Saturday, July 21, 2012

It has been fun, creating blisters on our hands, sweating in the hot Caribbean heat, and falling a couple times on the slippery slopes while learning how hard a good days work is for a Grenadian Farmer. Getting the pleasure of learning how to use a cutlass takes time and a little bit of the desire to destroy. A mixture of precision and strength the main tool of a Grenadian farmer is used for Everything. You learn to respect the tool, the sharpness, strength and versatility. Today the tool was used to harvest cocoa pods. Earlier in the week the tool was used to clear and cut trees into smaller decomposable pieces to replenish the soil. They are also used to peel a juicy orange for a nice afternoon snack while working in the bush.
As said, today we harvested Cocoa for our first time. Walking up and down Kim’s farm with my cutlass at the ready, I picked up the cocoa pods that Devon had knocked down with his tool of choice, a long bamboo rod with a knife at the end. Using the back tip of the cutlass, a simple flick of the wrist and the cocoa pod becomes stuck to the end then placed in a bag. Making piles of cocoa pods as we gather more and more pods we decide we have gathered enough for today. The next process is splitting the pods and pulling the wet seeds out. Using the trusty cutlass, another flick and twist the pods split apart and seed fall out. Picking out by hand the couple seeds that hide in the bottom of the pods, the wet seeds are placed in buckets and hauled down to the sweat boxes. To finish off our day of harvest the wet cocoa seeds are poured in the sweatboxes and cover with banana leaves to keep the heat in. Now we wait and let the fermentation of the seeds do their own work. With a good days work along side a handy cutlass, our first harvest was a success.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Planting Seedlings

  One of the projects we have taken on in this short time in Grenada has to do with local schools. Ali, who will be studying education in grad school, was interested in reaching out to the younger generations of Grenada. Although we got a bit of a late start, we (Ali& Megan) got to go the the local school in Victoria to meet many of the kids who go to school there. Unfortunately, summer break has just begun so we sort of missed them other than the one day we were allowed to talk to the whole school. That day, the kids were gathered in this big assembly room. After a brief introduction by a kind administrator, Ali took the floor and explained who we are and what we are doing here in Grenada. After Ali asked the kids who would be interested in having his or her own tree to watch grow over the next few years planted in his or her yard, many hands shot up into the air. So, the teachers took down some names and numbers of the eager children for us to call later. The next day, Ali and I got on the phone to make the calls to parents. We got through to some people but not everyone. Either numbers were wrong or parents were not home, etc. We are still in the process of getting in touch with some families however on Friday we did plant three trees in yards around Victoria. The parents were very kind to us, helped us get the water to feed the seedlings with. Other than the planting at homes in the area, we set up 6 plants on the school grounds. The Victoria school has it's own garden so with the help of a friend named Yvonne and her daughters (who attend the school) we planted two breadfruit trees, two cocoa trees, and two nutmeg trees in the school garden. All of this is still going on right now because we have to keep checking up on the seedlings and still need to go back to place some signs in the ground near the trees. I hope that those trees get big and strong so the kids at the school can watch them grow. Hopefully, more interest will be cultivated in farming, too. This is a major goal of CFFI, which will hopefully be carried into the future, also. Here are some pictures I took on Friday when Owen, Ali and I did the planting around town. Thanks for your support! 
Peace, love, earth _Megan

Tools for the day
Plant, then water!

July 10, 2012

The past week has opened up my eyes to a number of different socio-economic issues facing cocoa farmers here. Yesterday, we all got to work up in the bush on Kim’s farm, which was a delightful, yet fatiguing experience. I feel as though it genuinely helped all of us to see what true cocoa farming is like in Grenada, a realization that is vital to have knowledge of in order to enact positive change for the locals. We comprehended that cocoa farmers really need help with labor and being able to pay employees to work their land.  This will not only help the farmer be able to increase their crop, allow for less waste to be created on the land, and keep some physical burden off of one person, but also put money back into the local economy. However, due increasing prices in minimum wage, small farmers cannot afford to employ these people. With this said, throwing money at farmers is also not the way to go about tackling this problem either. This can give us some issues to contemplate.
            In addition to working in the Bush, we have been surveying the farmers, which I feel has been going swimmingly. Owen and I got a good group of farmers the other day at a cocoa pick up point. Not only did we have rich, poor, small, big, farmers, but also some government officials as well. I’m excited to look over all the answers and see the overarching themes of these surveys.
            As for the wheel borrows, here in the next couple days we are starting the prototype for the first one. Unfortunately, it has become apparent that finding scrap on the island is exceeding difficult unless you want to pay lots of money. Providentially, Indian, a youthful Grenadian with a lot of connections on the island has offered to help with this barrier. I’m hopefully things will start turning up soon.


