Fruit

What is Dragon Fruit?

It's a dragon! No, it's a fruit! Well, actually ... it's a cactus.

Dragon fruit is the delicious, yet dangerously spiky, yellow fruit that comes from cactus varieties in South America.

In North America, we're accustomed to a bright pink dragon fruit, which typically comes from Asia.  In China the fruit is referred to as huǒlóng guǒ (火龍果), which translates to 'fire dragon fruit'! The juicy yellow dragon fruit we have is grown in Colombia - its real name is Pitahaya, but in English its nickname 'dragon fruit' has stuck! 

This fruit grows in rows, similar to a vineyard. The plant is lifted off of the ground to help it grow and allow for easier harvesting. 

GREAT THINGS ABOUT DRAGON FRUIT

  • It contains vitamins: It's high in Vitamin C and B
  • It aids digestion! It's high in fibre and can help to get things moving in a healthy, organic way! (Warning: We don't recommend eating an entire package at once.)
  • It's brand new! It's our newest product, and we're excited about it!
  • It benefits farmers in Colombia! Read about Simon and members of the dragon fruit farmers association here. 

 

Dried Dragon Fruit
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A ripe dragon fruit before the spikes have  been removed.

A ripe dragon fruit before the spikes have  been removed.

This variety of dragon fruit has a juicy white flesh. 

This variety of dragon fruit has a juicy white flesh. 

The vineyard-like rows of dragon fruit!

The vineyard-like rows of dragon fruit!

Meet Albeiro. Golden Berry Farmer.

Meet Albeiro Chamorra. Golden berry farmer and leader of the golden berry farmer association. 

 

Meet Albeiro. Golden Berry Farmer
Dried Golden Berries
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Albeiro is a husband, father, and is one of fifteen farmers who grow organic golden berries as a member of Biofruit NAPOLI. 

He is a trained Agronomist from Bogota (the "big city"!). When his father, Hernan, joined the golden berry association, Albeiro moved back to Nariño to join his family. Albeiro, with his University Education, has been a great asset to the community where the average education ends at elementary school. 

He is now the leader of Biofruit NAPOLI, the golden berry association, and advocate for organic production. 

 

Albiero (centre left) and his father (centre right) along with the women who work on Albiero's farm.

Albiero (centre left) and his father (centre right) along with the women who work on Albiero's farm.

Members of the Biofruit NAPOLI association come together every month.

Members of the Biofruit NAPOLI association come together every month.

New Fruit!

Introducing ... our new fruit lineup! 5 organic dried fruit options, now including banana and dragonfruit!

Launching today are the bright, new, beautiful packages. So what's new?

  • They're all organic. Certified organic golden berry, mango, pineapple, banana, dragon fruit and cacao from Colombia.
  • Two new fruits: banana and dragon fruit on their own for the first time ever! 
  • New farmer faces. Each fruit features a unique farmer face of a member of that growers' association. 
  • Convenient snack size. They're a little bit smaller, to allow you to grab and go with them. The perfect hiking/camping/airplane snack! 

Plus, all of your favourite things have stayed the same:

  • No added sugars, preservatives, or sulphites. Just delicious fruit.
  • Fair Trade fruits grown by small-scale farmers in Colombia.
Level Ground dried fruit packages
Level Ground pineapple package
Level Ground banana package

Meet Orlando.

Meet Orlando, Leader of the Banana farmers association, and king of organic. 

Even without a word of English, Orlando is one of the most hilarious people you will ever meet. His smile and laugh announce his presence everywhere he goes. Quick to make jokes, Orlando draws people near: family, friends, and visitors. But don't let that fool you - Orlando is dead serious about one thing: organic farming.

Orlando creates organic mixtures to solve any problem on his farm. If a plant needs more nitrogen, he's got a blue bin for that. More calcium? There's a bin for that! He shares the mixtures with members of the association, ensuring they all have a healthy harvest.

So how does he make all of these mixtures? It's a science. He takes organic materials from his farm, and neighbouring farms, and combines with precision. One key is using run-off from his neighbour's pigs. They take the organic material that pigs expel, allow it to ferment, and use the nutrient rich material. (Side note: the gas resulting from that process is used to power their homes!) 

Orlando's success has allowed him to spread the impact throughout his family. His brothers, who were stuck working in coca production, called Orlando to ask for help. His response: to take them in without hesitation. Now, all the brothers live together, producing healthy plants that give life. 

Each blue bin contains a different organic mixture, designed to combat pests and disease.

Each blue bin contains a different organic mixture, designed to combat pests and disease.

Dave (Level Ground), Orlando, Robyn (Level Ground) and Pacho (Orlando's brother). 

Dave (Level Ground), Orlando, Robyn (Level Ground) and Pacho (Orlando's brother). 

