Organic Farming

When the first group of Summer Vols came back from visiting an organic farm in Santa Isabel in May, they raved about their experience and about the hospitality of Señora Lema, the woman who owns the land. The Señora is one of the organic producers that sell products with De la Mata a la Olla, our friends Christian and Laura’s organic farmers’ cooperative. She is an older woman with a lot of land that she has been taking care of on her own, with occasional help from her grown children and generous neighbors. After her experience there, Emily suggested that the agriculture program visit the farm to see if we could establish more of a lasting relationship there. Armed with vague directions and a phone number, one of the Summer Vols, Omega, and I wandered our way onto her beautiful farm a few weeks ago. We offered her our manual labor, and spent two hours hoeing, preparing the land for the next planting season, which will start in September. Señora Lema served us fresh juice while we worked, and sat down with us afterwards with a snack of lima beans (from her garden), cheese and aji. We got to know each other a lot better as she asked us questions about our work here, and shared with us her personal struggle and fears for the future. Omega and I were so touched by the experience that we promised to come back ASAP.

Last week we were able to return with Laura, and brought along another Summer Vol, Amanda. We offered to help with whatever she needed, and ended up removing corn kernels and sorting them into baskets based on their various uses. We were completely lost at first as she started explaining the difference between the kernels and which ones are good for flour verses tostada, which ones make chicha (a traditional drink) and which ones are chicken food. All of the kernels looked the same to me… but I think by the end we got the hang of it. We spent over two hours sitting in a circle separating corn kernels and listening to Laura and the Señora discuss various festivals in the valley, and which traditions still hold strong while others have faded away. It was fascinating to have this insight into rural farm life in the valley, and to hear stories from a different generation of Ecuador.

Although we were in a bit of a hurry to get back in time for the library, she insisted we stay for lunch, and prepared us a soup served with tostada (toasted corn kernels), cheese and her famous aji, which she has promised to teach us how to make next time. On the way out the door she wouldn’t let us leave empty handed. She made us each a bag of tostada to take home and gave us each a lucky corncob, which are supposed to be hung in the house for good luck and prosperity. According to Laura these are hard to come by, and aren’t usually given to people outside of the family. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet this generous warm-hearted woman, and look forward to the next time we can visit her. 

Omega, Amanda and I sorting kernels 

Kernels sorted by use 

Mamá and Guaguas (babies) my lucky corncob