In 1997, Florence Reed founded Sustainable Harvest International after living alongside subsistence farmers in Panama. Success stories from the past twenty years abound. We're happy to share some of our favorite stories with you today!
At the outset of this story series, we set out to answer the question: what sets the Reyes apart? How are they like other families? What makes them different?
We put this question to Encarnacíon (Joaquín and Urita’s youngest daughter) one morning before she rushed off to school. Though we had found a quiet place in the shade to talk, that didn’t stop Encarnacíon’s nieces and nephews from gathering around to hear our conversation. Luckily, Encarnacíon is not easily distracted.
Piedras Gordas, Panama— 31 years ago, amidst the festivities of patronales in Santa Marta, Panama, Urita and Joaquín first met. Saint Martha, is the patron saint of the small town where Urita was born and raised. Every year, Saint Martha is celebrated on July 29, during patronales.
People from all over had come to celebrate, play music, and feast. If you’ve ever attended a patronales celebration, the sounds of salomas (Panamanian shouts), the colors of the polleras (skirts), and the smells of bollos de maiz nuevo (sweet corn tamales) will already be familiar to you. Imagine a town full of flowers and bursts of color—everyone wearing their best hats, blouses, and earrings, dressed to the nines (including Urita and Joaquín).
It had been six years since I last visited Isabel’s farm and I didn’t know what to expect. The sound of rocks scraping the bottom of the rental car had gotten worse since picking up three additional passengers. After thirty minutes of jolting along the dusty road, I was relieved when we had to walk the last quarter mile. The hedge of hibiscus preceding the path to Isabel’s house looked the same, but the farm beyond looked less abundant than I remembered. I began to worry that our efforts had been in vain.