Guatemala

The Improbable Campesino

a man on his farmShad Qudsi didn’t exactly set out on a career path to start an organic farm in rural Guatemala. He grew up in the farmlands of New Jersey (yeah, they do exist) and got a big scholarship to Johns Hopkins, majoring in math and business, the first person in his family to graduate from college. He spent a bit of time in the corporate world, working in emerging tech companies because his brain works in that wondrous way, but farming was in his heart. collen & shad

Luckily, he chose a good partner in his wife Colleen, who went along with his agricultural dreams, and after two years running a hotel in Belize, they bought a farm in October 2009 in the steep, rocky highlands above Tzununa, a miniscule town on the lovely banks of Lake Atitlan.

Beautiful Lake Atitlan

Beautiful Lake Atitlan

To say Shad’s Atitlan Organics farm is difficult to access is an understatement. The journey requires a boat ride, followed by a truck ride, followed by a long walk up – but once you get to Shad’s place, it’s a lush green, oasis-y marvel to behold.the farm

However, Shad’s first year of farming was hard – and the second was worse. Last year was his first profitable year, but clearly, Shad and Colleen measure success in a different way. My fab friend Bonnie O’Neill took us on a tour of the farm, and in one short hour, I was convinced I desperately need to start a compost pile, was seriously considering raising chickens, and wondered why the heck I’ve never bought chia and amaranth seeds to sprinkle on my oatmeal.

Chia... no pets.

Chia… no pets.

Shad is a huge fan of chia and amaranth, two traditional grains grown by the Incas and native to Guatemala. These seeds are trendy and popular in the States (meaning they command a price 25 times higher than corn) but they also represent a great possibility for enhanced nutrition for Guatemala’s perennially undernourished indigenous population. Kiddies

A one-ounce serving of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat, 5 milligrams of sodium, 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein (and that’s not even counting how they stimulated sales of Chia Pets). Amaranth seeds contain 30% more protein than rice and are unusually rich in lysine, an essential amino acid missing in many other plants. Best of all, both chia and amaranth are easy to grow and easy to harvest, with flowers that produce millions of seeds for further cultivation.seedlings

It’s stuff like this that fascinates Shad – and he’s a walking fountain of agricultural knowledge, experimentation and irrepressible enthusiasm. He’s teaching Guatemalan farmers to throw down some chia seed when they mound up soil around their knee-high corn plants in August, so the fast-growing salvia will be ready to harvest with the corn in October. But this is just the tip of the trowel on Shad’s farm, because he’s a master of biodiversity, with at least 200 species of plants, animals, and fungi on his small acreage. In fact, his goal is to take a traditionally-sized plot of land (about one-sixth of an acre) and demonstrate to Guatemalan farmers how to make it both profitable and a source of good nutrition for their families – and to that end, he’ll try anything!

The tipico plot size in Guatemala.

The tipico plot size in Guatemala… one-sixth of an acre.

Shad waxes rhapsodic about esoteric scientific facts and chemistry – the soil as the placenta of chickensthe earth; how wind, water, and sun act on soil’s abiding intention to make more of itself; the beautifully complex interaction of nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide (which is why he raises clean herbivore rabbits in the same house with dirty greens-eating chickens) – until my brain was swimming in farm facts. But the bottom line is this is a man with a passionate love for farming who believes that to plant a seed is a sacred deed and who is utterly devoted to working with local communities to share his knowledge. In addition to all the work he’s done on his own land, he’s also started 4 community gardens in neighboring Santa Cruz, with local women choosing a youth to organize and run their market (thus educating the next generation).

Papayas

Papayas– a money crop!

Of course, my unspoken question was – how does your wife feel about living way up here, with no electricity (but a rocking sauna) and a 5-mile round-trip walk to her daily work as a teacher?

So pretty --( but their previous "house" was an 8' x 8' shed)

Such a pretty house( but their previous abode was an 8′ x 8′ shed).

Colleen wasn’t there to answer, but I suspect she’s just as dazzled by Shad’s incandescent energy as we were….and by the simple truth of his philosophy:

A quick lesson in grafting avocado trees (Shad's grows 5 varieties).

A quick lesson in grafting avocado trees (Shad grows 5 varieties that ripen at different times).

Growing and selling good food can heal people and heal the earth.

Tree tomatoes

Tree tomatoes

Unlike any other form of “development,” there is no moral ambiguity to clean farming.

A pomegranate grows in Tzununa.

A pomegranate grows in Tzununa.

You plant a seed. You nurture your plants, trees, animals and soil. You feed other people good food.baby lamb

That’s what drives Shad Qudsi, International Farmer and owner of Atitlan Organics

sunflowerIt’s Farming for the Future (And p.s. that’s exactly what Heifer has been about for the past 69 years…)

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Environment, Farming, Guatemala, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Guatemala Re-Mix.

Beautiful Lake Atitlan

Beautiful, mesmerizing Lake Atitlan

  I’ve been feeling really bad about leaving my Heifer blog behind and abandoning all my new followers –love you guys!! — who haven’t been getting any new posts from me.

I met these organic foodies in Quilinco, a lovely town north of Huehuetenago. What cuties!

I met these organic foodies in Quilinco, a little mountain town north of Huehuetenango.

So I’ve decided to go back and do a little remix of photos & stories from each of the countries I visited last year…. starting with lovely Guatemala.church

It's hard work picking cabbages, and takes a family to do it.

It’s hard work picking cabbages and takes the whole family to do it.

Juan, a cauliflower farmer and father of four, also raises pigs, chicken, sheep and cows.

Juan, a cauliflower farmer and father of four, worries that he won’t get more than 10 cents/pound for his crop.

