Posts Tagged With: Cuy

Two Gorgeous Farms & One Heavenly Market

bee on blossomIn my last two days in my last country in this incredible year of travel with Heifer, (sob!) we visited Ambato, a market town south of Cotopaxi, about 2 hours from Quito, Ecuador. After the bone-dry forest of Vega Alta, it was like dipping my eyeballs into a green misty pool — how delicious! land

It made me remember why I’m going to miss these countries so achingly much – and introduced me to yet another awesome Heifer partner: PACAT, an agro-ecological association that’s been working with indigenous farmers here for over 12 years to help  them increase their production, income, and food sovereignty.

Gloria & Lizbeth Pomaquiasa on their land.

Gloria & Lizbeth Pomaquiasa on their land.

PACAT is boots on the ground – running 34 different community groups in 9 counties with 508 families to help them commercialize their agriculture, livestock, fish and cuy ventures. These are small farmers growing on plots of just 1 to 2 acres… but PACAT is no small-thinking organization. pacat market

With Heifer’s help (financial and advisory),PACAT has hired a doctoral student to analyze the market to determine what sells best (they’ve narrowed it to 70 items), what people want that they’re not getting, as well as consumer buying patterns and preferences. They encourage farmers to use their ancestral traditions and to farm organically – for the health of the producer and the consumer.

Yes, they're organic!

Yep, they’re organic!

And when you see agro-ecology in action, it’s simply fantastic. We visited Jorge and Sonja Chonato’s farm in the Low Sierra (at 2000 meters), where temperatures are moderate and lots of crops flourish –citrus

…and Gloria & Francisco Pomaquiasa’s farm in the Alta Sierra (at 4000 meters) where it’s cold, windy and challenging to grow much besides cabbage, potatoes and root crops.Patas

Jorge and Sonja’s farm, at a lower altitude, had about 80 products in full flourish – and because agro-ecological farmers are “very curious always trying new things, grafting, experimenting, seeing what works,” the creativity was amazing!

Jorge's growing 4 different varieties of babaco - and I'd never even heard of babaco!

Jorge’s growing 4 different varieties of babaco fruit – and I’ve never even heard of babaco!

I saw produce and trees I recognized, and dozens of fruits and vegetables I’d never seen before. Jorge just got 2 new milk cows from Heifer, and he was ecstatic… more manure to grow things! His children were healthy and engaged in their farming, his wife was unbelievably organized and capable, and their spirits were so buoyant, they couldn’t wait to show us all the success they’d had.

Jorge Chonato - one happy farmer!

Jorge Chonato – one talented, happy farmer!

By the time we got up to Gloria & Francisco’s farm, it was almost dusk but the family was still working in the fields, hurrying to harvest the crops they’d take to market the next day.

Francisco Pomaquiasa. 20- year PACAT member.

Francisco Pomaquiasa, a 20- year PACAT member.

Francisco has been part of the Atahulpa Association of PACAT farmers here for 20 years  (since he was 20) and like most farmers who’ve had Heifer trainings, his crops are now diversified and chemical-free.Gloria's farmDespite the biting wind, the heads of cabbage, peas, radishes and turnips were gorgeous – and the family was equally proud of the 100 cuy (guinea pigs) they’d raised from Heifer’s gift of 60 cuy last year (they’ve already sold 60 males at $10 each and passed along the original gift).

cuy

Almost too cute to eat … almost!

Five year-old Lizbeth was an expert packer of lettuce, carefully wedging the last head in the yellow market box, her little hands red with the cold, but her eyes dancing with excitement. Market Day was almost here!

What a good helper!!

What a good helper!!

We arrived at Ambato Market the next day at 5 am, in time to see the farmers come in with their wares (some live 2-3 hours away)…truck loaded

… and to watch the first shoppers trickle in at 6 am.

The frenzy begins..

The frenzy begins..

Heifer/PACAT farmers all work under the same banner and wear distinctive aqua jackets so people can recognize the farmers whose meat, produce and fruit are known to be chemical-free and luscious … the bee’s knees!

So beautiful! And GREEN.

carrots

Maize

radishes

Inkaberries

Last call for berries!

Last call for berries!

