Imagine you live in Guatemala and you have just paid off a 12 year mortgage to the government. Now you and your 116 fellow community members are the proud new collective owners of an old coffee plantation where you took up residence after the end of the 36-year civil war. The farm has seen better days, and now the fields are overgrown, the machinery has fallen into disrepair, and the only source of electricity is a small hydro-powered system that requires some tender loving care.
Over the years the farmers of San Miguel Escobar have learned the importance of diversifying their incomes, and growing not only coffee, but a variety of crops. Last week we (the volunteers) took a break from working in coffee and helped Mercedes and his family in their peanut butter business. The young entrepreneurs behind the business are Mercedes’ daughters, Lidia and Lilian. Lilian is 23 years old and recently completed a business administration degree, and Lidia is 18 years old and is in university.
Mercedes’ family has grown peanuts for years, but a few years ago they realized that there was a growing market for peanut butter. Part of the experience of being a volunteer with De la Gente is not just helping the farmers in their work, but learning from them all about agriculture. He explained that the peanuts grow underground (as the peanut is not actually a nut, but a legume, originally domesticated in the Andes) for five months before they harvest the whole plant from the ground. The family then brings the harvested peanuts to their house and leaves them to dry for one to two weeks. They are then ready to be de-shelled. This is all done by hand and requires a phenomenal amount of work, as we experienced. We got through about 15 pounds in three hours, and he has several hundred pounds of peanuts to work through! We are now expert workers and learned that the trick is to pinch the top of the shell to make for easier opening.
To make the peanut butter, his daughters roast the peanuts over a comal, or a traditional hot cooking plate and then take off the cascara, or skin and then grind the peanuts by hand. The result is a thick, all-natural peanut butter. There are no additives or added salt, sugar, or oil. Just pure deliciousness. Currently, Lidia and Lilian sell their peanut butter at their home and in the DLG office. At Q20 a jar it is a steal - so if you’re near Antigua, stop by the office and try some!
It was great to learn first hand from Mercedes all the hard work that goes into cultivating the peanuts and the process of making peanut butter.
Pickersgill, B. (2007). Domestication of plants in the Americas: Insights from mendelian and molecular genetics. doi:10.1093/aob/mcm193
A few weeks ago, we had a table at Caoba Farms 10th anniversary party. Caoba is an organic farm on the outskirts of town. We sold coffee by the glass, as well as by the bag. Our table was the first one as people came into the event - so great positioning! We had a lot of traffic so we were able to sell a lot of cups of coffee and talk with many people. Caoba Farms is selling bags of De la Gente in their store! We made other connections with possible distributors and customers. We even had compliments from the owners of Panza Verde! It was fun for us because it was the first event since the launch of De la Gente. It was great to see all of the hard work on the branding and materials coming together. The red t-shirts definitely stood out in the crowd!
Please check out Caoba Farms' page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/caoba.farms) and check them out when you're nearby!