Day 6: Green Hectares is the Place to Be
By the Tr1plet$
This morning, we enjoyed a beautiful breakfast at Cumbres de Ayangue. The ocean breeze complimented the fruit and balloon bread, made of cheese and plantains, and was appreciated by all. The wind speed, collected by Amy and Terry, was a perfect 1.9 mph. It didn’t even mess up our hair.
After an hour of driving, we arrived at Dos Mangas, the birthplace of Ecuadorian agriculture.
Fausto, the main person for Heifer’s coastal projects, prepared us for the day by explaining Heifer’s role in agriculture. He also told us about new laws that made the waters surrounding Ecuador open for international fishing. The 200 miles that used to be governed by Ecuador was greatly reduced to only 18 miles.
We learned that Heifer is supporting agro-ecological solutions that include empowering people, partnering with local non-profits, and providing loans that aren’t necessarily monetary. These loans are often plants that are harvested and their fruits are sold to repay the loan. Vision Integral has helped farms prepare for harvest by providing the farmers with quality plant material like grafted lemon trees and pineapple starts.
Farms use the profits from their plants to hire more workers, often family members. The farms are 100% organic. Heifer networks between communities that use young adults to spread the word about healthy, organic, sustainable farming. Part of the mission of the family farms is diversification by inter-cropping.
We proceeded to visit two farms. One belonged to Tito and Josephina Mendoza. The other belonged to a neighbor. At Tito and Josephina’s farm, the couple walks the trail three times a day to harvest and maintain their farm. For our group, the trip was a 15 minute drive, plus a steep 45 minute walk … One way!
Entering into the tropical dry forest, we saw bromeliads that are endemic, found only in this part of the world. We even saw a tagua tree and nuts, which we later learned from Sonja are edible for up to 8 weeks after the nuts have fallen off the tree. The animals that roamed the farm were much more exotic than Old MacDonald’s. We were within two feet of a llama, chickens, tilapia (in a pond), horses, and several dogs. Between the two farms, we tasted sugar cane, tangerines, oranges sliced by a machete, stevia, red peppers, raw chocolate, cherry tomatoes, and yucca. The farmers were extremely generous in sharing their crop, as all of the produce is sold at market. Unfortunately, we never got to try the other crops that were being grown, like corn, bananas, papaya, mangoes, lemons, pineapple, chaya-like coriander, and neem, with leaves that act as an organic pesticide and insecticide.
We ate lunch in the community near the farms. To start off, we enjoyed albacore soup with yucca, corn, and other vegetables. The main entrée included plantains, rice, slaw, and fried trumpet fish. For dessert, we gulped up some freshly squeezed orange juice.
The government wants to be an agro-exporter of bananas, chocolates, mangoes, etc., but this type of farming is called monoculture, which reduces biodiversity. Local farmers know that this type of production requires chemical pesticides, insecticides, and causes the land to deteriorate much quicker than farming with traditional sustainable methods that have been around for centuries.
We left the farms and commuted to Puerto Lopez safely. We stumbled upon the annual Festival of Whales, Festival de Ballenas, which included indigenous dancing, music, and an artisan market for shopping.