Volunteer Experience – First 3 weeks

My name is Rebeca Gaona, I’m from the south of Ecuador, a city called Loja. Almost three years ago I was accepted at EARTH University, in Costa Rica for studying agronomy. There I have learned many things, not only about agronomy, I have learned about different cultures. Different ways to think of the seeing things. Therefor I’m more tolerant with people who think different than me. EARTH University has a different way to see the education. We see and learn in the fields first and then we have the theory. So it’s much easier to understand. I have learned that all the things are related and there is a balance that we need to keep up, and if we don’t, there will not be an efficient system for the nature of for our farmers.

Currently I’m in the third year of the study and I’m back in Ecuador, doing my pre professional internship in an organic farm in Zamora-Chinchipe. Permatree is a farm located in the south of the ecuadorian amazon region. Like the name suggests, it is an organic farm based on tropical permaculture, which means a permanent agricultural system, respecting the native species and the balance of the land, recovering the damaged ecosystems. For example to reduce the erosion of the soils they use vetiver grass, which has very long roots to activates the microorganisms and also helps to fight soil erosion. 

Here are many crops like cacao, guayusa, tumeric and bamboo, but the biggest crop is soursop. It is not sold as raw fruit but its transformed into an added value process to obtain fruit-pulp and something like raw-ice cream. 

I started my internship on september 9, 2019 and it ends on december 20, 2019. Now I’m ending my third week, and everything has gone well. When I started talking to my host, he gave me some information about the work in the farm. My expectations about the farm and what I was going to learn and to do in here are not so different from reality. I knew that some things were going to be hard at first, like food, climate and waking up early. Getting used to the food here was hard, because I’ve been living two and a half years in Costa Rica, and there the food is different – rice and beans. Here we care about the traceability of our food. If we don’t know where the food comes from, we don’t consume it. The climate is similar to Costa Rica, humid tropical forest, the difference is that here the temperature changes fast between day and night. And finally waking up early was a little bit hard because before starting my internship I was on vacation so I woke up late for almost three weeks. Now, those things are just part of my daily routine. I like the focus of the farm because it’s sustainable and efficient, and that’s how all farms should be.

Some of the things I’m working are: My personal project about the Black Soldier Fly. This fly is used in the larva stage to feed animals like chickens and fish. We are just starting with the fly-trap and trying different food-wastes and excrement to see which one is better to attract the flies. In a few weeks we will have results and we can teach this to the local community, so they have a much better organic way to feed their animals with proteins.

I’m not only working in the fields, I’m working in the added value process of soursop, as fruit and with the leafs for tea. Also guayusa tea leafs, and with experimenting with dehydrated bananas. We try different ways to dehydrate the leafs 1.) using an artisanal adobe oven 2.) with an electric dehydrator 3.)  with the sunlight and wind under a roof. 

I worked with “Don Rey”, the man who works in the fields. We started a new orchard of turmeric. Forgetting all the work, we talk about many things like the situation of the community and how was that he came from Colombia to Ecuador. I think that talking with the people who live in the community and know the issues of the local community is the best way to know how we can help.

The farm is very holistic, so “Tipikas” Coffee Shop is part of PermaTree project. Here they sell their products like guayusa and soursop leaf teas, the pulp and the ice cream and the main product is the coffee. The coffee is produced in the community  with the unique origin system and it’s organic, and it’s prepared in different ways, so people can learn more about the importance of coffee and can taste a coffee of high quality.

Until now I have learnt a lot not only about the career. I have seen how do the farms work in a holistic way and how this can be helpful for the farmers and for the environment surrounding the farm and increasing the quality of the crops.

dehydrated bananas permatree Ecuador

Dehidrated Bananas

We have been experimenting dehydrating our sweetest bananas – guineo ceda. Dried fruit is fruit from which the majority of the original water content has been removed through the use of our electrical dehydrator. Dried fruit has a long tradition of use dating back to the fourth millennium BC in Mesopotamia, and is prized because of its sweet taste, nutritive value, and long shelf life. Dried fruits retain most of the nutritional value of fresh fruits.