Group Photo

Hello everyone, Megan here. So we have been throwing around a lot of names like Ali, Owen, Megan, Charlie and Sarah in these posts. However, I am not sure that everyone has met each other yet, so here is the official introduction of the current group in Grenada right now. If I may say so myself, we are a brave and pioneering group of people who are excited to be a part of CFFI's first program in Grenada. We thank you for all your support through this journey of discovery.
All smiles with the ocean in the background!
From left to right:
Megan Hart, Ali Coates, Owen Miller, Sarah Prince, Charlie Allen
We can be goofy too, though!
Thanks again! Peace, love, earth _Megan

Monday, July 16, 2012

Here I am, on the last leg. This time on Thursday I'll be nearly in California and Sarah, Charlie, and Megan will be left with a week and a half to round out our time here. We'll be in the fields, in the "bush," this week, intimating ourselves with the raw work of a farmer. This may not be major, structural, lasting work, but it's good for the soul and for developing a perspective on the value and effort of farming.

The past week was a laborious one as well, with a couple dead ends. The projects we chose have taken too much time to blossom, following more leisurely paths to actuality that is the standard for this country. Note to self: plan way, way ahead next time. But we've surveyed a good number of farmers, dug in some dirt, followed promising trails of projects (if they all didn't transpire), and absorbed elements of a culture that will enhance our approach to studying or nonprofiting. And the program still has two weeks! Fancy that. The wheels, they still turn.

Brewing cacao juice "beer." Lots of work for lots of vinegar. Better luck next time.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: the avocado tree fell down! Damn! Soursop is ripening. My cacao juice beer experiment failed (turned into a kombucha-like acidic puckerer). We spent the weekend in Carriacou: beaches! black sand beaches! The Great Gatsby in one day! unbelievable food cooked by Kim's daughter! We also brought home a young Frenchman to join the crowd back "home." One more post and c'est fini for me!

At the Carenage in St. George's

View from Carriacou

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Sunday Stroll

        Sunday morning the lot of us woke up pretty early to go hiking. We ate some porridge, mangos and toast to start off the day with some much needed carbs. We would later burn off all of that food times three! The group consisted of 11 of us. A diverse group, in terms of backgrounds. We had some experienced hikers and some newbies. We stuck together through it all though. The first part was through the rainforest/ brush. It was a fairly easy walk, until right at the end when we essentially had to slide on our tooshes down a steep hill to the river bed. From there the river bed was the pathway. We dodged downed trees, jumped over big rocks, climbed around waterfalls. At first I was a bit reluctant to go on this super long hike but once we got the river bed I was overjoyed to be there in that moment. I love doing that sort of rock hopping because it's more about skill and mental toughness than physical ability. I had to think three literal steps ahead of the one I was making in order to have a safe, sturdy path upon which to walk. The obstacles that we encountered would have made many people glance once and say "heck no," but having some seasoned veterans of this trail with us along with much determination we managed. The hardest part of the whole hike was going up two small waterfalls. The first one wasn't too bad, I got up by free lance rock climbing although it was slippery. The pride I had when I stood at the top of that was awesome. The second waterfall was another story and another caliber. Once everyone caught up, we sort of all stood there in front of this challenge with our mouths slightly ajar. 