Orlando and his famous soil!

Orlando and his famous soil!

Meet Simon.

Meet Simon, Leader of the dragon fruit farmers association.

Simon and his wife Nancy live just outside of Pitalito, Colombia. It's a small town, even by Colombian standards. The trek to Simon's farm is incredible, the colours of each building flash by as you ride in the back of his truck. The ride is never made alone - when we travelled in January 2018, Simon's son (Simon Philipé) and labourers joined us for the journey.

As the leader of the dragon fruit farmers association, Simon's role is to bring the five farmers together. He builds capacity, amalgamates orders and takes care of the members. The five members of the association consist of himself, his brother Fernando, and three men who used to be labourers on Simon's land. 

Fair Trade wages have allowed Simon's labourers to purchase land of their own, and join the association. They're even able to hire more labourers to work for them! This means more families are seeing the effects of a stable income. 

Because you choose to purchase this dragon fruit, these families have a stable income and can afford to hire more people to work together on their land. Purchasing thoughtfully allows the financial impacts to continually ripple outwards. 

 

Simon, the face of Dragon Fruit, with the new package!

Simon, the face of Dragon Fruit, with the new package!

Esteban, one of the farmers, sees himself of the back of the new package for the first time.

Esteban, one of the farmers, sees himself of the back of the new package for the first time.

Level Ground's Dave and Robyn visit with the Dragon Fruit farmers in Colombia!

Level Ground's Dave and Robyn visit with the Dragon Fruit farmers in Colombia!

Golden Berries - Biofruit NAPOLI

Biofruit Napoli - the organic golden berry farmers association in nariño, colombia.

What's in a name? Biofruit NAPOLI was started in 2007 by six members:

Nancy, Alba, Piedad, Osvina, Leonardo*, & Lilliana.  (*Leonardo was the only Male founder of the association!)

The association has 16 members, 15 of which are farmers. Giraldo Rosero the only non-farmer member operates a nursery for golden berry plant starts. He carefully nourishes the seeds into starts, then farmers come to purchase and plant the starts in their farmers. 

Each member owns a farm. Collectively they hire 81 workers who harvest and sort the leaves. The vast majority of these workers are women, which is a welcomed change in Colombia. All of the members meet on the first Sunday of every month. They gather to share success stories, organic practices, and encourage each other in their work. 

Hernan Chamorro, member of Biofruit NAPOLI

Hernan Chamorro, member of Biofruit NAPOLI

The nursery for Golden Berry plant starts.

The nursery for Golden Berry plant starts.

Members of the Biofruit NAPOLI association come together every month.

Members of the Biofruit NAPOLI association come together every month.

Golden Berry Package

Pineapple - Regrowing Peace through Pineapples

In the Cauca region of Colombia, the Balanta family has worked for years advocating simultaneously for peace and for pineapples. 

It's a region that was known for conflict; it's main crop, coca leaves. Because of the coca production, guerrillas occupied the area, soon followed by the military. This combination led to heavy violence in the area.

Cesar (Nilsen Lucumi), Susanna, and Gustavo (Amaifi Bonilla) Balanta grow pineapple from their farm in Cauca. Even though they have formal education, and hold other jobs in Law and Human Resources, they never left Agriculture. This family has deliberately chosen to stay in Cauca, through conflict and war. They advocate for pineapple production, a welcomed alternative to coca, and are passionate members of the pineapple farmers' association - Asoagronorca (Agriculture Association of Northern Cauca). 

Now, this region cultivates peace. What was previously an area known for drug production and violence is now a community who comes together to produce pineapple and work together. 

Cesar Balanta in one of the Pineapple farms in Cauca.

Cesar Balanta in one of the Pineapple farms in Cauca.

The finished product. Our pineapple package features the face of Susanna Balanta.

The finished product. Our pineapple package features the face of Susanna Balanta.

Fruandes Organic Farmers Meeting

Fruandes, our dried fruit and cane sugar partner in Colombia, shared the following with us.


This summer, Fruandes held the sixth organic farmers meeting in Ipiales, Nariño (Colombia). The On this occasion, Fruandes visited and shared some time with each of the members of the Biofruit Napoli association, a group of organic golden berries producers led by Albeiro Chamorro.

The focus of the meeting was 'The Farm as a Set of Good Practices'. Participants exchanged farming practices, in order to co-create and improve processes. 

The agenda had four stages:

1. Good Practices 

The 2-day meeting began with the participation of all association members. Each member shared their best practices and strategies in terms of quality and sourcing.