By 8:30 am, all the good stuff was all gone and the farmers were packing up their wares.But first, Lizbeth would get a sweet reward  - Lizbeth with treat

…and then her family would pocket their $80 of income and go back home and start farming again.family at work

That’s the way it goes all over the developing world — and at this time of year when we’re swimming in abundance & relaxing, it’s good to remember that for a billion people around the planet, it’s hard work just to eat every day. farmer's daughter

And they are so grateful for the little help they receive…Gloria

– so THANK YOU!

Categories: Agriculture, Ecuador, Farming, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Guinea pigs … not just for breakfast anymore.

If you’re going to eat guinea pigs (and in Peru, you’re going to) you’re going to have to raise guinea pigs. Which plenty of Peruvians do, in their kitchens, in their sheds, in a random, atomized way.

To an agro-ecologist like David Rocca, who coordinates Heifers “Good Living” IMAGEN (a local NGO) project in Puchyara, Peru, this represents a huge missed opportunity. To his mind, cuy equals the possibility of a commercial venture on a scale that can lift an entire community out of poverty. David is one of the unbelievably committed people working with local communities in partnership with Heifer, (like Cleida and Claudio from my previous Peru posts) who have the vision, plans, expectations, personal relationships with families, and follow-through to make real change happen. And it does take vision to look at a guinea pig and see the cash rolling in.

David Rocca & Sebastian Huillca

But here’s how it happens: When David started to work with Sebastian and Elena Huillca (and their three children), the family had 2 donkeys, 4 cows, 1 horse, a passel of guinea pigs in a rough shed, and a piece of land one hour ‘s walk away. The house was a mess and the yard was worse. In Heifer workshops, the family learned a few new habits that literally changed their life. They established a Healthy Homeand gave each child his/her own room.

Back to the bio-garden!

They built a shed for their animals, collected the manure that was now in one handy place, and with the help of some industrious Heifer worms, used that compost to fertilize their new bio-garden where they grow enough vegetables to eat and to sell in the local market.

The family planted fruit trees.  They learned how to use local clay to plaster (and beautifully decorate) their house, instead of buying expensive materials they couldn’t afford. And in the guinea pig shed, they covered the walls in clay (with happy drawings), built compartments to separate males, females and babies, grew better forage to feed them, and began keeping breeding records to control reproduction and improve genetics.

What a happy guinea pig house!

The Huillcas followed David’s teachings and put ashes in the entrance of the house to kill bacteria, used meds to treat sick animals, and bred the gift of new Heifer guinea pigs with the local stock to double the weight of their piggies. One year later, they’ve both doubled the number of their pigs, and the price they get per cuy at market. (And both their daughters are attending college!)

3 pregnancies a year, that's fertility!

David is such an ardent believer in the potential of guinea pigs, he contends that profits will begin to repay Heifer’s investment in 2-3 months (including passing on the gift). And his math works. Guinea pigs are ridiculously fertile; females can have 3 pregnancies a year, and the better the feed, the quicker the baby comes. What David has taught his farmers is that if they take care of their guinea pigs— guinea pigs will pay off– big time– for the whole family.

Cuy is served in almost every restaurant in Peru, from sidewalk cafes to the swankiest eateries, so the demand is virtually unlimited. Its meat is high protein, low cholesterol and supposedly truly delicious (that’s right, I wimped out).

A gentle man, Felipe Ayachu.

And unlike bigger animals that demand grazing and herding, guinea pigs can be raised on small plots of land, and handled by older beneficiaries like Felipe Ayachu, who is trying to keep his farm running despite an illness, with only his devoted daughter to help him.

David’s also inspired enthusiastic spark-plugs like Dolores Delgado – whose sterling example of taking the guinea pig ball and running with it has been so inspiring, she’s moved her community’s Heifer involvement from 3 families to 35 (out of 40!)… built a whole new guinea pig barn and organic garden, and doubled the price of the town’s pigs! It’s what she promised Heifer President Pierre Ferrari she would do when he visited Puchyara last year, a meeting she remembered with overflowing tears and copious hugging.

Dolores' experimental, hydroponic, awesome new GP house!

Beautiful Dolores & daughter.

