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).


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.





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 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


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

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30 thoughts on “Two Gorgeous Farms & One Heavenly Market

  1. Can’t believe the year is coming to an end. I love this post. You capture the work and the families exquisitely.

  2. Lib Putnam

    What a marvelous experience you have had and we along with you. Your pictures and comments have made areas never heard from before come alive in our eyes and hearts. Blessings of all kinds have been shared through your website and hopefully helped the people you have featured. Thank you Heifer and Thank you, Betty for your beautiful insight into the world’s less fotunate.

    • Thanks so much, Lib — I am so happy you’ve been along on this amazing journey — and so SO happy you found it as inspiring and engaging as I did!! Happy New Year!!

  3. Blessings on you, Betty; your blog is one of my “must reads” every day. Always, always terrific and inspiring to me and I know to countless others as well.

  4. Martha Radatz

    Will you be doing a “What I Ate In Equador” entry? (Yes! Tell me this isn’t your last post yet!) I want to know how babaco tastes!

    • How did you know?? My last post is going to be on FOOD … of course! Happy New Year (and babaco tastes pretty yummy — not too sweet — but there were SO many fruits in particular that I’d never seen before! Lots of stuff that looked pretty crazy — slimy, actually — or like cactus with seeds — but once you slurp out the pulp and seeds, it’s so YUMMY! I am so lucky I got a chance to eat all this stuff- babaco is native to Ecuador and people there LOVE it!

  5. Betty, the berries look so beautiful, delectable… I think that means a great eat! You are what you eat and all that organic goes a long way for health. Just imagine if we could live in our country and eat less and so healthy.

    • Oh yeah, Kim — we are on the same page there!! The berries (they call them Morro berries) were actually not sweet — kind of tart, which I love, and aren’t they beautiful?? For that color alone I would be a goner … SO gorgeous, right?!!

  6. As an organic gardener and volunteer urban farmer, that one really hit home for me. I especially loved the photo of the little girl packing the lettuces. I find that so many people don’t have a way to ‘be necessary” (like that girl) anymore in our society, and growing for those in need helps them to do so right here in the U.S. Thanks for all you’ve done this year, Betty. May the results of your awareness-raising grow, and grow, and grow.

    • You would have LOVED Lizbeth, Pattie — she was just so excited to help and be involved and I totally agree with your insightful observation that people — particularly kids — love to feel necessary and engaged. She knew how helpful she was, and she really loved it! Your comments are always so spot-on! I love it!!

  7. You should be so proud of yourself. You and Heifer are making this world a better place.

  8. Thanks, Sybil!! I loved Ecuador so much — glad you felt it!!

  9. Too many aid agencies come in with their do-good ideas that don’t end up helping the people… Heifer’s only been there for 20 years, and their success is in the following line:

    “…like most farmers who’ve had Heifer trainings, his crops are now diversified and chemical-free…”

    Betty your photos are getting better with every post. The top three and Lizbeth eating her ice cream stole my heart.

    • Thanks SO much, Rosie!! Lizbeth was so captivating, it was impossible to get a bad photo of her! And even though I was nervous about getting to the Alta Sierra so late in the day, as it turned out the light was incredibly beautiful –and those indigenous people of Ecuador are gorgeous, aren’t they??! Only one more post to go … boo hoo!!!

  10. Mary Yee

    Thank you, Betty, for another post of insightful words and fantastic photographs! (I can almost feel the silvery bloom on the berries!) It’s great to learn that Heifer works with local partners whose expertise and dedication can be amplified with a little funding. A happy new year to you and your family. Mary Yee (friend of the O’Neill/Wagner family)

    • Mary, Of course I remember you! And being such a fabulous gardener yourself, I know you appreciated the talents of these farmers as much as I did!! SO happy you’ve enjoyed the posts … and Happy New Year to YOU!!

  11. Ellen Byrum

    I’m going to miss you Betty! I’ve followed your post all year. I’ve learned so much and shared many of your posts to many different people including my high school students. Please continue to educate us about Heifer and about the people on our planet.

    • Thanks, Ellen!! I’m going to miss WRITING these posts and covering all the incredible stories that I’ve been lucky enough to experience this year with Heifer! I am really happy to think that some of your students have read my posts, too, as I think it’s so wonderful to have a global perspective from a young age! Happy New Year!!!

  12. Gail McBride

    I think I told you that our foreign exchange student “daughter” (1999) is from Ambato! (She now lives in New Jersey with her husband and three sons.)

    Thank you for all you have done for the world, and how you have nurtured our spirits during your travels.

    • Gail, I didn’t know that (or if I did, I wasn’t familiar with Ambato & so it didn’t “stick”) !! Ambato is called the City of Fruits & Flowers but it’s grown so big now, there’s not much of that to see in the city, but once you get outside, you can totally see what a lush, productive land it is! I loved their market, and I hope that you’ll share this blog with her — I’m sure it will seem VERY familiar!! Happy New Year to you & your family and thanks for all your love & support this year!!!

  13. William York

    I’m really going to miss your posts and great photos, Betty. I’m thinking of moving to Ecuador.

    • William, there is a vibrant and very enthusiastic ex-pat community in Ecuador – and I’m sure they’d welcome you with open arms!! It’s a beautiful, charming and progressive country — I loved it!!!

  14. I am going to miss your blogs. What a journey you have had in 2012. Please donate those ff miles to Nyaka.
    Great pictures as always. Heifer has done a very good job reaching every corner of the world. Without you I would never have learned about all these amazing people and their countries. Webale. Thank you!

  15. Webale to you, Jackson — and HAPPY New Year! I’m planning to come back to Nyaka this year so I hope I can make it!! ALL the best in 2013!!

  16. I always love learning about what can happen when human intelligence cooperates with nature’s wisdom. The results are often amazing. And thank you, Betty, for reminding us again how fortunate we are, how hard some people work for such small rewards, and how easy it is to make a difference. You’ve helped change the world.

    Happy New Year to you and your family.

  17. Thank YOU, BB for being such a thoughtful reader — I love your comments because they always make ME think and consider the story in a new way! Happy New Year — can’t wait to follow Mostly Bright Ideas in 2013!!

  18. rimassolosailingaroundtheworldm

    Thank you so much for sharing blog I really enjoy it

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