Food

Astonishing Armenia.

Shangri-La I’ll be honest – I wasn’t very excited when Heifer International suggested I visit Armenia last year in one of my trips visiting its projects working to end poverty and hunger around the world. I’d never known anybody who’d been to Armenia, and had barely heard the name Yerevan, the country’s capital. And so, it came as a big surprise to me that I didn’t just like Armenia – I fell madly in love with it.Prayer CrossesFor one thing, the land itself is beautiful. From Mt. Ararat towering just over the treacherous border with Turkey…

Even Armenia's beloved Mt. Ararat, where Noah's Ark supposedly landed, is now part of Turkey.

….to the dun northern hills that made me think of Afghanistan…landscape…to the lush green pastures that support gorgeous orchards of fruit and nuts…Apples…to the rocky outcroppings where Christian churches were tucked in the crevasses, hidden from marauding invaders. rock churchThis is an ancient land with a totally unique history.buggy Armenia is the first Christian country in the world, and is ardently religious still.crossIt was the first country to experience heartbreaking genocide after World War I,

The Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan

The haunting Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan

A country in near-constant conflict with its neighbors: Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey.

Across the lake and in gunsight: the Azerbaijan Border Station

Across the lake and within gun range: the Azerbaijan Border Station

And then, of course, there is the food.fruit pyramid

 Armenians dearly love to welcome you. And wine you. And dine you. And bread you. And fruit you. And cheese you. And coffee you.

Lahvosh & cheese You better come hungry when you visit Armenia, because you’re going to eat.PicklesAnd despite the severe challenges of moving beyond a Soviet mentality to establish an economy that can sustain the young people growing up here (which Heifer is working so tirelessly and creatively to support), there is a tenacity of spirit and national pride that is simply not to be denied.

Look at these beautiful faces!One of 44 members of Tsaghkavan CARMAC committee

Tamara Sargsyan

Naira Gyulnazaryan

The I am enI am Hope of Armenia

rabbitsBarev, Armenia – I’ll never forget our time together!cute boy

Categories: Armenia, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Holler back, Appalachia & The Delta.

hollerLast July I spent five rainy days in Appalachia, in the far west of North Carolina near Boone – and another two days in the Arkansas Delta in the town of Hughes, visiting new projects Heifer International is undertaking here in America. barn

This is pretty country.hydrangea

In the Delta, it’s awesomely fertile country (or at least it was before the advent of agribusiness with its soil-stripping, water-hogging monoculture of corn, cotton, rice and soybeans that requires only one person per 1,000 acres to farm). agribusinessBut this is also hardscrabble America … where poverty prevails, industry has fled, opportunity seems to have vanished, and hope is hard to find.shedIt’s important to see this America.

The only food store in Hughes burnt last year.

The only food store in Hughes burnt down last year.

It matters.Austin

Because 15% — or 46.2 million people– now live in poverty in America; and when I say poor, I mean a family of four earning less than $22,200 a year. And 36% of those poor people are children. The miracle of grapes

But to most of us, they’re invisible.waitressesWhen you’re in a place like Hughes or Ashe, N.C., (or just living with our heads in the sand), it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing that can be done. But Heifer’s crew of Jeffrey, Perry, Edward, Pastor Rob, Bubba, Duncan, Travis and a host of others have a different view.

Edward Rucker, Heifer's charismatic community organizer in Hughes.

Edward Rucker, Heifer’s charismatic community organizer in Hughes.

Biker/gardener Duncan and his wife

Biker/gardener Duncan and his wife tend a huge community garden in North Wilkesboro, NC

Carol Coulter, cheesemaker extraordinaire.

Carol Coulter, Appalachian cheesemaker extraordinaire.

Heifer’s plan is to work within these communities using sustainable agriculture to improve the health, nutrition and income of the people – organizing smallholder farmers (providing land when necessary) to grow fruits, honey, nuts, meats, and vegetables that can be sold in local markets. hopeBasically, it’s about turning these food deserts and manufacturing graveyards into oases of growth. pepperThat endeavor requires education, support, counsel, supply chains, marketing and attitudinal changes – but Heifer and hundreds of activists in the community believe it can be done– and who am I to argue with hope?Angela, Chad and Pastor Rob BrooksAs Perry Jones, Heifer’s USA country director says, “Once an opportunity is given and people have a chance for a dignified, self-reliant life, they lunge into it.” secret

Have hope. Read more from Appalachia & The Delta here:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/07/18/a-hard-rains-gonna-fall/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/07/24/seeds-of-changesprouts-of-hope-2/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/07/27/down-on-the-farm-sure-looks-like-up-to-me/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/01/bikers-for-broccoli/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/06/a-short-rant-about-food/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/09/despair-hope-in-the-delta/

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

What I ate in Ecuador!

