Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking you on a mini adventure and sharing some exciting stories from Dan Binks’s (Technical Manager at Liberation Foods) recent tour of Bolivia and Chile. He’s been meeting producers, small holder farmers and co-operative shareholders and here’s the first of three intriguing diary entries…
London Heathrow T4, Sunday 2nd October 2016, very very early o’clock.
LHR to Paris CDG.
Early start, up at 03:30 and heading for LHR. This is flight 1 of 10 that I will make over the next 11 days. 10 flights, 4 countries, the world’s highest capital city, a rain forest, 3 producer groups, 2 factories and 19,500 miles to cover (approximately). My travel companion is Nick Hoskyns who acts as Commercial Manager for Del Campo. He is a Londoner by birth and has a wealth of experience working with small farmer co-ops, particularly in Latin America where he has lived since 1988. He supports Arsenal, Jeremy Corbyn and likes a good glug of beer…..tick, tick and yes, tick again. Should be a match made in heaven. I won’t meet Nick until tomorrow in Chile. He’s gone via a different route and I guess it’s a race to see who gets there first.
Next stop: Paris Charles de Gaulle at around 09:15. Allez à plus!
Paris Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2E, Sunday 2nd October 2016, 21:30.
Ok, so I’ve spent the whole day at the airport…. It’s not a patch on Heathrow. Where are all the bars?? But I did mange bien à la française at lunchtime….and I also located an original retro arcade area! I didn’t think these things existed anymore, but the French are great at making retro stuff really cool. No, I didn’t spend my time playing. I was more interesting in finding a lounger to fall asleep on. Eventually located behind the arcade, so any shut eye I did get was interrupted by PacMan and Space Invaders.
Flight 2 of 10. Paris Charles-de-Gaulle to Santiago de Chile.
Not sure how I will last the 14.5 hours down to Chile. Its 23:30 now and we’re just lining up for take-off. I reckon that I will probably wake up somewhere over the south Atlantic and not be able to sleep for the remainder of the trip. Oh well, I’ve got a new book to read and several films I’ve been meaning to watch to pass the time on board. It is early spring in Santiago in the temperate climes of the Southern Hemisphere. Early indications are that the weather is more akin to an English summer….we’ll see! This will be my first visit in any capacity to South America. I’ve been to every other continent (except Antartica – and there are no immediate plans to go there) so it will be a big tick in the bucket list. Next update when I arrive in Chile.
Update: about 300 miles off the coast of Brazil…..as predicted. I slept and now am wide awake. It’s about 06:30 in Paris. Still got another 7 hours to fly.
San Felipe, Chile
Tuesday 4th October
I’m just about as far south on the globe that I have ever ventured. Arrived ahead of schedule yesterday morning at Santiago International. Then spent 2 hours queuing for immigration and luggage scanning at customs before finally setting foot in South America. We had a 1 hour drive with the hotel taxi from the airport. The landscape quickly changed from cityscape with high rise to rolling mountains of the Andes as we headed north to San Felipe.
In conversation with our driver it came to light that he runs, with his brother, a small farm where he dries grapes into raisins. Back at the hotel our driver got to work on admin duties. We later found out that he also owns and manages the hotel. We’ve already made friend with the local taxi driver, hotel owner and raisin producer and they are all the same person! What an entrepreneur! We tasted the local delicacies last night. Ceviche, which is raw white fleshy fish and raw seafood that has been prepared and soaked in lemon juice. Served cold with red onion salad and sweet potato mash. Absolutely delicious! We washed down with a few cold beers then the jet lag finally kicked in at 11pm (3am UK time). We met with Cristián Lepe, president of MiFruita Chile today. We received a presentation about the company about how they are structured, how their membership works and what commodities they offer. There are 28 small holder farmers that make up the group. The main commodity is grape – for wine, table grape and dried raisin. Some members also grow walnuts. Liberation will start working with MiFruita directly next season on Flame raisins (and with luck walnuts in the future). After an informative morning we joined Leonardo Valenzuela, Agricultural Extension Worker & Certification Manager, for a delicious lunch at a Colombian restaurant before heading out to the fields in the afternoon to visit the grape growers! What stunning surroundings we found ourselves in. Rows upon rows of vines with the backdrop of the beautiful Andes in the distance. Truly breathe taking. The average farm size here is about 15 hectares. The farmer has anything up to 12,000 individual vines on the farm. During the growing season each vine is cared for individually at least weekly and at the critical time every 2-3 days. Luckily the farmer has family and local hired seasonal help.
The day ended with a visit to a farm that grows walnuts and grapes for raisins, nestled into the foothills of Los Andes. The farm has a small processing area where they can sort, grade and clean walnuts. The farm is run by Don. Juan who is a member farmer of MiFruta. His daughter, Giovanno, Secretary to the MiFruta board, and son Mauricio, help to run the farm. Giovanno’s young daughter attends a local school in San Felipe that has been partly funded by Fairtrade premiums paid to Mi Fruta. One of the most recent projects has been the donation of an outdoor storage locker for the toys used at the school to keep them in good condition and the prevent theft.
Find out more of Dan’s story next week on the blog.