Editor's Note: Story by Christian DeVries | Photos by Russ Powell
Keurig Green Mountain, Inc. is well-known for their delicious roasts. They care about their product and the people who buy it, but they also care about the farmers who grow it.
Coffee farmers can be vulnerable to yearly price fluctuations if they rely too heavily on one crop. Maintaining a diverse farm enables families to feed themselves. That is why Keurig teamed up with Heifer International. Heifer has been helping families build sustainable, self-reliant communities for almost 70 years. Together, they have established projects that are helping to improve food security, promoting proper nutrition, and creating diverse sustainable farms.
Catalino Vasquez Dominguez, 50, and his wife Bernardina Vasquez Calix, 51, are one such family. They live in El Mezcalito village, Marcala municipality, in the La Paz department of Honduras. Catalino and Bernardina are both from this area. After they were married, they lived in his parents’ small house. Eventually they were able to buy their own land where they built a grass hut. Life was difficult. They struggled to provide enough for their three children. To earn money, they harvested coffee for other farmers.
Like all parents, they wanted to give their children a better life, but they lacked the resources to create this change. Then they learned from their local cooperative, Cooperativa Regional de Agriculturas Organicos de las Sierras (RAOS), that a project was about to begin that would provide farmers with a variety of important resources. Catalino thought it would be a good project. “When he came with the news, we got very excited, especially about the fish. He has always wanted fish,” said Bernardina.
They received 200 tilapia fingerlings in June 2011 and vegetable seeds (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and radish) in June and August 2011. October brought a bio-gas unit, a sow came in December, and a goat was delivered in April 2012. The family planted fruit trees (avocado, apple, red plum and peach) in May. Fifteen chickens (14 hens and one rooster) joined the family in June, and they will soon complete construction of a greenhouse given to them by Heifer. Additionally, their sow is pregnant and is expected to give birth any day.
Their farm was chosen to be a model farm, a place where other project participants can learn through hands-on experience. This has kept the couple very busy. “We have more things to do on our land,” Catalino said. “I enjoy having a lot of work to do. I am always busy, but I love it. I also enjoy it when others come here to see what I’ve done and I can teach them.”
The trainings have benefited them, too. “I learned how to prepare the pond,” Catalino said. “I also learned that the water should pour into the pond from above to help oxygenate the pond.” They grow an astonishing variety of vegetables and fruits on their tiny farm of 1.5 manzanas, or about 2 acres, farm (1 manzana is equal to 1.72 acres). Having plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to eat has improved their family’s diet.
“Before we didn’t have so many types of vegetables,” said Bernardina. “Now we have food security. Now we can eat fish and we make all-natural juices.” They used to eat mainly rice and beans with an occasional egg. Now a typical meal consists of salad, rice and fish.
In addition to being a source of food and income, the animals they received provide organic fertilizer. Catalino and Bernardina had very few animals before the project, just five hens, two pigs and five rabbits. Now with 80 fish, two goats, 29 chickens and one pig, they have lots of manure. They use manure to fertilize everything, and the land has responded favorably. “The soil is better,” Catalino said. “Whatever we plant now grows bigger and stronger, and it tastes better.”
The manure’s effect on their lettuce production is plain to see. Since using manure as fertilizer they are growing 3,000 pounds of lettuce a year, up 200 percent from their normal 1,000 pound crop. Their aloe plants have doubled in size, from 8 to 16 inches, and are more beautiful, too.
The nutritional effects of organic produce are clear. “It is a healthier product,” Catalino said. Healthier foods, combined with having more to eat, have greatly improved the family’s overall health. “Our skin has changed,” Bernardina said. “We had a lot of problems with our skin and pimples. We also have the flu less often because we are eating more vegetables.”
Catalino and Bernardina are big Heifer supporters and say that Heifer’s policies are excellent. “Passing on the Gift® is unique,” Bernardina said. “The idea that Heifer promotes is that every family should try to produce all the food they need instead of buying it from elsewhere. We hope it will continue for generations. There will always be families that need help, so it is good for Heifer to continue. I am happy to be part of this project. If Heifer ever leaves Honduras, we will be able to continue on.”
Now their family has the resources: knowledge, land and animals, to change their future. They plan to hand these resources down to their youngest son, 14-year-old Roger Adalia Vasquez. “I want him to know how to manage my farm and everything in it,” said Catalino. “We are working hard and he is studying hard, so when he takes over the farm he can turn it into something bigger.”
Their two oldest children had to leave the village and find work in town. Bernardina is happy because she knows Roger has a choice. “There is an opportunity for my son to learn how to manage his own land. There is no need for him to leave. He doesn't have to go out looking for income, because he can work here,” she said. She believes that other young boys and girls who aren’t already in the project will benefit from their example. “It is a motivation to other young people because they will see what our son will accomplish,” she said. Thanks to Heifer International and Keurig Green Mountain, they have hope for their future and the future of their children.