Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ragged and weary, the students have arrived! Well, they weren't so ragged and most of them proved more resilient than weary. But we've made it through our first day together, getting acclimated to the weather, the culture, and the buses. Tony and I drove down and gave our interns a thrilling wake-me-up ride home, up and down Cemetery Road (how did it get that name?), through a few sheets of rain, and behind a bouncy trash truck, for just a few minutes. Tony is a CFFI Board member and began our day with some local tidbits and crumbs of cocoa knowledge. Tony has stressed a point about agriculture, cocoa in particular, that we should always keep in mind (and I've heard this elsewhere): what may be the saving grace for farmers is the addition of value. Value-added. Cocoa into chocolate. Soursop into soursop juice. Guava into guava jelly. Heck, mangoes into mango peanut butter (that's my idea, don't you dare steal it!). If we can help the farmers not only with tools, transportation, and inputs but also with developing or enabling the addition of value, perhaps we should.

Back at Kim's, we stuffed ourselves with homegrown mangoes, homemade toast (well, homemade bread), homemade chutney, home-fried plantains, and homemade, home-brewed cocoa tea. We felt ourselves well at home, as you can imagine. Mark, a current resident at Kim's place and serious fountain of idiosyncratic knowledge, regaled us with more local tips and bits. You know, stuff you don't find in the guidebooks. Kim is also great for that, and I'm soaking it all up. We wrapped up breakfast and decided to explore the bus system on the island by taking a quick jaunt over to the River Antoine rum distillery - I thought this would be a good start to their internship - and soon enough learned about how to ride the buses and, um, avoid the island rum. "Paint stripper for the mind," Mark calls it. The River Antoine distillery is actually a fascinating operation. Originally built in the 1600s, much of the metalwork is original (I think) and the spent sugarcane is piled all around the building, used for fuel, compost, and lunchbreaks. The fermentation is spontaneous - tastes like some bad homebrew - and occurs after a good boil to concentrate the sugars and flavors. Interesting process, brutal product.

When we returned from our afternoon energizer, Kim was back from a meeting and was working his magic in the kitchen, preparing dinner. He introduced himself with his usual open smile and kept cutting the tomatoes, never missing a beat. And we're thankful we weren't a distraction; that night we dined like bandits after a Whole Foods raid. Vegetarian chili, rice, crisp garden salad, and a mango crumble to put the lights out. The meal was nearly all harvested from his fields. 'Tis but the first night for us, but we won't go hungry, methinks.

So are the students acclimated? Ah, doesn't matter. We're heading into the bush tomorrow, anyway! Kim will show us his lands, give us a couple early-morning hours of work, and then send us off to Diamond. After all, tomorrow is buying day! Commerce! We'll be conducting our first surveys of farmers who bring their beans to the Diamond collection station. Wish us luck. It will be my first buying day and the students' first serious interactions with Grenadians! Sounds funny, but it's true.

A farmer with "figs," bananas to the layperson

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Students and Farmers, Unite!

Cocoa Farming Future Initiative is at it again, chipping away at the layers that separate growers from consumers. In its quest to advocate for and improve the lives of cocoa farmers in Grenada, CFFI is about to welcome its inaugural group of on-the-ground student-interns in a meeting of minds and hands, innovation and experience. For five weeks these students will traverse the island nation to conduct farmer surveys as part of CFFI's greater needs assessment, lend their youthful, agile hands at various farms, develop educational projects with schools to promote agriculture as a meaningful and promising future, break fresh ground to develop a communal compost heap in the northwest, and pursue their own projects of pleasure and progress. We hope this internship program will be the first of many, and we hope you'll follow us as we distill our adventures around the island into a few words each week.

I should introduce myself. I'm Owen and I've been on the Board of CFFI since last summer. I've helped out with a little bit of everything at the organization, but most of my energy has been solitary, in the form of writing grants. I'm pleased as pie (pumpkin, please) to have helped the for-profit cocoa processing facility raise a chunk of money from USAID to procure equipment. (The award is almost official, but not quite. And, if you're not familiar with this project, check out and listen to the radio interview with Larry Burdick.) But the reason I'm here, in Grenada as I write this, is to oversee and be a part of the work of these students. It's time to put those words into action.

How is almost all cocoa dried in Grenada? Solar power! Here a woman turns the cocoa with her feet, allowing all beans to dry evenly.
In the few days I've been here, anticipating the students' arrival on Tuesday, I've met with a few key figures that will help us hit the ground running. Mr. Wayne, a Grenada Cocoa Association (GCA) field agent, a man with a friendly face and knowing eyes, will be showing us fields behind the processing facility where we can get dirty and put our hands to good use. Our work will help this land recover and perhaps make possible a demonstration field for visitors - maybe even a cocoa PYO for the hardcore chocolate tourists! Dr. Buckmire, a former head of the GCA, quick with an idea and a cunning smile to accompany it, will help with our compost efforts and just about anything else; his mind is virtually bursting with ways to keep his body busy. Mr. Hastick, the current head of the GCA, will be a source of information and initiation. He is the grease for our gears.

And what will we do for leisure at the end of each day, you ask? Eat! That's what I'll do. We have a chef de cuisine here as our host. He's (originally) British, but he can cook. Kim Russell, host extraordinaire, has made teryaki chicken with pineapple, potato pancakes, calliloo soup, passionfruit pancakes, and a mango-banana crumble that might've ruined every future crumble for me. Besides eating, there may be the occasional cocoa fermentation experiment or chocolate-making session to pass the time.

All of the students will be contributing to this blog, and they'll all introduce themselves. This is the first of many entries, each no more than a few paragraphs, but rich, we hope, with our impressions of Grenada and of our progress as visitors with a purpose. Keep your eyes open for us and your mouths open for Grenada chocolate.