In fact, it’s the example of Heifer beneficiaries like Dolores, Felipe, and Sebastian who start showing up with big, fat guinea pigs for sale, their homes shining with fresh clean designs, and their gardens bursting with produce, that catches neighbors’ attention and spurs participation in the project. These early adopters have become Heifer/IMAGEN promoters, their communities have organized, and now David has the success stories and community backing to intercede with municipal authorities to continue to invest in the materials, seeds and structures that will make Puchyara Pigs the toast of nearby Cusco.

Writing a whole new future for families in Puchyara...

A succulent cuy may never pass my lips, but I predict that before long, David’s dream will be a yummy roasted reality.

Heifer's Carlitos loving his cuy.

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

What I ate in Peru.

Serving size may vary.

I feel like a bit of a fraud writing any kind of travel food post, since I am anything but an adventurous eater (my favorite foods as a child were hot dogs and baked beans, to give you a brief synopsis of my limitations). But I’ll try to cover all the bases with an enthusiastic description of what I loved to eat, and lots of photos of what I didn’t eat, with full apologies to Anthony Bourdain for my timid palate.

Pachamanca: slow, stone-roasted potatoes & llama, which I actually tasted & liked! Kinda…

Peruvian cuisine is based around native animals (alpaca, llama, beef, fish and cuy.. yep, it’s guinea pig) & potatoes. Peruvians love their starch, and since potatoes originated here (not in my beloved Ireland, mates) and there are 3000 varieties in every conceivable flavor, texture and color, I was totally at home on the veg side of the table. Beautiful fava beans, carrots, cauliflower, beets, green beans, creamy avocado, and/or some type of yummy slaw were usually served alongside the potatoes and so, no matter what the “main” course, I was in hog-less heaven.

Oh, and just to make the potato/veg thing really sing, Peruvians make the most luscious sauces to dip/slather on your potatoes: green herb, racy red radish, guacamole, and my fave: a golden mustardy/mayo concoction that I wanted to pour over my entire plate.

The last time I was in Peru, my friend Judith fell in love with lomo saltado – a Peruvian stir-fry featuring chicken or beef, peppers, tomatoes, rice and French fries, and I was dying to have a platter of carbs in her honor. But since we were mostly at really high altitudes, where your appetite evaporates even faster than your breath, we ate a lot of soup. Delicious chicken soup, pasta soup, noodle soup and vegetable soup ..which luckily is my favorite food ever, particularly when paired with their airy, triangular bread.Some of the traditional dishes that I didn’t exactly eat (but tasted!!) were pachamanca shown above (and that sweet potato was the best I’ve ever had) and the dreaded cuy. Cuy is low-cholesterol, high protein and quite nutritious–and Peruvians adore it– but I couldn’t get past the little paws on the plate. Sorry …

Instead, I usually opted for the trucha frite — fried trout — which is ubiquitous in Peru, from roadside stands to upscale restaurants. Ceviche (lime-marinated raw seafood that is amazing) is also hugely popular but since we spent almost no time on the coast, we didn’t see a lot of it.

The acid test for any cuisine, in my humble opinion, is the coffee and in Peru (as in most coffee-producing countries), it wasn’t too hot. Literally. They brew the coffee really, really strong, then set it out in a pitcher and suggest you add hot water from a thermos.  I like my coffee scalding, so I only achieved partial coffee satisfaction. As for alcoholic beverages, the pisco sour is quite tasty, made from Peru’s own unique pisco liqueur (don’t confuse it with the Chileans’ copycat version or they will get really crabby). Cusquena, my beer of choice, was delicious – but the bottles were a big commitment. Like 42 ounces. And that’s a Big Gulp.

My big surprise was the fruits. Sure, the usual suspects: cantaloupe, pineapple, mango, watermelon were fine, but I really loved the granadia, tumbo, and chirimoya which we bought at roadside stands and devoured in the car — totally unique in their sour, sweet and musty tastes and fun to eat, too.

Breakfast of Heifer champions: Rosaluz, Madeline, Claudio, Lidia & Kristen.

So what do I miss the most? The sauces! And the way everybody always sat down at meals together and shared the food with grace and gusto. That was really delicious.

Categories: Food, Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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