The pride of the coast: fresh ceviche!

The pride of the coast: fresh ceviche!

For a rather small country, Ecuador has a boatload of different cuisines.

Fried trout -- a lunch tipico!

Fried trout — a lunch tipico!

On the coast, you’re pretty much eating fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m not kidding.

Breakfast of champions!

Fish & plantains ..Breakfast of champions!

Our most memorable meal was a croquette of plantain-encrusted fish, served to us in the middle of the ocean – complete with cold beer and hot, fresh coffee that were all handed over the bow.

Ecuadorian take-out!

Ecuadorian take-out!

Unfortunately, I can’t report on the crab and clam scene that was readily available on the coast since I don’t really eat those shellfish – and yes, I do realize that makes me a food moron. Sorry…

Pata de mule -- or mule's foot clam -- really HUGE!

Pata de Mula — or mule’s foot clam — really HUGE!

In the Sierra Highlands, it was pure vegetable heaven – with legumes, rice and greens served up in plain or extraordinary style.

Every lunch starts with sopa .. this one was lentil.

Every lunch starts with sopa .. this one was lentil…

...followed by this!

…followed by this gorgeous melange!

The most delicious meal we had was a staggering breakfast of eggs, papaya, queso, frijoles, cassava, coffee, juice, tomatoes, cucumbers and corn muffins at the family house where we stayed overnight. Homemade food is always the sweetest.cassava breakfast

But I have to say, the dazzling array in the Ambato Mercado on the last day of my travels for Heifer was some of the most beautiful food I’ve seen all year. turnip

From tree tomatoes (a taste cross between oranges and tomatoes)…Tree Tomatoes

…to cane sugar …Cane sugar…to ever-present maize…Corn Mix…it was a sensory overload…parsnips…always offered with a smile.

Fingers flying through the fava beans!

Fingers flying through the fava beans!

So … ¡Buen provecho! (good appetite)… Adios, sweet Ecuador…"ice cream"

And Happy New Year!!

Categories: Ecuador, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Love & Hope in the Mangroves.

what crab on my shoulder ?In every trip I’ve been on this extraordinary year with Heifer, there comes at least one moment when I think … I cannot believe I get to be here.

In Ecuador, that moment came as I was gliding through the mangroves off the coast of Puerto Bolivar as pink flamingoes flamed up from the overhanging trees. flamingoes

In the back of the boat, the women put down the sewing they’d been doing while bouncing through the waves on the rough ride over…sewing on water

…and fired up the big Colombian cigars they’d tucked into their hats, in preparation for getting off the boat and getting down to business of hunting crabs.

ready to crab

The cigars are for pleasure, but they also act as mosquito repellent.

In this coastal community where all life revolves around the water, hunting Ecuador’s sweet red crabs is traditionally women’s work, although the entire extended family is pretty much involved now. Children start hunting when they’re 6 or 7, and they quickly learn the drill. Using a long rebar pole, you find a hole that looks promising, insert your pole and then your arm as far as it can go, and try to get a crab to hook on.

going down for a crab

 Once it’s hooked, you pull the crab up, put it in your sack if it’s a male (you can’t take a female) and move on. boy w crab

 The first crab catch of the day is the lucky one (or the third); a good haul is 5-7 crabs; and in the boat on the way back, they’ll be strung up and go live to the market…red crab line

….where a string of 12 will bring $10 (of which the intermediary will get about half).

Rosa stringing her catch.

Rosa stringing her catch.

Crabs abound here in the mangroves – they eat the mangrove leaves and flourish – but today there are far fewer mangrove swamps (they’ve been developed into shrimp farms or dried out from industrial pollution) and far fewer crabs. beauty

So Amor y Esperanza, the 80-member group of shellfish hunters here, is out to keep their ancestral way of living, while they make the most of their daily haul – with Heifers help.

Started by the indomitable Rosa Santos, her husband and their 7 children, Amor Y Esperanza has a modern-day plan for success: to sell the seafood in a restaurant I call the No-Name Café (for obvious reasons) and to package and sell the crab/clam/calamari and fish they’ve processed in fresh & frozen packets out of a retail store next door.

The remarkable Rosa Sanchez, founder of Amor Y Esperanza.

The remarkable Rosa Santos, founder of Amor Y Esperanza.

