After a short drive through the city of Rancagua we arrived at the Regional Ministry of Agriculture. The primary focus of the ministry is on the development and improvement of small (12 hectares and less) and mid-size (50 to 75 hectare) farms. We learned that small farms account for 25% of the land but represent 75% of total farmers. In the O'Higgins Region, many of the farms have switched to producing fruit and vegetables because it is much more profitable.
Our next stop brought us to SAG (Chilean Agricultural and Livestock Service). SAG inspects all fruits and vegetables prior to export to the US, Canada and other countries. Since 1982 an operative agreement has been in place between USDA and Chile so that through inspection insects and disease are prevented from being transported into import countries.
Continuing on, we were happily greeted by Francisco with some cold "cervesas" in a circled square bale seating area. He told us about his small 12 hectare organic farm that produces a unique pear for French markets, raises a new breed of sheep for the meat market and grows and feeds alfalfa. The size of the farm is not sustainable on its own so Francisco and his wife work off-farm in non-agricultural professions. With Francisco's farewell and invitation to visit again soon, we packed on the bus to head to a traditional Chilean restaurant.
Our mouths watered as we dug into our main entrees which consisted of sweet corn meat pie - none of us had ever tasted anything like it! Of course no Chilean meal would be complete without dessert, and we were served with a small mountain of fresh fruit! During lunch we all jumped out of our seats when we heard a loud strike of thunder and the start of rain. What we thought would be a "million dollar rain" in an area experiencing a long drought actually cost most of the farmers millions of dollars in lost income. Little did we know that the rain would put many fruit farms at risk for mold in their crops.
Arriving at The Ponderosa Land, owner and operator Martin Compton was one of the most inspiring individuals whom we've had the pleasure to meet on this trip. He shared with us the history of how he and many other farmers acquired their land in the early 80's and the successes and failures he experienced and will "never forget!”. When asked what he defined as wealth he responded: "If you live a happy life and experience the joys, you are a wealthy man".
Finally, we found ourselves surrounded by corn, green beans, kiwis, blueberry plants, grape vineyards and a far sight of the Andes mountain range after the heavy rain. The heat and the sun came back quickly and we toured an agricultural high school where 380 students 14 to 18 years of age learn about modern agricultural practices. This school specializes in education on irrigation and students live on the premises to "learn by doing".
Fifteen boxes of pizza awaited 34 thirsty and tired travellers to cap of a great day.