages, and that gave me a chance to see what they do. Chris did this free of cost for the villagers.

As for value, the cost was about $20 a day, which I found to be reasonable. Thats cheap considering how good the food was. With access to Chris's library, and my room, and the opportunity to do the things I did, I think it was worth every penny.

Belize is wonderful, and MMRF is in a beautiful location.

Program:
Location:
Posted: January 28, 2013
Overall:
10
Support:
8
Value:
10
Age:
28

My partner and I mainly agree with what the last person, Breizhillien, wrote. Chris Nesbitt is not offering a proper internship and mainly just wants your money and labour. The farm is a reasonably well done tropical agroforestry system with a wide range of species grown and many decent guilds and symbiotic relationships taking place BUT.....(and it's a big but to us)
....we felt used and cheated by his constant empty promises, lack of teaching, attention and time spent along side us. We were planning on staying for one month and paid for this upfront but after a couple of weeks we left (and lost out on most of our money as he wasn't willing to refund us half our money (a horrible situation)). We left because as we explained to him we felt used and lied to. Many times we were told we would 'do this or that together' and nothing ever eventuated and even worse he never came to us to say that he was too busy and would have to postpone, this left us either chasing him around (which isn't any fun) or waiting around for things to happen (which left us more and more frustrated). I do not believe he is a permaculturist as one of the most important parts of permaculture is to respect people and share knowledge. We found Chris to be very disorganised and self centred and we would not recommend mmrf as a place to intern or study. His partner Celini is nice and a very good cook and yep the pizza nights were good. His Mayan staff are also good people and are happy to pass on their knowledge (as are all the Mayans we have met in our travels) and the place is beautiful but mainly we just did the domestic chores. The choice is yours though as this is just our opinion of our experience.

Program:
Location:
Posted: January 7, 2013
Overall:
2
Support:
1
Value:
1
Age:

Comments

Hi Billy and Emilie, I am sorry you had such a negative experience with us. If you had listened a little, you would have understood more. You arrived two weeks before Christmas and we were preparing for a holiday with our families. That is usually a down time for us. I accommodated you based on someone I respects suggestion. As you will recall, on Christmas Eve we had 18 people for dinner with roast turkey which we cooked in the biochar stove. I am sorry I was unable to give you more attention while you were here. In addition to running the farm, and responding to 15-20 emails every day, I was also very busy working on organizing some solar work we did in two indigenous communities and a community managed national park a few months after you were here. That work was completed in March, and you can see the pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.427673243991716.1073741830.114893705269673&type=3 It was my intention to give you more attention after Christmas, when all of the documents had been submitted, the shipment of solar components shipped, and when our families had returned to their homes, but you decided to leave the day after Christmas. As for your money, lets break this down. You asked me for a break on the price of an internship. We charge USD600 a month to intern here, comparable to other programs on farms tat have not been managed with permaculture in mind for over 24 years. Based on your pledge of being here with us for one month you ended up paying USD10 per day to be here. The food, alone, was worth that. When you decided to leave, after two weeks, I prorated you based on HALF of our weekly rate of USD200, so you ended up spending USD200 for two weeks here. So, you paid USD600, originally, in total, and I refunded you USD200 since I prorated you at the weekly rate. I then deducted the cost of the blender you broke and which you had suggested you would pay for. As for not being a "permaculturist", last year we MMRF put electricity in three schools. We rebuilt a water system for a whole village, a system we built. We put food on over 900 plates for elderly people in nearby Punta Gorda. We provided plenty of probono training at our annual Permaculture Design Course, with farmer groups, and hosting local youths in conjunction with local schools. All of that, to me, would constitute care of people. As for care of the earth, this place was a destroyed citrus and cattle farm when I bought it. We have spent over two decades repairing this land, and teaching others how to do the same. Again, I am sorry I did not have more time to spend with you, and had hoped to rectify that after Christmas. I was very busy before Christmas and my time was freed up in the wake of Christmas. You would have gotten a lot of attention if you had stayed. Other than that, things are good. We got a very nice write up in the Permaculture Magazine, and are working on some other projects tied to water. If you ever happen to pass through here again, please feel free to stop in and see some of the work we are doing. Best wishes, Christopher

Pages