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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Dominican Republic #4: Local Food Movement

   As part of our service trip I took part in, we were treated to a “day away” from our construction work.  On the Saturday we were taken into the picturesque mountainous interior of Dominican Republic with Rancho Baguite as our final destination.  It is located near the town of Jarabacoa.  This ranch offered a variety of  eco-attractions, including walking trails, white water rafting, horse-back riding, fishing and a butterfly garden.
   I went horse-back riding along with two others from my group.  When we returned to the dining hall, one of the owners approached us, offering some freshly roasted macadamia nuts that had been grown and processed on site.  When she asked, “Would you like to see the plantation,” I assumed she would show pictures from her laptop.  Instead we were taken a stone’s throw from the dining area to their extensive vegetable gardens and fledgling plantation.
Kale grown outdoors
Kale in pasta dish served in buffet
   This ranch grows nearly all the vegetables and meat served in its buffet-style restaurant.  We saw rabbits being raised for meat and to provide natural fertilizer for the gardens.  The co-owner pointed out kale that would be used in the pasta dish featured for lunch.  Other healthy plants were producing cabbage, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and beans.  This was a welcome sight as our travels in the capital did not allow us to see any land under cultivation.
Macadamia nuts used for seed
Transplanted seedlings about a year old
    The plantation of macadamia trees was also of great interest.  A six year-old macadamia tree is twice as tall as an average adult and began producing nuts four years before.  The processing occurs in a small building that contains an industrial steel drier to reduce the moisture content of the macadamia nuts from 20% to 1-2%.  A simple press is also used to extract macadamia oil, which is rich in Omega-3.  The processed nuts are used by a local bakery.
   As I pondered the agricultural model being shown at Rancho Baguite, I realized that every culture’s food began as a “local food movement.”  When we think of Korean food, it consists of fish, pickled cabbage and rice precisely because these are the readily available raw materials the people had to work with for millennia.  Likewise, Russian borscht is a product of the plentiful root vegetables, including beets, that can be grown in a cooler climate and will keep through the winter.  The North American reliance on imported food is a symptom of our affluence.  We feel restricted by a “100 mile diet,” but most of the world’s population has no other choice.

   A few times during our stay in Dominican Republic we were given single serving packages of Oreo cookies or jars of peanut butter imported from the U.S.  That made me uncomfortable.  As a North American I am part of a system that does not encourage local food, and over-packaging has become a status symbol abroad.

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