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Various members of the SGP group

Various members of the SGP group

The Context

Below is a reflection from Team Peru’s Alex about a meeting with a group of small farmers that are ecologically certified in the Calca area. AASD is also part of this group of producers and together we’re seeking better markets, as explained in this previous post about Team Peru’s work this summer. Alex is reflecting on a a meeting with this group. SGP stands for Sistema de Garantia Participativo,which is part of an international movement lead by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) called the Participatory Guarantee System.

A Reflection from Alex

Recently, we  had a meeting with our SGP certified organic farming group.  The purpose of the meeting was twofold; to obtain qualitative data concerning the training, concerns, and general sentiments of the farmers, and to obtain quantitative data to determine production capabilities.  The meeting had its share of ups and downs.  In general the obtaining of qualitative data proved much easier than that of the quantitative.  I was quickly able to determine from our interview that our previous assumption that our SGP farmers were attempting unsuccessfully to compete with conventional growers may have been flawed.  It seemed in fact that our grower’s market sense was keener than we had believed as they were branching out beyond produce into more niche products such as dairy and bee products, organic fertilizers and pest repellents, and specialty crops.  In doing this, they were largely avoiding having to directly compete with conventionally grown table crops such as lettuce and tomatoes.  This discovery, in addition to being of great academic interest, could be very useful in increasing the value proposition of our products as our farmers are able to produce a myriad of different products to potentially meet different customer needs. ~Alex

 

Team Peru working hard on a business canvas model.

Team Peru working hard on a business canvas model.

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It’s Team Peru season! If you’re a regular follower of AASD you’re most likely a member of  a past Team Peru crew (or two) or you’ve heard all about it. Team Peru is a group of graduate students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (this year we also have one Middlebury fellow) who spend a summer immersed in life in Peru working with the AASD. We’re three weeks deep into the summer session with Team Peru and things are getting interesting.

This summer Team Peru is exploring options for connecting small, local producers with markets. These producers are either already, or willing to begin, producing ecologically if there is a way, an outlet, for ecologically produced goods. These small producers must have an incentive to continue producing ecologically as it often means more time spent working with their land to ensure it is healthy and in tune with natural processes.

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Ecological production focuses on using resources at hand but also working within the natural cycles and processes of nature. This takes time and care; thus, many producers believe their products deserve a higher value. Many see no value in selling their produce in the local markets for the same price as agrochemical producers sell their goods. Some farmers have even taken extra time to gain a regional ecological certification that is recognized nationally throughout Peru. But what value does such a certificate have if the majority  of current  buyers are not seeking such a product?

While this certificate is a huge step forward, we still see the potential to do more with this proof of ecological production. There is an opportunity to use the certificate as a point of organization and a launch pad for reaching markets that place a higher value on such goods.   This project is about connecting ecological farmers with a market that values the quality of a chemical free good for a range of reasons from human to ecological health to just the desire to support local, small-scale farmers working to produce safe and healthy vegetables.

We’re in the thick of information gathering as you can see from these photos of a recent interview with Placido, a small ecological/organic farmer in Calca. He is explaining why he sees value in producing organically and why he seeks a better market where he can sell his goods at a higher price. He also explained a bit about what he believes are the main challenges holding others from joining the movement.Very interesting! Check back in for updates and findings about this project soon. Team Peru will be sharing insights from interviews and personal reflections throughout their exploration this summer.

Want to learn more about Team Peru? Read about past experiences on the Team Peru blog.

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This week’s photo shows a fusion of new and old. Yes, I know it looks like a pile of rocks with some pretty colored lettuces sticking out from the top. But what you’re really looking at is the terracing technique, a practice borrowed from Incan agriculture. This terrace is an old method we adopted from the Incas that is then planted with a crop that is relatively new to the valley, heirloom leaf lettuce.

Incan terraces are a sophisticated agricultural method, plus they look cool!  Terracing creates microclimates. Between each terrace a change in temperature and light exposure occurs. The Incas harnessed this technique to grow crops suited for various climates in one place, essentially creating the perfect climate that each crop needed to thrive. At Moray, the Incan runis of a sophisticated agricultural laboratory, they would slowly adapt crops to different climates by moving them up or down terraces. So while the heirloom lettuce sitting on this terrace may be a part of a new movement for organic, unique varieties in the Sacred Valley, we’re still looking to the past to help us keep these little leaf-lings warm and thriving at the farm. ~Kat


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Seed saving is a hot topic around the world. Growers and consumers alike are rebelling against the seed monopoly that comes hand in hand with industrial agriculture. They are rejecting the role of genetically modified seeds that require agrochemicals to properly propagate. The biggest qualm centers on the idea of the terminator gene found in many modified seeds sold by big agriculture companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, and Dupont. Growers are unable to save seeds from such seeds, as they are genetically modified in such a way that the next generation of seeds will not produce. The debate over the ethics of such a seed is nothing new. But as more and more people across the world turn to an alternative agriculture path, supporting food systems that are ecological and healthy both for humans and the environment, they too have begun to speak up more about control over seeds. The movement is well underway to promote open-pollinated varieties  to foster seed saving and seed exchanges. That’s why the new Community Seed Toolkit, a joint undertaking by Vandana Shiva‘s organization, Seed Matters and the International Recue Committee’s New Roots program, is worth checking out. It makes it easier than ever to share and create a thriving seed exchange in your own community. Pretty exciting!

The harvest crew

The harvest crew

Recently we spent a day at the farm with the Sacred Valley Honeybee Sanctuary harvesting honey from the 12 hive apiary. Several of the Sanctuary’s recent apprentices came to help out with hive checks and harvesting honey from two of the top bar hives. This was a pretty exciting day in our role as hosts to sustainably managed bees at the demo farm!