Rosa is 57 and had a rough childhood with an abusive father, but her own family is as closely knit and tight as a pair of crab claws. She’s become an outspoken advocate for the health of the mangroves that have decreased by 70% in her lifetime, and Amor Y Esperanza has been responsible for reforesting hundreds of acres of mangroves, as well as advocating for stricter pollution controls on the banana plantations and shrimp farms that release crab-killing toxins into the ocean.

A brave little mangrove sets its roots in the ocean.

A brave little Amor Y Esperanza-planted mangrove sets its roots in the ocean.

Rosa’s dream is to achieve independence for all of Machala’s crab, clam and fishermen from the intermediaries who chomp into their profits and carry most of their loans (essentially turning the fishermen into modern-day sharecroppers). She’s already received grants from the local government to outfit AYE’s store (refrigerator, freezers, food prep tables and equipment) and help from Heifer to open the Café, but she’s hardly stopping there.

Amor Y Esperanza in action on land - where it's a spanking clean operation!

Amor Y Esperanza in action on land – where it’s a spanking clean operation!

For this woman who spends 25 days a month plucking the biggest, reddest, sweetest crabs in Ecuador out of thigh-deep mud with a cigar between her teeth and a serene smile on her face – then comes home to work to save her beloved mangroves …smiling Rosa… well, I seriously wouldn’t put any kind of alchemy beyond her.

Let's hear it for Rosa!

Let’s hear it for Rosa!

Categories: Ecuador, Environment, Food, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Fishing against the tide.

rough fishingIn the rough-and-tumble port city of Machala on the southwest coast of Ecuador, the tides come in and the men… like their fathers and grandfathers before them… go out to sea.grandpa

About 5000 fishermen live and work in Machala and most of them are small, artisanal fishermen. They go out in pairs, in brightly-painted boats with about 4000 feet of net, and they fish the 8 miles of protected water that is legally reserved for non-industrial fishing.throwing out

It’s hard work. The nets are heavy even before they are water-logged, and the men will generally let them out and pull them back in four or five times a day. The Machala fishermen are looking for corvina (sea bass) bagre (catfish) and robalo (bass) but there’s no doubt that there are far less fish – and far fewer species of fish– in the ocean these days.

Smaller catch... fewer fish

Smaller catch… fewer fish

In fact, 85% of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline—which is not sustainable by any calculation. “Todos menos,” (“Everything is less”) a town fisherman describes it succinctly.fish on floor

On a good day, two men can pull in $100 to $150 worth of fish – but $50 immediately goes to the intermediaries who sell 85% of all the fish in the Ecuadorian market. Heifer’s project in Machala, begun last year with a 26-family co-op, is working to enable those families to sell directly to customers without the intermediaries –with a new dock, ramp, and restaurant where the women can sell fresh fish, prepared fish, ceviche and their famous fried plantains.

You can never stop their hands from moving -- specially when they're shredding plantains!

You can never stop these women’s hands from moving — specially when they’re shredding plantains!

The new Heifer dock is  a visible, beautiful sign of progress and the community is proud as a pelican about it.new dock

As male-oriented as the fishing world is, it’s the women of Machala who are fiercely political, organized and focused on change. “We used to feel impotent, but now we know we can break the chain of the intermediaries,” said Rosa Lopez, who started the women’s group Movimiento de Mujeres de El Oro in 2003.

Along with a community banking program, she also established the Clean Food program to support Machala’s artisanal fishing & food sovereignty rights – then last year, went on to start the Coast to Sierra pipeline, bringing fresh fish by truck from Machala to the protein-starved Highlands families living three hours inland – and bringing fruit, vegetables and legumes in the empty trucks back to the produce-poor coast.greens

Women from Machala have taught their Highland cousins to clean, cook and love the fish – while they are improving their own nutrition with produce from the interior.

It’s a win/win effort improving both nutrition and income in both communities– and the best part is, the people doing the hard work are reaping the profits. “We have our own scales so we won’t get cheated, and we determine our own prices,” said Luis proudly.

Negotiating with the intermediaries is never a good part of the job.

Negotiating with the intermediaries is never easy — or pleasant.

Fishing is dangerous work and this close-knit community has learned to look out for each other, to protect themselves from thieving, piracy and even from the giant industrial boats that can take up to 100 tons of sea bass in one sweep through these fishermen’s protected waters.

It's hard to compete with gigantic factory ships in these small vessels.

It’s hard to compete with gigantic factory ships in these small vessels.

But the Heifer project’s investment in a spanking new dock has made them feel empowered and special.

the group

What a group!

“People can see the progress we’ve made and they’re going to be following our example of activism and cooperation,” adds Rosa. “I’m sure of it.”

A life on the water.

At home on the water in Machala.

I’m sure of it, too!

Categories: Ecuador, Environment, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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