It does not look hard, but it was!
                       Doubt was present in most of our minds. Our saving grace was the singular rope that hung from a tree at the top of the small falls. I still had some doubt considering I am scared of heights. Well, Sarah was the first person after Devon (Yvonne's son, who was leading us on the hike) to scale the wall. She is a seasoned adventurer so she made it up with only a bit of help. I took the plunge next. It was rough, to say the least. I got about two thirds of the way up and panicked. It was a moment I will never forget because my mind was split between being terrified that I would fall and being determined as anything to get to the top of that rock. The most crucial decisions in life often provoke these same thoughts, I have found. Half of me says to take the risk and the other half says to take the safe route. Although there is no correct answer, I personally think it is more exciting to take the risky choice. I think this is sort of a small story that describes what exactly we are doing here in Grenada. There are so many unknowns right now for myself and the other interns. As of now, we only have one general job which is to gather information. We could let the lack of structure get to us, or the difference in culture, or the occasional uncomfortable situation but those things are what should keep us going. I have been thinking a lot about how the world works, as well as humans and I whole heartedly think that how one sees life is up to the individual. So from here on out I am keeping a positive mindset about everything. I am here to help CFFI, in the long run, improve the lives of many farmers. Each day when I wake up I have the decision to take the risk, and I accept the challenge. I want to be put on edge, whether it be a conversation that needs to happen or a big rock I have to climb, I will find the power inside myself to do it. What CFFI is beginning is something remarkable that if committed to, can change many lives and that excites me profoundly.
See tiny Charlie at the bottom? The final waterfall was huge!
          I did end up getting to the top with some mental support from Devon and the group. Everyone else made it up the rock, too. The teamwork that we used was mostly mental during this adventure. Thank goodness for good people like the ones we are with here. I was so happy when I got to the top, other than my ripped up toe. Taking a risk can be scary at first but when the challenge is accomplished the feeling that follows cannot be duplicated. The rest of the hike threw a couple more curve balls at us however the final waterfall took my breath away. Although the final destination well worth the it, the journey was the part that really mean the most to me. I think this can be applied to life in many instances, especially in what we are starting to do here in Grenada for CFFI.
        Peace, love, earth _Megan

Friday, July 6, 2012

That's the Way the Crumble... Crumbles

The days are hot and the sun is relentless, the hours just after lunch most brutal, but we're pushing on, making efforts to get an earlier start to each day so the sun doesn't force us prematurely into the shade. It rains here and there, soaking everything with a minute or two of startlingly cold droplets, providing a moment's respite from the heat.

Our efforts are now one and a half weeks in progress. The irony of life in Grenada is that time moves slow but the day ends sooner than expected. We've already learned many valuable lessons about Grenadian culture that will allow CFFI to better navigate its social terrain in the future, but our group remains the test batch and our learning comes with many challenges while we're still here. The first is acceptance. How do we approach people here with the presumption that something in the system is broken and needs fixing? Even if it's widely understood that agriculture is in danger, where do we focus our efforts? And how do we not offend those organizations that are already in place in Grenada, reaching for the same goals? These are the questions we're facing every day, as we must, in order to grow.

Wading through these particularly swampy issues has just slightly hindered our activities. Still, the students are making impressive headway in just a week's time, navigating through the communication and transportation barriers of a mountainous, Caribbean island. I'm surprised we can all still move after the carbo-loading that goes on at breakfast. I'm guilty of that. I'm averaging about three slices of toast, five tablespoons of peanut butter, two tablespoons of cow's butter, one mango, and a healthy portion of whatever the treat du jour happens to be per morning. And that's squeezed in with two cups of wholesome cocoa tea, one hefty cup o' good-ass joe, and half a liter of water. That does me good for about two hours, then it's mango o'clock.

Charlie is rolling along with providing a good vet with rabies vaccine. In the meantime, Charlie likes to do a bit of everything, and well. Last Sunday was beach day and Charlie was out in full form, schooling an American (me), a pseudo-Brit (Mark), and a couple Grenadians (two of Yvonnes' sons - Yvonne works Kim's land) in sand soccer. Today, he's assisting Kim in some mechanical project. I'm lost on that one. He's busted out the harmonica, too, in a duet with Bluesmaster Kim. And he's rivaling me with the amount he eats.

Megan and Ali are cruising on all cylinders with their educational outreach. With the help of some tiny hands, they've just planted a handful of seedlings at the school in Victoria. These breadfruit trees come from Kim's land and will be maintained by the students, providing the school with a dose of delicious "provisions" - starchy, bulk food for feeding hungry students. Fifteen more seedlings, including cocoa, await next week's plantings. Back at the shack, Megan and Ali are the cooks of the group. Or, rather, they're the only ones who dare challenge Kim to take over cooking duties. Kim has a black belt in cuisine but the Keene girls are scrappy fighters. Last week Megan tossed up a killer eggplant parmesan dish that had Kim raving. And last night the girls cooked a full dinner: bean-and-biscuit casserole and cold pasta salad with squash, cukes, vine spinach, and fresh herbs. I found it delightful. For dessert, Ali tried her hand at cocoa nib blondies. My first bite was a touch heavy on the baking soda and for a minute we thought the experiment was a baking-soda BUST, but by my fifth piece I knew she had baked a success. Caribbean pizza is next on the docket. Booyah.