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Comb from a top bar hive

We started out suiting up and checking on hives in the more standard Langstroth (box shaped) hives in which honeycombs are pre-fabricated. Jerry pulled a fast one on everyone and insisted the inspectors could not wear gloves…eek! Luckily only a few stings later we were on to the top bar hives to harvest! The top bar hives foster a more natural form of beekeeping. The bees make the comb size and shape themselves, adding personal decorating touches that are more in tune with their needs. With this type of hive, you literally just cut off part of the comb oozing with glistening, fresh honey and drop it into a bucket. The pre-fabricated Langstroth hives take a more intensive harvest process that keeps the combs in tact for future use.

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Fresh sliced honeycomb

So Jerry, the head beekeeper, identified the most honey filled combs for harvest, then quickly sliced the comb into a bucket. I wanted to reach out and eat the honey right there. The bees were less than pleased but I’m sure they had plenty to share!

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home filtering processes

Next we crushed the comb up in a bucket and poured it into a new bucket with holes poked in the bottom. The honey sat and dripped through several layers of strainers to make the final product, pure organic honey. Home filtered! I’d say I can’t wait to try it but we definitely dug right in at the farm, slurping the fresh honey out of slices of comb. Each comb had a little bit of a different color and taste due to the various plants the bees foraged. Yummmmmm it was so good, messy, and amazing despite the sugar crash that followed. Can’t wait until the next harvest! ~Kat

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Checking on the ladies one last time

 

Did you know that McDonald’s uses over 1 million pounds of potatoes EACH DAY? Think about it. Truly try to conceptualize one million pounds of potatoes. It’s… unfathomable. And, grant it, maybe McDonalds isn’t the best example to show the importance of the potato, but you know what? Get over it.

What is the origin of the potato? How did this magnificent, delicious food come to be? Peru, of course. It is believed that between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago the potato was domesticated in what is now Peru. The Inca people are famous for selective breeding, resulting in approximately 4,000 different types of potatoes. Moray is a well-known archeological site built and used by the Inca for agricultural experimentation. Here they learned which types of potatoes grew best in different climates and crossbred potatoes to make more resilient varieties.

 

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The potato was a staple food (and continues to be the fourth largest food crop in the world!) of the Inca. It also served medicinal purposes. Raw slices were fixed to broken bones, eaten to end a bellyache, and carried to prevent rheumatism.

In the 1530s, a group of Spaniards entered an Inca village and discovered a funny-looking vegetable inside all of the empty homes. Originally searching for gold and silver, they were saddened to come out empty-handed. Little did they know they found something much more precious – the potato.

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Sailors carrying melted gold and silver back to Spain brought the potato as food for the long journey. Shortly after arriving in their homeland, the potato was cultivated and used to feed the masses. They used it to strengthen their society, ultimately leading to the rise of the West. Historian William H. McNeill stated, “By feeding rapidly growing populations, [it] permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.”

What this basically means is that thanks to the potato, places such as McDonalds are possible today. I’ll take mine super sized. ~Cheryl

 

AASD’s Aaron Ebner explains why irresponsible development practices are a social injustice.  Aaron speaks to the issue and  explains what organizations such as the AASD are doing to change these practices for addressing social justice and more. These 2 videos were made for Kalamazoo College’s Arcus Center Collaborative Leadership Prize and made it to the regional finals. We’re crossing our fingers for a win!! Stay posted for the news !

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We hope you can join this important conversation and encourage you to share your own experiences and thoughts with us!

We finally have a team photo of our Peru based staff members! Countless times we’ve searched our photo archives for a picture of all of us to no avail. Guess we’re together so much we don’t really feel the need to capture photographic “memories” of our hours spent side by side. But these photos do come in handy for so many little things. So here it is! We’re dirty and sweaty (per usual) on day 2 of the Salkantay trek. We stubbornely decided to forego the guide and forge our way carrying all our stuff, trudging up steep elevation changes, and cheering each other on. Our team pretty much rocks!

 

*Photo used from Cheryl Hedges’s collection of this epic trip documentation

Recently Ruben and I asked Raul, one of the Choquecancha greenhouse overseers what organic/ecological agriculture meant to him. Below is a rough transcription of the Spanish recording. Hopefully we can share the recording soon when we get enough bandwidth!  Raul had much more to share but this is a tid bit of what makes ecological growing important to him. As he stood in the greenhouse Raul made it clear that growing without pesticides and chemical additives is extremely important for the health of the community. He sees the value from the point of human and ecological health. The school year is just getting started again so we’re excited to work closer with Raul and other enthusiastic organic growers at the schools. In the meantime, enjoy this update:  

Ruben: Raul, what does ecological and organic agriculture mean to you? What do you understand about this method of agriculture?

Raul: I understand that organic agriculture is about woringk naturally with no chemicals. This means working with guano de corral and compost. The products are healthier for our children and ourselves.

Ruben: What do you know about chemical agriculture? Why is it not important to you?

Raul: For me it is not important because it brings sickness and plagues. For example if we put fertilizer on a plant, it will grow large and produce a lot. But it has no nutritional value, it is not healthy. It will eventually get pests and plagues and this is not good.

 

This video features Ruben teaching some of the biointensive planting method to students in the Ccachin greenhouse. Ccachin is a small Andean farming community in the district of Lares. To date AASD has 3 greenhouses in Ccachin, one at the primary school and two at the secondary school. This video features AASD’s efforts with the students to breathe some new energy into one of the secondary school greenhouses. Enjoy!

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