Expat Life

An organic farmer’s ‘no good, very bad, day’

By Rob Gray

I was up before 5 a.m. as I knew there was a lot of work ahead of me. Our Wednesday mornings at Gran Roca look a lot like a game show. How much produce can you get ready for sale before the time runs out? At that point, I have to leave with what I have and take it to our customers at Tienda Nectar, a couple of blocks from Parque Calderon in Cuenca, about an hour away. My plan for this week was to get to Nectar earlier so that everything would be set up and ready to go by our 2 p.m. start time.

Rob Gray
Rob Gray

We had set some fairly lofty goals for this week, but I thought we could accomplish them if I got to work early. It was still dark outside, but I had work to do in the Prep-House which is lighted. I started with weighing and bagging the potatoes and sweet potatoes. Each bag was filled with 2 lbs. Next, I wanted to introduce our customers to a new item, a banana (my favorite banana variety in Ecuador) that they likely had never tasted. So I packed these special bananas in small bags for them to purchase and put a couple of bananas aside for tasting. “No Rob, they are for the customers, not you.” I had to remind myself. Besides I had at least a half dozen in my house waiting for my breakfast.

The prep house.
The prep house.

My next task was to prepare the cooked potatoes and sweet potatoes for tasting by our customers. So I selected some small samples of each and crossed back over to my house and put them in the oven. Nothing was added, no salt, oil, butter, etc. I then rewarded myself with my banana breakfast. I had run out of papaya which is my usual first course at breakfast (I prefer water-rich fruits first in the morning). By the time the rest of the team had arrived, I had fed the dogs and cats, started some sprinklers, cooked the beans for tasting, and figured out what else I needed to harvest for the day.

The potatoes
The potatoes

So, while the team harvested, washed and bagged the carrots, beets, onions, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and lettuces. I did the same for the curly kale, dino kale, spinach, summer squash, and the heirloom tomatoes. The team also shelled the beans and peas. All was going remarkably well. The produce was fresh, smelled great, and tasted even better. However, at about 11:15 a.m., with an hour before I needed to leave, Nature decided to complicate things. As I was harvesting the heirloom tomatoes, the heavens opened up and poured rain so hard that all of us were completely drenched in seconds. Our ability to harvest became significantly impaired. We fought through it, however, (we have a great team), and were able to get the truck packed. We were now running late as it was after 12:30 p.m. and I had to leave.

Checking the list one last time, I realized we had not harvested the broccoli, which we were going to introduce to our customers this week nor the herbs which some of our customers pre-ordered.

A new variety of banana.
A new variety of banana.

Disappointed, the game show continued as I started my drive to Cuenca. Not more than a couple of kilometers from the farm, a low-water light began flashing on the truck dashboard. Fortunately, I had a bottle of water with me. So, I pulled over to the side of the road, popped open the hood, and refilled the water reservoir. I then closed everything back up, looked at the clock and thought I could still barely make it on time. About four kilometers later, however, the low water light began flashing again. Huh? I repeated the same procedure and charged on, only for it to happen a third time just before the City of Giron. Yikes! I had boxes and boxes of beautiful fresh produce and a truck that needed to see a mechanic pronto. I was now going to be late.

The uncooperative truck.
The uncooperative truck.

After spending some time under the car, the mechanic was unable to locate a leak and suggested that I go to the electrical guy down the street and have him see if there wasn’t some kind of electrical problem. At that point, I realized that my truck was not going to Cuenca that afternoon. But, I did not want to lose all of the produce and disappoint our waiting customers. And so I called one of our guys back at the farm and asked if it were possible to have his truck meet me in Giron, move the produce from my truck to his, and then continue on to Cuenca in his truck. As I waited for the second truck to arrive, the electrical guy actually spotted the leak, and sent me back to the mechanic, who then determined that a small part had a hole in it and would require a replacement which he didn’t have. Fortunately, the second truck arrived, we moved the produce, and continued our journey to Cuenca.

I had already called Nectar to let them know that we would be late. It was now a little after 2:00pm, and I thought we could make it by 3:00pm or so. But I did not realize the replacement truck was MUCH slower than my truck and so I talked again with Nectar and reported that we would arrive more like 3:45pm.

The good news is that we actually got there at a little before 3:45 p.m. Unfortunately, many of our customers had other commitments and had left earlier in the afternoon. We certainly understood. We were nearly two hours late. We sincerely thank the customers that waited for us. They were rewarded with really great produce and a free item.

The bad news. We ended up with a lot of produce we couldn’t sell. And one member of our team caught a pretty bad cold.

The day started with such promise, but the game show ended in a no good, very bad day. Won’t stop us. We’ll go for it again next week. Hopefully, our customers will understand. We look forward to seeing them at 2 p.m. next Wednesday with more varieties in store. By the way, the truck is repaired. The replacement part cost $2.

  • Pixelvt

    If I wrote an article about having a bad day then I could write one every other week. Not sure what the point of this article is at all. He had a bad day. Life sucks then you die. LOL

    • LadyMoon

      no words….just no words for you Pixelvt

  • Ricki

    What doesn’t break us will make us strong! Very inspirational article. Best wishes for a great future, and it will be very fruitful!!!

  • lorenzo

    Since I’m involved with agriculture (One of the crops grown on our land is organic bananas), I do understand what Mr. Gray is saying. Agriculture can be a challenge, to say the least. You hope that it rains while your crops are growing, but not when you’re taking them to market.

    The city folk might be interested to know that spring is here and the corn planting season in the Cuenca area is upon us. It’s time to plant the three sisters. Corn, beans, and squash, with some haba thrown in. The window for planting corn is about a month, early October through mid November. It has to rain enough for the soil to be moist, but not too much so that it’s “muddy”. Also, for the more traditional farmers, the moon has to be right. Did I mention that agriculture can be a challenge? I’m amazed every year, one way or another, hopefully without me spraining my back, the corn gets planted which will give us next year’s supply of mote.

  • lorenzo

    I’ve noticed that discussing politics on this site seems to interest folks, so to keep the conversation going…
    The socialist government of Ecuador recently gave us (for free) 2000 cacao plants to plant on our farm on the coast. The other alternative for using the land is to grow bananas. Growing bananas is more profitable and so most of the greedy, capitalistic farmers in the area grow bananas. When everyone grows bananas, the price drops because of oversupply. Other problems will also arise from a monoculture of bananas which includes disease and other environmental concerns. The socialistic government wants to encourage crop diversity to benefit the economy’s big picture, hence the free cacao plants. The free cacao plants, of course, are paid for indirectly from the pockets of hardworking banana growers, (and everyone else).
    Since I’m a greedy socialist and I came out ahead this time, I’m content. But, politics sure can be confusing.

    • Pixelvt

      sounds like you are a capitalist as well, taking advantage of the system LOL ,,, no worries cacao sounds like more fun anyway You can sell the beans to Lake Champlain Chocolates here in Vermont.

  • lorenzo

    Thanks, Mr. Pixelvt. That’s our goal, to actually sell chocolate someday.