Sarah is forging ahead with her wheelbarrow-construction project and will be helping me with surveying cocoa varieties. With the help of Mark, the truest Jack-of-all-Trades there e'er was, she'll be building a prototype this week, collecting abandoned wheelchairs, and providing a model for future handymen who want to help farmers transport their beans. In her spare time she'll be checking out cocoa trees with me and Mr. Kenroy, the GCA extension officer with a (nearly) photographic memory of cocoa varieties in Grenada. It's our small part in the quest for quality. Makes me want to re-read Pirsig.

Cocoa nursery

Our days are filled with surprises, but our nights are calm and relaxed. The sun goes down early here, compared to what I'm adjusted to, which allows ample time for having a cold beverage, watching the molten colors of the sky melt into cool neptunal blues, and talking about life and learning. Or, crack open a coconut, listen to the mona monkeys hoot and holler, catch up on reading, and go to bed at nine. Good times.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Week 1

Since we have arrived our time has been consumed with mangoes, cocoa, crumble and mosquitoes. You may be wondering what crumble is, but there are no words to describe this tropical treat we had the fortune of eating for dessert. As my fellow bloggers have told you readers, we have been here for a week now finally starting to get our bearings and gain a better idea of the projects we will be tackling in the upcoming weeks. For me, the first week was about getting a feel for the Grenadian culture and really trying to examine the needs of the farmers and figure out what will benefit them the most while satisfying my academic interests. After spending a few days surveying farmers, and meeting with the very wise Dr. Buckmeyer I started to formulate some potential projects. Within the cocoa farming industry here in Grenada there is a significant gap between the youth and older generations in regards to farming. The farmers, I have found, range predominantly from 50+. It is very rare that you come across a young, full-time farmer. So this got me thinking, how can we encourage Grenada's youth to follow in the foot steps of the older generations? With this question in mind Megan and I started to brainstorm ways to incorporate farming and agriculture into the youth's curriculum. One idea we have come up with is planting cocoa trees and nutmeg trees at local school and developing a program with the teachers and headmasters to incorporate into the weekly curriculum. Our hopes and goals a to familiarize the students with farming practices and show them that this industry is important to Grenada's livelihood, economy and social structure. We will be meeting with Carlson Benjamin, a local headmaster, tomorrow to further discuss and implement the program. Our next idea, I think is very exciting. We are looking to develop a summer internship program for local children to gain experience and a better understanding of farming and agriculture. CFFI will be looking to sponsor two children, to begin this summer, to work at a local farm in Victoria for a four week program. We are still working on the details but once we have set our plans in place we will be sure to let everyone know! So, so far we have experienced the culture, tasted the food and built relationships with the locals, all in one week. I can't imagine the success that is to come! Check back for more from us all! Best, Ali

July 3, 2012

Greetings from Grenada!
Since our arrival, things have been slowly but surely coming together. We took the first few days to explore a bit of the island and become acquainted with the local philosophy and culture and finally, we are starting to really make moves towards projects, which will help connect CFFI’s name into local communities. Some of these projects include working on obtaining rabies vaccines so farmers can have animals for fertilizer, outreach projects into schools in efforts to reconnect children to farming practices, making wheel barrows to give the locals, and researching on fermentation and the distribution of cocoa varieties around the island.
I think while we are down here it is most imperative to remember to create change from a bottom-up approach, as well as, on a small spatial and temporal scale which can be scaled out with time and new interns. The best we can do is to make connections, building trust and confidence within the locals.  I feel the worst we can do is impose assumptions about a culture until we learn it in and out.
Aside from these esteemed endeavors that we have developed, time here has been great for me! Kim has been more than welcoming and given us a great deal of insight to the local happenings. I feel much at home, taking in the beauty this country has to offer. A side project Kim has introduced me to for my free time is exploring my interest of floral arrangements. I am fortunate that the man who wins the Chelsea Flower show every year lives right here on the island. Kim has set me up with him so I can learn some about that, which I must say I’m excited about. Other than that we have just been soaking up the sun and enjoying ourselves. Yesterday, we went to work on a 30-acre farm belonging to a man named Kenneth Bell. It felt good to lend a hand.