A man of the land ! Our morning started with a walk to the Dandriga airport, that's right... Walk! Our class divided into three groups and we flew on small planes to Punta Guarda - but this was more than just transportation. We flew along the coastline, seeing shrimp farms, plantations and fields from 5000 feet. Due to limited seating, some of us were able to ride in the co-pilot's seat, - probably a once in a lifetime chance!
Today, we also had the chance to tour a farm. This is not out of the ordinary for members of an agricultural leadership program, but what is extraordinary about this farm is the farmer himself. Eladio Pop is a fifty two year old father of fifteen. He and his wife and family live in the village of San Pedro Columbia in Belize. Every morning Eladio wakes up bright and early and sets out on a forty five minute walk along the farm road to his pride and joy. The Agouti Cacao Farm covers 31 acres of rolling terrain and has been Eladio's passion since childhood. He knows so much about every species and variety of plant on his farm. AALP classmember, Ben Sterk commented, "He knows each plant like a dairy farmer knows each of his cows." We went up and down the hills and trails following a man who was so excited about his livelihood that it was contagious. On Eladio's farm, there are two pieces of equipment which he purchased, one is a machete, and the other is an axe. Today Eladio used the machete to show us everything edible on his jungle-like farm. We tried palm heart, cacao, bananas, coconut milk, coffee beans, allspice, Jamaican limes, sugar cane, white corn and lemongrass - and that was all before lunch! Eladio said that most of the things he grows, he eats with his family and that eating well keeps him strong and he doesn't get sick that often. Regarding his workload or any challenges, Eladio said, "I told Jesus to use me as his tool, because he is the guy for me right now." Every time we turned a corner there was something else amazing. This man loves life on the land.
Besides being a dynamic farmer, Eladio implements no till and organic farming methods. He prepares his corn field by cutting existing plants with his machete. He plants his corn using a no till corn planter... otherwise known as a walking stick with a one and a half inch diameter base! The stick is used to clear the vegetation away from where the seed will be placed, then poked vigorously into the soil. He places seven seeds in the hole, walks four feet and repeats the process. We asked him, "Why not change the population or spacing? Do you really need seven seeds in one hole?" He replied, "Some people put five, but my dad said seven is best because the stalks hold each other up and the rats and birds and things can't harvest their own corn so they can take some for themselves."
On a study tour like this, we have the opportunity to see many things, go to new places and meet interesting people but an important part of this program is that it makes us think. Today I'm thinking that even though Eladio farms 31 acres in the jungle in Belize and many of us are managing larger businesses in Ontario, we have many things in common. We enjoy learning, interacting with new people, sharing our knowledge, growing ourselves and growing food but we step back and look at ourselves, and for Eladio, family, faith, health and happiness are so important.
Andrew Chisholm, Matt Langford, Michel-Antoine Renaud – AALP Class 13