I’m heading back home late late tonight, with a brain still full of things to write about my trip to Peru and Ecuador. But, as it’s Friday, I thought I’d just do a handful of photos of the food I’ve had the opportunity to try while in South America. Although a PB&J sounds great right about now, it really has been a treat to have such diverse culinary experiences. The farmers and communities we visited were extremely welcoming; generous with both their time and their food. It’s an element of travel I’ll never forget.
Coca tea, which helps you adjust to the altitude of the Andes.
Alpaca and potatoes.
Farm cheese and giant corn kernels.
Cuy (guinea pig) with potatoes.
Milk bread and colada de sambo.
Pambamesa (community food).
Pambamesa in a cabbage leaf.
Soup, squash and juice.
Pork, beets, vegetables and plantains.
Orange of sorts.
Brown sugar and banana puree.
Cebiche, rice with seafood and a banana-seafood-mashed-and-fried thing.
When traveling abroad, I’ve lately found I prefer not to do too much research into where I’m headed. I like going in with as open a mind as possible, with few expectations. Something that has struck me on this visit to South America is how similar certain things are, not just with the United States, but with my specific home, Little Rock, Arkansas. This past Sunday, my colleagues and I flew from Quito to Loja, Ecuador. Our first stop was a farmer’s market, where we visited with Heifer participants and sampled their goods for breakfast.
Heifer participants wear green aprons and sell under green tents, distinguishing themselves from the sellers up the hill, who sell produce that’s “conventionally” grown and not always local.
The market is divided into two sections. The first is the agroecological market, which is where Heifer Ecuador participants have booths. (The term “agroecology” has it’s own definition, but for the most part, consider it about the same as “organic.”) All of the products sold under the green tents are grown without chemicals and using practices that care for the environment.
Oscar Casteneda sampling some milk bread.
The second section of the market, however, is where “conventional” products are sold. This reminded me of our main farmer’s market in Little Rock. Some of the products may be local, but many are imported, out of season, and likely have been treated with any number of agri-chemicals.
My breakfast of milk bread and colada de sambo (a warm beverage of milk, brown sugar and the pulp of some sort of gourd).
Our farmers who sell here come from near and far. Some grow in urban or peri-urban gardens, while others must pay for a truck to bring their produce in from their rural farms. We visited farms in both situations, and I’ll be sharing those soon.
Eggs, cheese and produce.
We had the chance to ask some of the customers of the agroecological market why they shop there. Some say price (unlike in the United States, prices for agroecological produce in this market are less than that of the conventional produce up the hill), but many more recognize the health and environmental benefits of organic produce.
Pierre Ferrari finds Heifer’s logo.
More produce! A head of lettuce costs $0.50 (wish I could bring some back).
Heifer Ecuador staff member Diana Guayllas holds up a jicama.
Granadilla, relative of the passion fruit.
That’s not punch in the cup; it’s called horchata tea, and it’s made with the ingredients you see right there on the table.
This has nothing to do with Heifer, but I shot this out the van window on our way to the market, and I just had to share.
Before digging into the Ecuador leg of our South American trip, I thought it might be helpful to describe the situation here, which is complex, to say the least.
Ecuador is fantastically biodiverse. I’ve never seen so many different plants in my life. It is also culturally and geographically diverse–there are 13 different indigenous nationalities living in the Andean highlands, the Amazon, the coastal areas and the Galapagos Islands. Migration out of rural areas has left the cities of Quito (the capital) and Guayaquil crowded. Poverty is everywhere, but highly concentrated in rural areas. In the rural highlands, 78 percent of the population lives in poverty; on the rural coast, the poverty rate is as high as 86 percent. A whopping 40 percent of rural indigenous people are malnourished.
To the logical mind, this doesn’t seem to make sense. Why, in a place so rich in biodiversity with thousands of years of ancestral agricultural knowledge, are so many people poor and hungry?
Here is just a sample of the contributing factors:
Land and water distribution are inequitable. Large agribusinesses growing cash crops for export, like bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice and potatoes are on the best, easiest to farm land and use the vast majority of the water available for agriculture.
At the same time, the major food crops consumed by Ecuadorians in-country are largely grown on farms 50 acres or smaller. Agriculture policies, however, are primarily focused on export growth.
Access to things like irrigation and credit for small farmers is dismally low, so it is difficult for small farmers to get ahead.
Predatory extraction of natural resources (petroleum, shrimp, metals).
This first video was shot on our drive to the first field visit in Peru. It was chilly, the view was breathtaking. We took a little break to stretch our legs and have some coca tea to help us adjust to the increasing altitude we were gaining.
The second video takes place in the Southern Andes in Ecuador. Notice the dramatic difference in the landscape. On our drive to the farm we visited, we could see the landscape shifting from the dry desert to a green, lush environment.
My bags are mostly packed; I’m just up here at headquarters to wrap up a few things and set my out-of-office messages. Tomorrow I leave for a 10-day trip to Peru and Ecuador with CEO Pierre Ferrari, our new Chief Financial Officer Bob Bloom, Vice President of Americas Oscar Casteneda, and freelance photographer Dave Anderson. Save for a day trip somewhere in Mexico when I lived in Phoenix as a child, I’ve never been south of the United States. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited.
In addition to meeting our in-country staff and learning more about how they do their important work, we’ll be visiting a number of projects (that’s always the most exciting part, of course). In Peru, we’ll be in the highlands, witnessing how we are improving the quality of local alpacas and increasing the diversity of diets with 4,333 families. We’ll also visit a project promoting agroecology and local Andean markets, which benefits 5,000 families. (I’ve been told to pack sturdy, waterproof shoes–it’s misty there.)
In southern Ecuador we’ll see how farmers have implemented agroecology on the land they’ve often struggled to hold on to. We’ll meet with regional associations and national federations and learn how our partnerships are helping farmers improve their livelihoods and how we can make policy changes at the national level.
Look for posts here on the blog, and watch for my tweets as ^BE on @Heifer.