This is part 7 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. To read previous stories in the series, click here. Otherwise, read on!
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.
At age eighteen, Encarnacíon is the youngest of all her siblings. She lives at home while she completes her studies at Ángel Guardia—the same school her brother Eliaquim attended. In June, Encarnacíon will complete her studies and either find work within the tourist sector or, continue with advanced training in tourism in Penonomé.
Eventually, Encarnacíon would like to find work at one of the resorts in the Coclé province, like several of her brothers and sisters. As mentioned in previous stories, the Coclé province is developing at a rapid pace—it features resort beaches and even an international airport. Eco-tourism continues to grow as well. For many young folks like Encarnacíon and her siblings, the combination of education and tourism seems like the best promise for a better future. That said, Encarnacíon has no intention of forgetting farming.
Despite being busy with school, Encarnacíon still goes to the farm on an almost daily basis. Of all his children, Joaquín considers Encarnacíon to be the one most connected to the farm.
“Farming isn’t something we do to amuse ourselves,” Encarnacíon says, “It’s what we do—it’s who we are.”
Like both Urita and Joaquín, Encarnacíon is very family-oriented. She enjoys the time spent on the farm, and working together as a family in order to produce their food supply.
“There’s always something to do up there,” she says, whether it’s planting, cleaning the field, or harvesting.”
Given that Encarnacíon has been helping her parents on the farm from such a young age, she understands the impact the drought has on their livelihood.
Like her mother, Encarnacíon wore crocs covered in dust—dust from the dry ground. Without rain, Encarnacíon says, many of their plants have been dying. One day, the family would love to have some sort of sustainable water source—an irrigation system. Nevertheless, because of the drought and the overall lack of protection for the surrounding watershed, there’s not enough water to be pumped up to their farm. Not today, anyhow. That is why retaining as much water as possible in the soil and in the farm itself is vital for the future. Having better soil and more trees allows the farm to better resist the drought.
These days, Encarnacíon’s most frequent companion on the farm is Joaquín. Nevertheless, she’s very close to her mother, Urita.
“We’re very attached,” she affirms. “She reminds me to be involved. She instills values in all of us. She teaches us about everything from respect to responsibility. Her advice comes both through what she says and how she behaves.”
This is a refrain we heard repeatedly throughout our conversations with Joaquín, Urita, and their offspring. To the entire family, actions seem to speak louder than words.
While Encarnacíon may not be as close with Joaquín, she appreciates what he’s taught her—everything from farming techniques to valuing organic food and what she puts in her body.
Among her siblings, Encarnacíon is the only one who does not have children of her own. This affords her more freedom and flexibility. With eight nieces and nephews around, Encarnacíon isn’t eager to have any children of her own just yet. The freedom she currently possesses makes it possible for her to be even more available to her family’s farming endeavors. She helps wherever and however help is needed. Along with her parents, she helps the household to make decisions.
BUT BACK TO WHAT SETS THEM APART…
Not surprisingly, Encarnacíon was hesitant to speculate on this question—she’s equal parts smart, humble, and shy.
“Well,” she said, composing herself, “I can’t speak for any other family, as I don’t know any other family as well as my own, but I’d say what sets us apart is that for the most part, the food we eat is organic and we grow it ourselves.
“We’re one of the only families in the area that eats and farms like this. I think people see that our family not only looks healthy, but that we are healthy. I notice that not everyone else around here is as healthy as us.”
As mentioned in previous stories, the consumption of highly processed foods in rural Panama has created a diabetes epidemic. Ironically, being overweight is associated with malnourishment. A diet of fried foods and low quality processed foods can cost people decades of their lives.
Echoing the sentiments of her parents, Encarnacíon espouses that this likely gives their neighbors a chance to reflect on their choices. She notes that it probably makes their neighbors realize that growing and eating organic might be good for them as well. Encarnacíon’s measured response to these questions demonstrate both her deep commitment to the principles of organic farming and her respect for individual choice.
Encarnacíon politely asks if we have any more questions. We do, but we also know that she needs to get to school. Relieved, Encarnacíon springs up from where we’re seated, gathers her things and rushes down the path to the road to flag down a bus. Yikes! We hope we haven’t made her late.
One thing that is for sure is no matter where Encarnacíon’s future, it will involve her family’s farm. For Encarnacíon, to even consider any other way is absurd. In previous stories, both of her parents spoke of their concern regarding the future of the farm. With a daughter as invested as Encarnacíon, the farm should be in good hands.
Stay tuned for the next (and last!) installment in this special series--words from Mariano Navarro, the Field Trainer who works with the Reyes or catch up on previous installments.