Yesterday, I visited a number of families and walked through their
small subsistence farmsteads. At one farmstead, a young man in his early 20’s had a caged animal I had never seen before. It was like a cross between a large rabbit and a monkey. He took it out of the tiny cage to show me. I thought it might bite, but instead the poor thing began licking his captor’s hand. The young man gave his pet a banana and it picked it up with its hands and ate it like a small child would have.

really sweet little guy

He said he’d found it when it was quite small about three months ago, and that this creature could grow to the size of a medium-sized dog. They often harm the crops, especially yucca, as staple food for the family. They live up in the mountainside forests. This type of creature is also a source of food for the family. During our visit, they also showed us the handicrafts they weave out of natural materials.

Today, another family had

monkey

a tiny monkey in an even tinier cage.

It had been causing mischief, so they were punishing it in the cage I
think, or at least trying to keep it out of trouble.   It was making a huge scene.  I felt bad for it and worried that they never let it out, so I gave it a piece of ginger to eat, it was the only thing I had in my bag.  Thankfully,  later they did let it out to
jump around freely in the trees.

We were there collecting the fruit and vegetables these families
had grown through the SHI program.

This was the part of road in good condition

The SHI truck and staff were  carrying it all down the mountainside (the roads are atrocious and none of the farmers have their own vehicles).  SHI has set up a system to help them sell their crops directly to customers in the city via a subscription service somewhat like a CSA.

weighing the crops
testing brix level of tangerine juice

Today we were measuring the nutrition content of the
citrus fruits they are growing, a Brix chart and hand-held refractometer is the tool we use, it helps us determine the
quality of their soils. We are hoping our study will help them figure out how to improve the soils which are very poor and compacted in this area. When the soil is fertile and nutrient rich, the food that grows out of it is more nutritious.

It’s been fun, like a wine tasting of tangerines, oranges and grapefruits. The farmers got really excited about it. I know that probably sounds strange, but I guess when you don’t have tv, or roads with cars, you get excited about the little things in life-like how sweet and full of vitamins
you can make your grapefruits.

The kids were very eager to learn about the soils and helped identify the soil color and texture while the parents dug soil test pits, samples from which will be sent to the local university lab for nutrient and carbon analysis.

describing soils

All the farming they do is organic due to the high costs of chemical amendments. Their traditional cropping methods often involve a system where they burn down forest to add fertility which gets used up in the first couple of years. By switching to this biointensive method, they learn how to use locally available materials to create composts and natural fertilizers to grow productively on smaller parcels of land, rather than the shifting cultivation.

One of their biggest problem is lack of irrigation. Climate change has already increased their dry season from three months to six months out of every year. Without a way to provide water to their crops during the dry season, they are unable to produce very much outside of the rainy season which begins in June. Interplantings of fruit trees and leguminous hedge rows helps them expand their earnings. Some have fish ponds where they grow tilapia. Others have pens with ducks or swine. One woman even had several pens where she raises over 100 Iguanas – another favorite food in this area.

This is the view of the beautiful mountain range along the road to the community
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