Hello and good day!
Out where we buy cacao in northern Peru, in the eastern foothills of the Andes mountains, most cacao farmers are also coffee farmers. That is one of the very interesting and beautiful things about the farms out there.
They are almost all multi-crop, agroforestry style farms.
The farming occurs in the context of the jungle instead of clear cutting the jungle to do plantation style farming.This is good for the environment, good for the soil, good for the cacao and coffee trees because it makes them more disease resistant and productive, and that is ultimately good for the economics of the farm.
Also, having a nice variety of crops growing all over the place adds some protection against swings in world commodity prices. If the coffee price is down, the cacao price might be up and vice versa. And if everything is down all at once, at least you have an abundance of food to eat on your farm. Folks might get ill and perish because the roads are rained out.
But nobody starves to death.
That is not the case on a mono-cropped farm. Being out on those farms is so lovely.You can cut fruit off of trees as you go along and eat it fresh. There are few foods as delicious and satisfying as fruit eaten just after cutting it down from the tree.
However, there is one category of food that is very hard to find. And when you are an American living out in campo, you really miss it. That category is vegetables. Look around for some broccoli or a fresh head of lettuce or a cucumber or some kale.
Spoiler alert. You won't find it.
The farmers could grow any and all vegetables they wish to. The soil is fertile, but vegetables are not a traditional part of the cuisine.At most you might see a little planter filled with chili peppers used to spice up meals.
But fresh veggies? Forget it.
Both my brother and I are vegetable people. We always eat salads. I'm not bragging or anything. Just stating facts. But when you are out in campo, they are hard to come by.
You could try to buy some veggies in other parts of Peru, where there are bigger markets, and bring them out to campo. But it is so hot out there and the electricity goes out a lot. Refrigeration isn't very practical.
The local cuisine consists mostly of two starches, rice and yuca, and a protein, mostly farm hen, but sometimes duck, beef, or pork.Lots of wonderful fresh eggs out there too.,It feels ironic to be out in a stunningly productive agricultural region and not be able to lay your hand on a vegetable.
There are about 6 bodegas out in the little town of Puerto Ciruelo, but the best you can ever do in those is onions, tomatoes and an occasional wilted carrot. Sunday is market day and you may fare better then as more vendors come in, but again you run into the refrigeration issue.
The food situation is one of the hardest parts of being a foreigner living out in a cacao producing zone.The irony does weigh on you, but you aren't going to overcome custom by explaining the irony of it all.
\Also, you don't see many farmers who have to farm in order to earn a living tending to gardens.They spend their productive time raising cash crops. The fruit trees grow wild and produce fruit on their own year after year. They don't add any extra work.
Here is another bit of irony. Most coffee farmers will serve you Nescafe instant coffee if you are eating lunch on their farm. Chocolate is one thing. It is very hard to process well. But coffee, once it has been fermented can be roasted adequately with little capital investment.
I know that in some places, coffee farmers have become adept at taking their coffee all the way through the value chain. This is a much easier prospect than trying to make chocolate.
But it hasn't caught on where we operate.So you sit there on a farm porch, staring out at a beautiful, productive, multi-crop farm, replete with coffee bushes everywhere you look. And you drink Nescafe instant coffee.
A couple of thoughts on this.
First, it is very, very hard to overcome custom. Very hard. Even when the custom could be overcome relatively easily. Say planting some broccoli out on a cacao farm. It would grow. It wouldn't be very challenging at all.
We're not talking about opening a vegetable market here. I'm only talking about growing some broccoli for personal consumption. There would be health benefits to adding cruciferous vegetable to the diet out there. But it is unlikely to happen because it just isn't part of the custom.
No matter how easy and how sensible, if it isn't the custom, the traditional way of doing things, it is hard to talk somebody into it. That applies to everybody everywhere. If you want to talk somebody into making a change, you better settle in for long, protracted effort. And that means you better care a lot about the change you are trying to make.
The second thought is just how awesome it is to be able to get any food item we want so easily.
Basically everything anybody could want here in the United States is at some local store or just a click of a button away. Other folks don't have it that easy. It isn't something we should take for granted and it can go away.
Our infrastructure and logistics systems are what allow everything to be everywhere almost all the time. When you show up at a store and the thing you want is not there, it feels perplexing and frustrating sometimes doesn't it?
We've had many people coming into our shops wanting stuff that we are sold out of because we can't make enough. Disappointment is a common reaction.
It takes hard work, machines, good roads, affordable transportation, and skilled workers to make all the things we like.If society isn't constantly investing in those resources, a lot of the items we depend on can start to disappear.
Anyhow, I am running out of steam for now.
As a parting shot, if you are heading out to a cacao farm in northern Peru, eat your veggies and drink good coffee before you go.
Thank you for your time!
I hope at you have a truly blessed day!
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