Together they identified the following good practices:

  1. Loyalty and organizational commitment

  2. Persistence and good project management

  3. Good organizational management

  4. Strategic leadership

  5. Inclusive governance

  6. Good logistics and traceability through effective communications

 

2. The Chagra Route

A Chagra is an Indigenous farming system. It's not only a collective activity wherein farmers and indigenous people produce their own food, but also a learning place where traditional beliefs are connected with organic production and divinity.

We visited the Chagra in the afternoon. The aim of this activity was to observe, and analyze how we can replicate these kinds of farms. Fruandes encourages farmers to grow healthy, nourishing foods for their own households. 

 

3. Visit to the organic golden berry farms

The Fruandes community visited the farms of several Biofruit association members to know more about growing organic golden berries. First, we visited Hernando Chamorro’s farm, where we had a tour of his fields and learned about his composting practices. Next, we went to visit Albeiro Chamorro’s farm, and toured around the farm as he explained the golden berry picking process. Later, we visited Gildardo Rosero´s farm. He is in charge of raising the seedlings of the golden berries for all farmers belonging to the association. Lastly, we visited the farms of Jaime, Enrique and Leonardo López in the José María Hernández village, located in Pupiales. There we learned about other products made from golden berries.

 

4. Gathering and cultural exchanges 

At the community center in the village of José María Hernández, we participated in the last activity of the meeting, much anticipated by participants. We described the organizational structure of Fruandes with two main objectives: 1) To know the roles of each on the Fruandes team; and 2) To replicate this model within each association to improve their organizational structure.

To be faithful and loyal are the keys of success.
— Albeiro Chamorro, Biofruit Napoli Association
Fruandes is a knowledge center!
— Orlando Rodriguez, Banana Farmer
Germán Betancourt, Organic Development Leader (far left) with organic pineapple farmers from the Cauca region.

Germán Betancourt, Organic Development Leader (far left) with organic pineapple farmers from the Cauca region.

Fabio Baron, Fruandes Logistics and Service Leader (left), on the farm of Hernan Chamorro, the pioneer of the organic golden berry production in Nariño.

Fabio Baron, Fruandes Logistics and Service Leader (left), on the farm of Hernan Chamorro, the pioneer of the organic golden berry production in Nariño.

A traditional dance from Nariño on the last day of the meeting.

A traditional dance from Nariño on the last day of the meeting.

The Faces of Fruandes.

Workers at Fruandes cut, sort and dry the mangoes.

Fruandes was founded in a time when Colombia was experiencing serious upheaval with many internal refugees moving to large cities in hopes for safety from armed conflict in the rural areas.  Embedded in the heart of Fruandes was a commitment to employ women who had been displaced by violence in their rural homes and had come to Bogotá to start a new life.  

Fruandes now employs 45 women and has carried on in its strength in providing community for the families of their employees.  

Fruandes is now looking ahead and building a new facility in Ibague.  This will mean moving the whole operation hours away from the city of Bogota.  In their usual style, the leaders of Fruandes put together a multi-day trip for the whole company to go by bus and explore the new town.  Finding housing, checking out schools and sports teams for their children, envisioning a new life in a new place together.  The collective sense is that the new town will provide an incredible lift in quality of life - less time commuting, more affordable housing and more time with family.

Meet Tatiana.

Tatiana's mother worked at Fruandes during Tatiana's growing up years.  In 2008 Tatiana became the 2nd generation in her family to join Fruandes.   She started in production and now works in the office as the administrative assistant.

Tatiana and Hugo in 2013, when Tatiana was expecting with her first baby.

Tatiana and Hugo in 2013, when Tatiana was expecting with her first baby.

MEET Luz.

The story of Luz is the story for many Colombians. She is an internal refugee who fled from her native costal town of Tumaco to the capital city of Bogotá. Luz is a single mother to six grown children, only the two youngest live with her. She must begin her day at 4am because her commute time to Fruandes is nearly two hours! Meaningful work, however, is worth it for Luz. She is thankful to have a stable job, and to work in a place where people truly care for each other. 


MEET DON ISRAEL.

(note - his first name is Israel, not Don. Don is a term of respect, similar to saying "Mr." in Spanish).

Don Israel grows organic mangoes in Vereda Guacaná, Colombia. He started farming in 2005. With his raised awareness of environmental care and sustainability issues, he converted to fully organic practices within three years! 

On his eight hectares of land, he employs two farming families year round, plus eight additional families during mango harvest.

He sells his harvest to Fruandes, Level Ground’s trading partner, and receives a fair price for his crops. 

Dried Fruit from a Vancouverite's perspective

Guest post from Jenn Co

The following is an excerpt from Jenn Co's article on her time visiting Fruandes. 


Having lived in Vancouver, Canada for a good chunk of my life, I would call myself extremely blessed. Immersed and surrounded by luxury and opportunity, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole other world out there. When I decided to step out of my comfort zone and embark on my first solo travel trip by heading to Colombia, I knew I was in for an adventure.

