Cuenca couple reaps the rich harvest of hard work

Mar 28, 2021 | 8 comments

I don’t recall writing a business story that didn’t include coffee or food and this one is no different. This time the tale takes an unexpected turn to detail how a couple succeeded in replenishing a portion of a diminishing well that is essential to us all.

All rivers have a deepest, strongest, current. It is unseen and overlooked energy that propels the water around it, waking it to order. It is yeoman’s work that provides unrelenting reliability, and therefore, security to the frantic water.

There are those among us who exude similar qualities; a depth of methodical insistence, even when battered by interrupting boulders and sandy shoals. Jose Carlos Moralez and his wife, Maria Elena Ayala, are illustrious examples of this determination to, like water, succumb to nothing, and carve their own channel.

Moralez was succinct, “Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest where you haven’t planted.”

Ayala and Moralez were high school sweethearts, living in a working-class neighborhood of Cuenca. They married early, as is the custom. A teenager’s life in Ecuador can be grueling and it is best to have a loved one to share the burden. They soon had a son and the three of them tried to nestle in as best they could. But the bottom dropped out and everyone they knew was unemployed and only darkness loomed ahead.

When Moralez and Ayala made the difficult decision that he would take the dangerous trail north to find work, he said, “I will go where people are leaving and I will do what no one else wants to do.”

Moralez made his way to Long Island, New York, fighting the tide of those surging east. He established a construction business and staked his claim by advertising that he would take on the most difficult, dangerous, and mucky jobs while making three promises, “I always pay close attention to detail. I will always be prompt. My work will exceed your expectations.”

Moralez always keeps his promises.

Within a year Maria had joined him and he had a crew of six. The people he chose to work with were Ecuadorians as well as other marginalized people with talent but without opportunity.

In their far from copious free time they planted a communal garden to grow their food.

After many years of hard work, Ayala and Moralez were ready to return home. They could no longer bear being away from their son, left in Maria’s mother’s care. Jose passed the construction business on to his brother and they boarded a plane to Cuenca.

They had saved $15,000 to start anew.

Jose Carlos Moralez and Maria Elena Ayala reimagined their lives in a most wondrous way by adhering to Moralez’s original business plan: “Go where people are leaving, and do what no one else wants to do.”

They quickly realized that folks were leaving the villages and their family farms for what they assumed to be a better life in the city  —  a travesty in the making. So they packed up their family and moved to the village of La Victoria to do what no one else wanted to do: farm  —  but in a way that is inspired, sustainable, and has a great opportunity for growth; they are hydroponic farmers growing pristine quality produce including strawberries, lettuce, radishes, scallions, and more.

Hidroponia Gourmet (Facebook and Instagram @ he.greenleaf) will inaugurate their second greenhouse in June. They currently have 3,000 strawberry plants and 1,800 heads of lettuce in production. Their roster of customers is impressive, providing hundreds of leafy greens a week and bushels of berries, at the peak of ripeness and with flawless skin, to some of the region’s finest restaurants and gourmet stores. Their newest customer, Goza Restaurant, in Machala, has a standing order of 180 heads of lettuce a week.

Their family farm is steadily growing. Sunny skies are predicted.

What a wonderful success story! It is a blossoming born of determination, of keeping one’s head down and putting one’s back into the struggle.

They have no expectation that horns will sound in celebration of their success, no marquees will glow with their names. Instead, Ayala and Moralez will rejoice in their reward when the time comes, far into the future, when the fruit of their many harvests will become manifest — at the end of the day.

Moralez and Ayala are shining examples of those who possess the deepest, strongest current. It is an unseen and overlooked energy that propels the people around them, waking them to order. It is yeoman’s work that provides unrelenting reliability and refreshing purpose to the frantic water that they tame and use to nourish us.

Moralez and Ayala

Robert Bradley

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