Can you name anything that:
- Can provide shade
- Is renewable
- Can be used in place of scaffolding
- Can be eaten by both animals and people
- Can be used to make bowls, plates, utensils and chopsticks
- Can be a beautiful yet impenetrable fence
- Is 100% organic
- Can be used to make furniture
- Can be used to construct buildings and houses
- Is a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife
- Can be used to make bridges, boats, airplanes and cars
- Is flexible yet as strong as steel
- And grows quickly?
With an estimated 1546 uses, there is only one thing that is organic, useful, strong yet flexible, is 100% renewable and is nutritious and tasty, and that’s bamboo.
To list all of bamboo’s uses we’d have to write a book as long as David Farrelly’s or Oscar Hidalgo-Lopez’s Bamboo: The Gift of the Gods, so for the purposes of relevance we’ll tell you why we’ve chosen to grow bamboo on Mayani Farms.
Bamboo is Perfect for Shade
What we saw when we arrived were rows upon rows of coffee trees. Although there was the occasional banana, plantain and orange tree to break up the monotony, for two people with a vision of being organic and sustainable, the monoculture method of growing couldn’t have been further from our minds.
The type of coffee mostly grown on Puerto Rico requires chemical fertilizer and full sun. Because of this two things were obvious to us immediately. Given the rampant use of chemical fertilizer throughout the farm the soil’s condition was poor, having been depleted of its nutrients for so many years. Apart from needing to reintroduce nitrogen into the soil, there was no shade anywhere on the farm.
We moved into the house on New Year’s Eve 2009 when it’s relatively cool during the day and can be cooler at night (can drop into the mid- to high 50s). By March when things started to heat up during the day, it really became evident that we needed shade in as many areas as we could get it.
Over the house was paramount. The house heated up quickly on hot sunny days. Once we got goats and created pens and outside play areas for them, covering them with shade became our next order of business.
Bamboo grows very quickly (at a rate of between one and a half to four inches per day), which means in just one year our bamboo can grow to 60 feet (on the conservative end).
Use Bamboo in Place of Your Favorite Green Leafy Vegetable
No doubt the image in your mind when asked to think about bamboo is of a panda foraging from its leaves and shoots. They aren’t the only ones who love eating bamboo.
We grow various types of bamboo from China, Southeast Asia and South America, so when we talk about what makes bamboo so nutritious, we’re talking in generalities.
Bamboo shoots are rich in protein and amino acids; they’re high in fiber and low in fat. They have antioxidants, so they fight free radicals, and they’re delicious and work well in any dish that calls for a green, leafy vegetable.
For two vegetarians who raise goats for their dairy, we both get to benefit. Goats eat the leaves and we can enjoy the shoots.
Bamboo Makes Decorative and Long-lasting Chopsticks, Bowls, Plates, Utensils for Cooking and Eating
Prior to mass production of everything from plates, cups and bowls to forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks, people made all of these things by hand. Because we already know bamboo is strong, we know that breakage wasn’t an issue. Now in addition to sturdy, we’ve got highly functional, and depending on the person crafting these items, they could be plain Jane or incredibly ornate.
Our property extends along the road about one-tenth of a mile in one direction and about 200 feet in the other. It’s common to see people around here using chain link, wood—similar to a picket fence, cement/concrete with reinforced steel rebar—with or without metal poles or columns or barbed wire along the property line. These are all fine for letting people know where their property ends and the city’s begins.
The only thing barbed wire will keep out are cows, but it’s extremely affordable. The other materials can become very expensive and some of them are rather unsightly—chain link comes to mind.
Bamboo is ornate, impenetrable, sturdy and extremely inexpensive. People can neither look in from the road nor can they trespass onto our property.
Bamboo Makes Beautiful and Sturdy Furniture
If you’ve ever sat on a sofa that over time sagged on one side, maybe you replaced the cushions thinking that would make things perfect again. But it didn’t, did it? That’s because cushions aren’t the only part of the sofa that loses tensity. Springs loosen and can rust, the wood flexes and whatever else is in there wears with age. Bamboo is unlike most woods in that with age and wear it won’t loosen or warp. A bed, a sofa, a dining room table or a desk, build it today, pass it on to the next generation.
Bamboo is So Strong, In Many Countries It's Used for Scaffolding and Construction
It’s difficult to imagine how strong bamboo is until you’ve seen it used for scaffolding—in place of steel. Once you do, you’ll truly appreciate how strong bamboo is.
So strong is bamboo that many cultures still make houses and buildings with it—indeed multiple storied homes and office buildings.
I think you’re getting the idea how tough bamboo is. It’s pretty hard to believe something so sturdy can taste good too, isn’t it?
 David Farrelly, One Thousand Things: The Book of Bamboo (Sierra Club Books, 1984), 12-71