This is part 6 of an 8-part story sequence featuring Joaquín Reyes and his family. For two years, Sustainable Harvest International Field Trainer Mariano Navarro has worked with the Reyes, who are just about to enter the third phase of our program. To learn more about our phases and methodology, click here. Otherwise, read on!
A SAINT MARTHA’S DAY CRUSH
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).
Patronales is always exciting, but perhaps even more so when you meet your future partner there. Of course, when they first met, they had no idea they would end up together. Urita was just 23 years old and living with her mother and father, whom Joaquín befriended during the festivities.
Though Joaquín was not from Santa Marta, he had come to play guitar in one of the religious acts that constitutes the core of the celebrations. The next year he came back for the next patronales. After the second time they met, Joaquín continued to make his way back to Santa Marta a little more frequently. Initially, the visits were under the guise of visiting Urita’s father, but eventually, Joaquín expressed his interest in Urita, who felt the same way about him.
A GOOD REASON FOR A BIG PARTY
On December 31, 1986, Urita and Joaquín were married.
“Why December 31?” we asked.
“Because it gave us a good excuse to have a big party!” cried Urita, with a huge smile. Ringing in the New Year with a fortuitous union is surely a good cause to celebrate.
Even before they got married, Urita felt that Joaquín seemed to possess everything that she had hoped a partner would. She knew that farming was his main occupation and never expected him to be anything he wasn’t. 29 years later, she still feels the same way.
“How would you describe him?” we asked.
“Friendly, kind, helpful, caring, and very direct,” she said. “He doesn’t get caught up in things—he moves on easily. Even during difficult times, he keeps going, he moves on. I think both of us are good at that.”
“And how might Joaquín describe you?” we asked.
It took Urita a bit longer to answer this question. “Understanding,” she said. “Loving. We’re quick to make peace. When we fight, it doesn’t last long. I’m his right hand. Mano y mano—we’re together.”
When Urita says they are “together”—she really means it. Though they spend a fair amount of time doing individual tasks and chores, when the time comes to put in a long haul on the farm, they often spend several days up there together, farming, cooking, eating, and sleeping. Both Joaquín and Urita cherish their time together on the farm—the whole family feels this way.
In the material sense, Joaquín and his family might not have much, but they consider themselves to be quite rich. Joaquín and Urita demonstrate that riches don’t necessarily come from financial wealth. The Reyes’ riches are rooted in being able to provide healthy, organic food from their garden, care for the environment, and the overall health of their family.
The Reyes own the two acres their house is built on, but they don’t possess a legal land title—this is fairly common in rural Panama. Two acres may not seem like a lot but the Reyes have maximized every square foot.
Daily meals for the Reyes include staples like cassava, rice, plantains, and beans in addition to onions, celery, garlic, carrots, limes, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, oranges, malanga, otoe, chayote, and cilantro. These meals come from the permanent vegetable garden around their home. Just behind their 600 square foot house (that sleeps ten family members), a dozen chickens (and their many chicks) make their home.
With the help of Mariano (who we keep telling you about—don’t worry—there will be a story about him soon!), the Reyes have planted more than 150 trees on their land. This number doesn’t include all of the trees Joaquín let grow on his land as part of natural regeneration before starting to work with us. They’ve also built live fences with trees.
The rest of the land is a mix of annual crops, preserved land, and highly dense agroforestry systems, where trees and annual crops live in harmony with each other. Mariano encourages the Reyes to continue mulching, terracing, and intercropping, systems he’s helping them to improve with every visit.
Before working with us, the Reyes used an open fire for cooking. Now, they have a wood-conserving stove. Before working with us, they used to have an open pit latrine. Now, they have a composting latrine. Both the stove and the latrine are big sources of pride for the Reyes.
In a few years, after the Reyes have participated in training on small business and adding value to their agricultural projects, they will undoubtedly have more financial mobility. For now, their riches are rooted in the health of their family and the environment around their home—both major sources of pride for the Reyes.
Today, we celebrate Joaquín and Urita’s love and the generations that follow them. We celebrate the hard work they have put into preserving the land around them. We celebrate the roots of the trees they’ve planted and the organic matter they’ve added to the soil. We celebrate the values they’ve instilled in their children and community—values we too, share. We celebrate the strength and equanimity of their love.
But like in any marriage, dedication is vital to preserve and grow love. When Urita and Joaquín first fell for each other, they knew that they would have to invest in both their love and their farm.
In order to thrive they will have to keep improving their farming systems. They will have to learn how to manage a small business. They’ll have to go through training on processing and adding additional value to the produce they grow. As a result, we may soon see delectable products like mango marmalade, vinegar, and plantain chips coming from the Reyes. As mentioned in a previous story, this is part of the training that Urita especially, is most looking forward.
For now, the Reyes are focused on preserving the environment and feeding their family. In the years to come, we hope they will maintain the richness of their life with additional income from the work they put into further developing their farm, small business, and love.
We appreciate the opportunity to be there for the Reyes and to be a part of their history. We love sharing in their successes and being there to help them face their challenges. Happy 29th anniversary to Joaquín and Urita, and happy New Year to you all!
Stay tuned for the final two story installments--or, catch up on what you may have missed.