How to live and farm in an old volcano

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Pululahua in Ecuador is the only inhabited and cultivated volcano in the world.

While Pululhua Volcano – not far from Ecuador’s capital city, Quito – hasn’t erupted in 2,500 years, it left behind a doozy of a legacy: A giant caldera full of fertile soil and a wealth of fog that keeps vegetation lush. At 13 square miles, it’s a remarkably ample crater with a central lava dome rising 1,600 feet skyward that plays home to unique cloud-forest-loving orchids and other unique plants. The whole area became protected as a geobotanical reserve in 1978 and was later declared a national park.

But for hundreds of years on the crater floor and terraced moutainsides people have been putting Pululhua’s rich resources to work in the name of agriculture. Pululahua is one of only two volcanic caldera in the world that is inhabited, and the only one that is cultivated.

Named for the Quichua term meaning "smoke of water" or "cloud of water,” referring to the fog that rolls in and fills the crater each day, the caldera was likely first settled by the Incas. When the colonial Spanish came and divvied up much of Ecuador into haciendas, thousands of local people farmed the land in exchange for a small plot of their own – a system that was ended in 1963.

Farms in volcano

Now it’s mostly the descendants of those early indigenous families tending to the half-dozen or so farms in the crater.

Organic crops of corn, sugar cane, beans and a rare variety of…

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