Last month, we took the opportunity to get away from our nasty winter weather and go to South America for 10 days. We went to Quito, Ecuador with an altitude of 9,350 feet. It took a few days to adjust to the elevation.
During the trip, we had the opportunity to talk to a veterinarian, an agronomist and a conservationist. We also enjoyed shopping at colorful farmers’ markets. Roses are a major export for Ecuador and we were able to buy two dozen long stem roses for $2.00. It took 2 vases to accommodate our purchase!
In the Des Moines Register for Sunday, March 3rd, there was an article about Wisconsin dairy farmers having a real problem with continuing their farming. People aren’t consuming milk like they used to. Adding to the problem is the lack of progress with the tariff discussions. In Ecuador we heard the same problem with a different story. When their last socialist president was in power, he imported a big number of Cuban doctors to help out the Cuban economy. These doctors told their patients to stop drinking milk because it was not for human consumption and would cause cancer!
In the highlands of Ecuador, they have the finest of genetics for dairy. A farmer’s wife told us that because the price that they can get for milk is so low, she decided to learn how to make cheese. There is a mobile lab, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture that travels around to farming communities that puts on a two-day course of “hands-on” cheese making. The woman learned to make numerous kinds of cheese and sells her products in her town plus to a restaurant in a nearby town. She even has a name for her enterprise….Mi sin ti. This could be freely translated, “I did it myself without you”.
Since we had access to all the beautiful tropical and subtropical fruit, we had planned ahead and brought a dozen pint canning jars. We bought guava, passion fruit, grenadine, soursop and tree tomato. We were going to make jam and then decided that we had better equipment at home to complete the project. So instead we processed the pulp of each fruit and sealed it in the canning jars. Of course, the TSA at the airport checked it out in our checked luggage and left us a flyer indicating that they had been curious.
The truly tropical fruit, the soursop, is locally called guanabana. It is the size of a football and has a peel that looks like alligator skin. Surejell and sugar worked wonders with the fruit. We ended up with 15 pints of jam and spent $7.50 for all the fruit.
Besides the wonderful fruit and vegetables found in the Andes, highly nutritious pseudograins are endemic to the region. We went to the Quito Botanical Garden and found a display featuring quinoa and amaranth. Both plantings were really exuberant. Quinoa is high in protein and contains all essential amino acids. Who knew that a relative of pigweed (amaranth) has been cultivated for 8,000 years and could be so good for you? Highland corn in Ecuador is usually floury and is used in so many food products. The Ministry of Agriculture works to keep the many varieties pure.
During our trip to Ecuador we visited a 65 acre farm located on the slopes of the highland mountains near Quito. The farm was very diversified. The main activities were corn production for grain and silage to feed a small dairy and also small areas planted to the local food crops. There were also groves planted to avocado trees, oranges, limes, and subtropical fruits such as passion fruits, ground cherries, and a special variety of squash for green and mature consumption.
All the work was done with small machinery and hand labor. The production is sold locally and also in the big city markets. The farmer’s main concern was the availability of markets to sell and the prices of the farm goods. We had several conversations of adding value to the products. We could see many opportunities to use products to process and to sell the nutritive value of the products.
We were excited when we saw the high carotene corn the farmer was growing for silage and for ground corn and cob for his dairy herd. He said that this corn was great for chickens! We were happy to hear that. We thought he could add orange sweet potatoes and carrots to his farm products to sell high carotenoid products in the local markets. Other crops that the farmer had were grain amaranth, a high protein crop he was using to enhance the value of a breakfast product.
Cookbook of the Gastronomy of Indian Villages
There is a great interest in using nutritious food. There was an article in the Quito newspaper showing a native woman with a “necklace” of fruits and vegetables found in the Andes. A chef is pictured at her side. The article was featuring a new cookbook called “A Comer”, meaning To Eat. The authors have scheduled a presentation of the book at a local university. They will discuss ancestral recipes made with local foods. Some of these recipes have disappeared over time. They are trying to preserve the recipes and this will also preserve the crops that are used in the recipes. There is a great interest in gastronomy and a two year course is being offered to new chefs.
This year we will be testing some of our new elite hybrid choices in wide area (regional trials with 5 locations per region) testing. Some of these hybrids have been tested already for one or two years and we will be looking for consistency of yield over locations and years.
Iowans are good people
Iowa weather, while we were gone, made international news. Iowans are good people. When we got home, our neighbor had cleared our driveway. When we went to our research station in Luther, another neighbor helped out when our plow truck got stuck!