Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tuesday March 13 9:47AM

It is Tuesday, yes, but I will write about Monday. This morning I am being incredibly lazy and feeling not slightly guilty about it. (I thought John, Doris and I would venture out again to find broomsticks but the plan never materialized. I have decided to write, instead.)

Monday, 12 March, was a slow roller coaster ride throughout the northern half of the island nation. Paula, Doris and I loaded into the white Mazda for a tour of spice producers and farmers, hoping to see a number of people on our list but not knowing where exactly we'd end up. The day was humid, breezy, but just a touch overcast, making the day quite comfortable for New Englanders but perhaps too cold for most Grenadians. The low clouds burned off just for a couple of hours around midday.

Our first stop was Gouyave, the nearest large town south of Victoria, where we peeked into a tourist-friendly nutmeg sorting facility. Women sat silent at stations and picked out bad or broken nutmeg seeds as the continuous rattle of the hard, flavorful little nubbins were emptied from baskets and pasty white tourists shuffled around in their Tevas. (A sign raised above the workers urged them to withhold chatter and thus be blessed by the Lord.) Outside, we talked with an acquaintance of Doris named Jacqueline, who sells nutmeg and other spicy bounty from Grenada to these visitors. Monday was a busy day with many boats and busloads of tourists spilling into Gouyave, so Jacqueline couldn't wrest herself from her livelihood and guide us around the island to see where she sources her goods. Instead, she suggested we take her niece, Samantha, to find a soapmaker named Chariot who lived in nearby Mt. Granby. So into the car again we piled, Samantha as our proxy guide. Uphill, by an Ecumenical (or was it Episcopalian?) church we found Chariot's home but no Chariot. Back to Gouyave we coasted to say goodbye, make plans for tomorrow (today) and set off to our next destination. Later on our trip we would pass a major nutmeg-grinding facility that will grind those seeds sorted at Gouyave.

Sorting nutmeg in Gouyave

Off we rumbled to a nursery at Mirabeau, further inland. Along the way we stopped on a whim at Rosemont farm, drawn in by a colorful and cheerful sign. The driveway led to a handsome house, nicely landscaped and nestled into the mountains. We gave a whoop and a whistle and out came Lewellen Duncan, a genial farmer of 70 years, 54 of those as a farmer, and owner of 7 acres. Among many other flowers and fruits (which he sells at open markets), Lewellen grows cocoa and is a member of the Grenada Cocoa Association. He told us his biggest needs are fertilizer, field cleanup (left over from Hurricane Ivan in 2004), and disease control. If organic fertilizer were more available, Lewellen would be happy to buy it instead of synthetics because he knows it is better for his farm in the long term. And cocoa diseases have been particularly damaging this season due to abnormal amounts of rain. We left Lewellen's picturesque mountainside farm with thanks for his input and a promise to help.

Not to arrive at Mirabeau too hastily (for that wouldn't be the Grenadian way), we picked up a farmer balancing 20 pounds of aromatic nutmeg on his head. His gait was unperturbed by this cranial load but we thought he might appreciate a lift. At 74, Gabriel Francis has 6.5 acres of farmland and is in need of fertilizer. "That is the biggest issue," he states resolutely. He earns more money per pound for cocoa than for nutmeg and his son, Haines, is involved in in the management of the Grenada Cocoa Association.

At last we found ourselves at Mirabeau nursery, which turned out not to be a cocoa nursery of any sort (at least at the moment) but a nursery of many other useful plants. A miniature forest of mango varieties, avocados, nutmeg, some coffee, and various citrus fruits struggle upwards as young plantlets, shaded by a green protective meshwork. Paula noted plenty of space for a compost pile or chicken farm, which, combined with like piles at every nursery, could serve the island's entire cocoa farming community.

So we departed Mirabeau in search of the Carlton fermentary near Grenville, on the east coast. The fermentary is housed in a stately old cement building, trimmed in yellow and shuttered in red. A dump truck was parked at the bay door out front and three young men were unloading 150 lb. bags of dried cocoa from Sateurs to be weighed and recorded. Paula and I walked inside, introduced ourselves, and I was permitted to visit the lower floor where the wet, fresh beans were fermented in large bins and subsequently spread on wheeled drying trays outside. Fermentation was in process, a fact quickly betrayed by its pungent aroma smelling sour and sweet and almost appetizing to a curious visitor but reminiscent of vomit to those who have to smell it every day.

Unloading cocoa at Carlton
A kind man named Nolan found me downstairs and offered to guide me around. We peered into the wooden fermenting bins, or "sweat boxes", roughly 5'x5'x5' and covered by a layer of banana leaves and a layer of jute. The beans ferment for up to eight days before being spread out to dry. Inside, two women hand-sewed up bags of ready beans that will be sent to the port at St. George's for international distribution. If the load is a big one, Carlton uses a mechanical sewer instead of manual labor. As I finished my brief tour, Larry arrived to join us as we embarked for our final destination, Mt. Horne fermentary.

Settled on what felt to be the top of Grenada, Mt. Horne fermentary is one big, red, metal box not nearly filled enough with sweat boxes. Half of the interior is occupied by an abandoned mechanical dryer - basically a huge trough heated electrically - that once dried the fresh cocoa before Hurricane Ivan decreased the cocoa load and sun-drying became the preferred method. (Solar drying extends the process and produces a dried bean of much higher quality.) Carlton's outdoor drying racks were lined against two sides of the big red building and utilized multiple tiers of racks that could be "stacked" on top of one another when rolled in for the night or during rain. When Paula, Doris, Larry, and I arrived, men and women were walking in the cocoa to speed the drying process.

Houses for drying racks at Mt. Horne
Dinner with guests was imminent, and Paula was Head Chef, so we drove westward back to Victoria. John, my host, Jim, and Lynn joined us for an immobilizing feast of numerous dishes whose names are escaping me. Must be the heat. Or the Creole. Heirloom red rice, delicious salt fish stew, local chicken (hard to get!), fresh fish from John, and salad topped us up for a satisfying evening. Grenada chocolate for dessert sunk us into a stupor.

That's it for yesterday. Today I will head downtown to visit John, jump in the ocean, and, if there's time, visit the Diamond factory just up the road. Tomorrow, us three CFFIers will visit Kenroy, a master of agriculture who we will look to for guidance on our venture down Compost Lane. Until tomorrow…