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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Coffee beans, beaches and broilers

For the next two weeks, collegiate agriculture students who were selected to take part in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program will be traveling in Columbia and Panama and blogging about their adventures.

Les enviamos una hola de Santa Clara, Panama! (We send you our greetings from Santa Clara, Panama!)

Today we had the amazing opportunity to tour some small scale agricultural producers here in inland Panama. Our first visit was to a small-scale coffee producer. We had the chance to see firsthand how coffee is produced and processed. Did you know that the coffee bean isn’t actually a bean? It is the seed from a coffee cherry!

In this region coffee is the main cash crop. This particular farm markets their finished product to locals as natural and organic. A struggle that they have is marketing their product outside of their local community.

One of the issues that they have is getting their product to the city to market due to the transportation restraints and distance from the concentrated population. They have, however, expanded their operations to de-hull, grind, and toast their coffee and offer these same services to other local coffee producers. By doing so they are able to sell their product for a higher premium and make a 400 percent greater profit.

Farming organically is important to this farm because they are interested in protecting the environmental conditions of the Panamanian Watershed, and their soil. It was interesting to see how they are self-sustainable because they mix their own organic fertilizer using what is available to them. Their mixture contains rice husks, coffee hulls, chicken/cow/horse manure, yeast, kitchen compost and molasses to feed the yeast for the fermentation process. It amazed all of us that they mixed this fertilizer by hand. It took them almost three weeks to completely mix it--and we thought our chores on the farm were tough!

They also harvest all of their coffee by hand and then dry it on large tarps in the sun, which is no easy task in this humid climate! The way to tell if the coffee bean his been sufficiently dried is that the coffee bean turns from white to brown.

In 1990, a group of small producers joined together and formed the UCC. The UCC is a local coffee growers association which is made up of twelve communities that share ideas and resources. One of the producers that we visited today is the current vice president of the UCC.

We were also able to meet the area Peace Corps Volunteer, Jim O’Neil. Jim grew up in the United States and has been in Panama since last July. He helps out local farmers by teaching them new sustainable methods of agriculture. He also showed us his humble living conditions and his own personal sustainable garden. His best friend Canella, was overjoyed to have new friends to play fetch with.

After several hours on a bus, we ended up in Santa Clara, Panama where we had the chance to meet with Jesus Armenteros. Jesus is a UC Davis graduate and owns a small poultry operation.

Even though his primary focus is pasture feed broilers, Jesus also farms other commodities as well. He has 150 laying hens, 3 acres of yams, 1 acre of tomatoes, a few beets and beans, hogs, African sheep, and a lot of different varieties of fruit trees. He markets all of his products to local restaurants and the Jewish community as organic and humane to receive a higher premium.

Most of us had the opportunity to sample the infamous cashew fruit, and local mango. The cashew fruit is highly deceiving, because before the cashew nut is properly processed it is toxic to humans. Upon eating the fruit itself, which is non-toxic, you found that your mouth immediately goes dry even though juice gushes everywhere when you bite into it!

We finished our day by walking across the beach to make it to our dinner reservations where we were able to eat some authentic Panamanian food. Our hotel for the next two nights resides on the beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We give you permission to be jealous!

Stay tuned for what adventures the I-CAL team will experience tomorrow!

Gracie Weinzierl – Illinois State University
Jarvis Pace – Utah State University

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