Here are some of our tests and learnings:

6 Bananas per tray. 12 Bananas go into 2 trays. Temperature for the dehydrator is 80 degrees Celsius during 7 to max 8 hours depending on the thickness of the banana pieces. Output is with 12 bananas about 1.2lb/0.6kg

We started using silicone pads so that the banana pieces do not stick so much on the stainless steel. The high amount of natural fruit sugar of our bananas (120 calories and 17 grams of sugars) does not help there either. We will test the cooking-papers too as alternative to the silicone pads which most likely contain hormones IMHO.

Sugar

Regarding the topic of sugar in fruits. Did you know that fruit contain natural sugars, which are a mix of sucrose, fructose and glucose? Fructose is only harmful in excess amounts, and not when it comes from fruit. Fruits are an excellent source of fibre. An average banana will provide 20-25% (6g) of your recommended daily fibre intake. Getting enough fibre in the diet is important for protecting against bowel cancer. Fruit is also a good source of other nutrients such as potassium, which can help lower blood pressure, and flavonoids, which may reduce your risk of heart disease.

Conclusion

Fruits are the real HEALTHY-FAST-FOODS for you between the meals. And dehydrated fruits are a healthy and practical option because it retains most of the nutritional value of fresh fruits. Fructose (sugar) from fruit is not harmful.

Dehydrated Organic Bananas At PermaTree in Ecuador

Coffee harvesting at Don Vitaliano Merino

Saturday Minga August 24, 2019

The goal of our minga last Saturday, was to harvest 1 quintal (45kg) of coffee cherries. In Sangre de toro (Red, ripe). To prepare a micro-batch of special coffee, double fermentation, of unique origin. There where a total 9 people helping with the collection of ripe cherries. Later on those same coffee beans will be transformed into coffee and sold at Tipikas Coffee in Zamora.

The climate change of the last 12 months is visible. There was a lot of winter, too much rainfall, compared to the previous years. That impacted the production volume in negative. And it also delayed the harvest. There is a visible presence in the leaves of iron excess (orange leaves) and nitrogen (fallen leaves). Well, we had a presence of rain during the whole coffee cherry picking activity.

While we harvested the ripe coffee cherries from the selected pink bourbon plot, we figured that it works to have good communication in each group of coffee pickers. So that small and very important details can be improved which help gain more value in a single-origin coffee. For example not having the stem in the cherry, overripe grains, with good cherries, leaves either, green grains, yellow-red varieties cannot be mixed and the plant or branch cannot be broken either.

Basic Farm Information:

Finca la Victoria, Inbana, Production Family: Don Vitaliano Merino

  • Location: 3 hours from the city of Loja in Zamora-Chinchipe
  • Climate: Humid tropical montane forest, 1750 m.s.n.m
  • Coffee: 8 hectares, 20’000 plants, coffee varieties: Pink Bourbon, Osidra, Tipica, Caturra, Catuai
  • African bees: Active honey production
  • Other fruit and crops: sugar cane, Lemon, Mandarin, Granadilla, Raspberry, Pineapple, Quince, Blackberry, Morera, Aracacha and vegetables in the garden. Like laurel, Chinese potato, sango, potatoes and sweet potato.
  • Flowering trees: Avocado, Soursop, Arayan, Guabo, Sungana, Guayacan, Raft, Lumas and Peaks.

Antioxidants

Did you know that one of the benefits of coffee beans is that they contain an antioxidant called chlorogenic acid (CGA) in addition to other antioxidants?

Raw beans contain roughly 9% CGA by weight, which can help with weight loss and is a neuroprotectant. Coffee beans also help reduce inflammation, which is associated with a number of health concerns. In addition, the caffeine in coffee beans provides benefits such as reducing headaches.

Understanding these health benefits can help coffee-drinkers appreciate more than just the taste of their next cup of java.

Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

By drinking caffeinated coffee, without sweetener, on a regular basis, one can potentially reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The reduced risk is associated with drinking multiple cups, as many as six a day. It is believed that the antioxidants, such as CGA, found in coffee beans are at least partially responsible for these lower rates. According to some studies, CGA may even help keep insulin levels even.

Whole Coffee Process

The entire coffee production will be explained in another future blog article. In the meantime you can have a look at this infographic which does the job pretty well too IMHO.

Infographic: Journey of the bean