Even driving by, you're greeted like somebody special. (I always wave back!)

Even driving by, Guatemalans greet you like you’re somebody special.

Planting corn in tandem, with pole-diggers and bags of corn seed.

Planting corn in tandem, with post hole-diggers and bags of seed. (Nobody’s retired here.)

Mountains, clouds & sky

Mountains, clouds & sky – fundamentals of a Guatemala road trip.

Sweet farm boy taking a break from planting & weeding.

Sweet farm boy taking a break from planting & weeding.

Everywhere I went, I saw people close to the animals that fed them -- remarkable how distant we've become from these animals that sustain us!

When was the last time you had this kind of relationship with a goat?

Juanito was shy and only peeked out this window when he thought I wasn't looking.

Juanito was shy and only peeked out this window when he thought I wasn’t looking.

All dressed up & ready for the Feast of Maria Candelaria in Cunen Valley!

All dressed up & ready for the Feast of Maria Candelaria. (Post-celebration aspirin close by.)

These piglets saw me from across the courtyard and stalked right towards me like a little rock band... such attitude!!

These piglets saw me from across the courtyard and stalked right towards me like a little rock band… such attitude!!

And of course, Guatemalan children are just off-the-charts adorable!

And always, the Guatemalan children will melt your heart.

Here are the links to my other posts from Guatemala from 2012. (Why did I write so many?? Boy, that overachieving thing sure faded quickly….)

Enjoy!

Welcome to Guatemala!

Hola Amigos

Head in the Clouds — Freshly Pressed!!

Vamos, Chicas!

Solid Gold Soul

Animal Magnetism in Happy Valley

Re-gifting, Heifer Style

Seeding the Future

Short Stories

And I’m leaving for Guatemala again tomorrow (on a non-Heifer trip) … stay tuned for more!

Categories: Guatemala, Heifer International, Philanthropy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

It’s My Blog’s Day!

Last October, I proposed to Heifer International that I visit 12 countries in 12 months in 2012 to visit their projects around the world…. and they said yes!

Heifer 12 x 12 was born in January 2012, and today— 12/12/12 — I’m celebrating this journey of discovery & inspiration that is almost coming to an end. Thanks for coming along on this wild, joyful ride!!

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Heifer International, Malawi, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , | 59 Comments

Thanks4giving!

Guatemala, January 2012.

The following faces have been brought to you by … you.

Haiti, February 2012.

You see, in 100,000 miles of travel to Heifer projects around the world this year, one thing has been utterly consistent.

Peru, March 2012.

People will take my hands, look in my eyes, and tell me to thank you.

China, April 2012.

Thank you for helping them to feed their children.

Nepal, April 2012.

…and send them to school…

Cameroon, May 2012.

….and stand with dignity…

Romania, June 2012.

…and have the chance to create a better life.

Appalachia, July 2012.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m bringing you their thanks.

Rwanda, August 2012.

Thanks for being so compassionate…

Armenia, September 2012

…for being so generous…

Cambodia, October 2012.

… and for your willingness to share your good fortune.

Vietnam, October 2012.

Look at the beautiful things you’ve done!

Malawi, November 2012.

Have a spectacular Thanksgiving weekend!

(And if you haven’t given to Heifer yet, I still love you ( : )

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, China, Guatemala, Haiti, Hunger, Malawi, Mothers, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , | 45 Comments

Short Stories from Guatemala.

Okay, I’m in Haiti now with Heifer International, on Month #2 of my 12-countries-in-12-months journey, and I know I have to let go and stop writing about Guatemala, my Month #1 country. (I’m pretty sure I’m going to have this same separation anxiety as I stop writing about each one of these countries, so I’m apologizing in advance for the emotional foot-dragging.)

To make this a proper goodbye, here are some of my favorite images of Guatemala– and the story behind each one of them.  This cool gent was walking down the road in Cunen, a small farming town outside Coban, Guatemala. His shirt was immaculately white, his hat was worn at a rakish angle, his bag was jaunty, and he wore his pants so elegantly, I think he’d give Andre 3000 a run for his money, sartorially speaking. (But he was missing his two front teeth.)

We were in the high mountain village of Quilinco and turned the corner to see Escolastica Lache up to her elbows in a washbasin, scrubbing away — while directly in front of her were two gigantic cable TV dishes. She had a beautiful smile that knew nothing of irony – and of course, who can resist somebody who dresses up this fancy to do the laundry?Tortillas, tortillas everywhere … at every meal. In every basket. Guatemalans eat them morning, noon and night. They’re brought in to the table, warm and fragrant, in gigantic stacks that go so far beyond carb loading, it’s ridiculous.

Toyota really needs to make a commercial featuring Heifer’s use of their trucks. We drove up the steepest hill you can imagine with 20 people (and a sheep) in the vehicle. Now that’s a payload.

The ceiba is the tree of Guatemala, and it is grand. We saw it growing in Ixcan amidst an empty corn field and you can see it for miles, its trunk stitched straight as a seam against the sky.In Quilinco, Heifer beneficiaries Juan & Anastasia grow 2000 cauliflower plants on their land. They make about $800 on the whole crop, because they sell it before it’s planted to a Canadian distributor who gives them the seed and fertilizer and guarantees their price. In the field, Juan unwrapped the green tendrils around the almost-ripe cauliflower to show it to me, then carefully wrapped the leaves back up in a big protective bow.

Sometimes you are standing in a place you’ve never been, and your eye falls on something that just delights you beyond expression…. like this bed, bath & beyond in the cloud forests of Alta Verapaz. And of course, in every nook and cranny of the world, ninos siempre ninos.

Hasta luego, Guatemala!

Categories: Agriculture, Guatemala, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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