Just returned from a brief trip across the border to Panama and the lovely Bocas islands. We stayed with a friend who has a 100 acre farm there growing cacao, coconuts, bamboo, platanos, pineapples, greens and all sorts of new and wonderful things. What a project! Very inspiring.
The terribly sad part is that her partner just died suddenly and now the future of the farm is at this point uncertain. We would love to help out and bring this dream of Jim's to full fruition. Hopefully we can.
The produce from the farm is sold at the very young Farmers' market in Bocas Island. Very small as yet, and not well supported by the local population. The trouble is that Panama isn't a very agricultural nation. While there are miles and miles of cattle ranches, the people growing vegetables are few and far between: it's shocking to see how poor the selection and quality of fresh fruits and veggies is on the mainland, never mind the islands. Much of the 'fresh' stuff is imported. We have two great farming friends there: Up In The Hill Organic Farm and High Hopes South, they take their produce to market, but what they produce can never pull in the crowds like the onions - carrots - broccoli - garlic crowd can, and that stuff just doesn't grow on lowland tropical areas. For the market to survive change needs to happen - firstly the market must go from twice a month to weekly, and secondly a cold crops veggie vendor must appear, only then will the locals take the market seriously. There are talks afoot with an organic farmer in Boquete, but that's 4 hours away. We are about 4 hours away too, it seems unlikely any of our farmers would sell there.
So what to do? It seems to me a mammoth task of educating the populace to eat locally and healthily - very hard to do in a tourist town where most restaurants serve up hamburgers and fries with an iceberg lettuce side salad.
What does sell at the market is cacao in all forms: raw beans, roasted nibs, ground, sweetened, even turned into jam! Chocolate truffles and brownies are winners too, along with dried fruit and candied ginger. Almost all of these goodies go to tourists. Great, but a passing trade and not one that sustains in the long term. Platanos, pipa water, chaya and katuk are sold beside the fruits our friends have in season - but to make it work these have to become local staples.
It's a lot of work and requires commitment and strength from the growers, but it's a worthy path to tread. I hope somehow we can help.