Sunday, May 31, 2015

To the Finca

One of the first agriculture terms I learned after arriving in Panama was finca.  A finca is the "small" plot of land sustenance or small-time, self employed cash-crop farmers tend.  

Most fincas are managed 100% by the family that owns them, though day laborers can be acquired for $4-$10/day. Panamanian farmers grow a variety of crops in their finca, depending on what region they're located in.  While just about every finca has at least a few Panamanian staple crops (bananas, plantains, root vegetables, corn, rice, and beans), each region seems to have it's own specialty based on soils, elevation, and agricultural history.

Citrus, robusta coffee, and coconuts grow in most of the central and eastern provinces. 
The Chiriquí highlands are famous for delicious vegetables and arabica coffee, and Bocas del Toro is known for it's cacao (yummmm).  

Though it depends on the land and individual producer, most rural farms have fairly low levels of production since they rely 100% on human laborer without the support of tractors or other modern agricultural machines and tools.

While they may be small by American farm standards, it takes a lot of work to manage a finca!  In my community, men do manual labor such as pruning, weeding, and pest management from early in the morning until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.  Women and children are sent to the finca once or twice a week to gather food for the family- bananas, plantains, and native root vegetables like ñame, ñampi, and dachin.  If it's a good week, there might even be fresh coffee or cacao!  

Some communities love to work in agricultural groups called juntas.  Each member farmer would take turns hosting a junta, a communal work day, in which the other member farmers would come and help out on the farm for free in exchange for lunch.  They rotate farms with each junta so that each member benefits and gets to enjoy some company in their daily (or weekly) labors.  

While typical juntas aren't common in my town, I did learn about a new type of women's junta when I was invited to my neighbors farm a few weeks ago!

Granted, I don't think I'll ever crave the local staple of boiled green bananas, but I have developed quite a taste for some of the other foods grown locally.  Dachin- a deliciously purple potato like vegetable is my favorite, but it's not sold in stores.  Since I can't resist my childlike cravings for purple mashed "potatoes," I asked one of my favorite neighbors, Milsa, if she had any extra dachin that I could buy.  She told me that she didn't, but invited me to her finca the next week.  Assuming that I was just going to help carry vegetables the 45 minute hike down the mountain, you can imagine my happy surprise when she gifted me a whole bag of bananas, plantains, and fresh jungle flowers!  

Apparently this is a pretty normal thing for women in my town to do together, and now I'm just frustrated that it took so long for me to get initiated into the group! 

Kevin, Milsa's grandson, showing how we use handmade bags to carry heavy loads on our head.

Milsa hiked all of this back, plus some!

My gift for helping out- 7 plantains and 40 mini bananas- which she considered "hardly anything"

The trail to a finca 

A particularly nice cacao finca- it even has a nice trail through it! 

No comments:

Post a Comment