It’s harvest time in Ecuador. An obvious difference from our South Dakota roots, where spring has sprung and farmers are certainly working on preparing their fields to plant the corn or the beans…yet here we are, late April, at the end of the growing cycle which we have been able to witness first hand from start to finish.
It all started back when we arrived late summer. We caught the tail end of the purple corn harvest, a type of corn that is dried and ground into a flour for the specialty drink, colada morada. A blend of corn, spices, and fruit, this drink is available as a commemoration of the Day of the Dead celebration. One little field on the property is dedicated to growing this specialty corn. José Marie picks it by hand and tosses it into the handmade basket on his back in true Ecuadorian style.
Then, the soil is prepared. This was late September. It was so dry…according to José Maria, it was the worst it has been in thirteen years. But, it doesn’t stop the need to plant the source of your livelihood and pray that God will send the rain. With this process, there are no tractors for plowing and furrowing the rows. Just two well-trained oxen, a sturdy yoke, and lots of muscle to turn the soil and make it ready for the seed.
The fields are ready for planting mid-October. Through a skilled technique, the women poke, drop, and step, creating symmetric and even rows of seed that will produce choclo, (pronounced choke low), the sweet corn of the Andes. Row after furrowed row they walk, hand seeding with a baby in a back sling and seeds in the front.
This sweet little guy is used to having to fend for himself and play with whatever materials are available around him.
The rains finally come, but are too little, too late, perhaps, for the last planted field. It will eventually grow, but there is uncertainty as to whether it will produce.
José Maria tends the crops right before Christmas by hand hoeing..day after day he comes out of the corn, hunched over from wear and tear, yet is so fit for a seventy year old man. I reminisce about my tiny little garden and how I hated to take care of the weeds. It pales in comparison to the size of the fields that need to be maintained. Certainly not the acres and acres that any farmer would have in America, but a plot of land that brings pride and satisfaction when it grows and produces. The work ethic of this man is amazing.
He picked a gunny sack full about a week ago, and, as he carted it off in his wheelbarrow, lamented to us how the market price is only $8 for the entire bag of 250 ears. It is a bumper crop this year so supply exceeds demand. He leaves at 2:00am to take a bus to Quito just to see if he can find a better price. The report comes back that there were trucks and trucks of corn. The price will be low for now.
But, when the corn is ready, it needs to be picked. So, despite the price at the market, this week was one of excitement. Workers were hired and the harvest began.
Through a time-tested ritual, workers entered row upon row to pick the corn, while José Maria and another man ran the gunny sacks back to the piles, dumping sack after sack to be sorted into grande and pequeña groupings.
Harvest dictates we try a sample platter for lunch, fresh from the field, cooked in a classic “remembering Grandma” pot. Many Ecuadorians use mayonnaise or cheese, but we stuck with good ol’ butter and salt.
Two to three days of harvest, and a daily truck run into town with the fruits of their labor.
And us, blessed to have them farming the land we are able to live on, purchased a bag of choclo to share when we hosted the Homeschool Teen Fellowship group last night. One hundred ears husked with 150 more to send home with our guests. Fresh picked the day of cooking.
Now, that’s farm to table at its finest.
“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (KJV)