As I stood at the entrance to Fruandes, I couldn’t help but think, “This doesn’t look like a production warehouse.”  It reminded me more of the outside of a house. I turned the handle, entered in and was immediately arrested by the sweet smell of deliciousness. I peeked past the staircase and saw crates upon crates of…mangoes! This must be heaven!  I’m a mango monster, you see! I knew at that moment I was going to thoroughly enjoy this educational experience to its fullest.

Fruandes started as a dream. In 2002, the market value of coffee beans was plummeting and Level Ground saw a need to partner with small-scale rural Colombian farmers to diversify their offerings in order to survive. Fruit seemed to be the most logical solution as it grows well in Colombia’s rich tropical climate. Plus, the high altitudes and rich soil of the Andes provided the perfect conditions to high-growing fruit trees. This is how Fruandes dried fruit was born. 

Fruandes, short for Frutos de los Andes (Fruit of the Andes), is a certified B-Company. B-companies use business to solve environmental and social issues. Fruandes exports its organic fair trade mango, pineapple, dragonfruit, golden berries, and bananas to many countries in the world—Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Chile, US and the Netherlands, to name a few. What’s incredibly inspiring about this story is… when Fruandes started, Colombian dried fruit didn’t even exist, much less exported! Now there are four other competitors in the market vying for people’s taste buds and loyalty. One could say Fruandes broke the ground in this area of business.

With all that knowledge in tow, I was raring to actually experience what happens in a dried-fruit production plant. But first things first: Get into gear! Jasmine, the packing supervisor, gave me a change of clothes: a loose white V-neck top and matching elasticized pants, a hair net, face mask, rubber boots and gloves. I was so excited to jump into doing things, Jasmine literally had to stop me. “Mira,” she said, which means “Look.”  

Riiiiight. I needed to wash my hands and dip my rubber boots into a water bath. I soon discovered hand-washing was a crucial part to the entire operation.  I literally had to do this before anything and everything. Let’s just say, Fruandes takes cleanliness and hygiene as top priority. The facility is both organic and on its way to meeting international standards for their processes.

Peeling, cutting and laying mangoes on drying racks

FRU_5562.jpg

Once I was thoroughly clean, I walked through a plastic curtain and into the main facility. I slipped on a rubber apron and was directed to a long upright table where smiling women were peeling and cutting mangoes. A knife was handed to me and I proceeded to copy the technique of these expert cutters. It took a while to get the hang of it because the ripe mangoes kept slipping and sliding out of my hands. I was taught to distinguish which pieces were able to make it to the next round, and which needed to be separated. So anything bruised or squishy had to go. These pieces are usually given to the workers at the end of the day for them to enjoy or bring back to their families. The pieces that made the cut were then laid flat onto drying racks, after which they were popped into dehumidifying ovens where the mangoes reincarnate into their more dehydrated versions.

Once dried, the fruit goes through another round of inspection where the best of the best get sorted into big plastic bags. The bagged dried mangoes are sealed, boxed up, then brought upstairs where they are packaged and labeled.

Jasmine escorted me up a flight of stairs and directed me to the room where more ladies were busy filling and weighing small packets of dried fruit. The day I was there, they were working on dragonfruit. After washing my hands (See? What did I tell you?) and donning a fresh pair of gloves, Jasmine gave a quick explanation of how to weigh and seal the packets. Then away I went! With weighing scale on hand, I ensured each bag held the exact number of grams indicated by the packets. After doing a hundred of those (or so it seemed), I moved over to a nearby machine and ran the packets twice to ensure they were sealed entirely. The last step was combining a dozen of these small packets into a bigger bag, stuffing that into a box, taping it down, and getting it ready to be sent to the country that ordered it.

An important aspect of Fruandes is how the production process keeps more money within the country. By paying growers and producers fair trade prices and hiring Colombians to work in the factory plant, Fruandes is able to reinject finances back into the local economy. From its inception, when Fruandes director Giovanni Porras rented a small space in a low income area, the story has been about making the lives of Colombians better. 

In 2002, Giovanni installed a dehydrator and gave six marginalized women in the Cazuca refugee community work. These women along with their children were struggling to survive. Through a connection with a local NGO, the women and children now have minimum wages, access to healthcare, transport subsidies, school tuition, scholarships and materials. Today, there are more than 45 women employed by Fruandes during peak fruit processing periods. Level Ground receives around nine containers of their dried fruit and panela (cane sugar) a year. The other European and US markets receive just as much product, if not more. So even though Level Ground founded Fruandes, this dried fruit company has definitely grown beyond them!

 

- Jenn