Meet the Farmer

Meet Albeiro. Golden Berry Farmer.

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

 

Meet Albeiro. Golden Berry Farmer
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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.

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

Meet Menaka.

Meet Menaka, a seasonal worker for Ethical Inspirations, our spice partner in Sri Lanka. 

 

Menaka is responsible for leading the others in cleaning, shrink sleeving, labelling and packaging the spice bottles.

She is a woman who was marginalized in the local community. She was born with multiple disabilities. Her mother sent her to school, but as she grew, she struggled to find employment. Her physical limitations restricted her from finding livelihood employment. 

Menaka was born with only seven fingers on both her hands; and only one foot. She has to depend on an artificial foot to move. Her limitations have made her determined to stand up in life as an independent woman. 

Menaka is married to Weerasinghe, a young man plagued by polio. Weerasinghe drives a trishaw that provides an income for the family. Weerasinghe ensures that his wife gets to work on time and picks her up after work. Menaka has the opportunity for dignified work and to make an income for her family.

Menaka and her husband, Weerasinghe.

Menaka and her husband, Weerasinghe.

Menaka poses with freshly labelled spices.

Menaka poses with freshly labelled spices.

Meet Maria.

Meet Maria Chari. The face of Peru Coffee.

Maria is a coffee farmer and Matriarch of the Machiguenga First Nation in Pangoa, Peru. 

Like many of the co-op members, Maria produces coffee as a cash crop. She employs biodiversity in her crops to cultivate healthy food.

Maria, her family, and other members of the First Nations group grow organic coffee and cacao. They are members of a long-established co-op with 680 members. The co-op is called 'Co-operativa Agraria Cafetalera Pangoa' (now, that's a mouthful!), or 'CAC Pangoa’ for short.  

The organic coffee we purchase is grown exclusively by the Machiguenga First Nation. 

Maria seeing her face on a package of Peru coffee for the first time!

Maria seeing her face on a package of Peru coffee for the first time!

When we visit, members of the Machiguenga First Nation throw a celebration and wear their traditional (and colourful) robes.

When we visit, members of the Machiguenga First Nation throw a celebration and wear their traditional (and colourful) robes.

Peru Coffee

 

 

Meet Someswar.

Assam, India is an area famous for its malty rich black tea. When we first met tea growers in Assam, we were surprised to hear they were producing green teas ... huh? The pioneers of organic tea quickly saw the need to differentiate their tea from others. It made sense to put together the idea of healthful green tea with organic tea cultivation. Selling green tea within Assam was much easier than competing with long-established black tea brands. 


Meet Someswar. Green tea grower, and organic champion.

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Someswar grows and processes tea for Level Ground's Green Tea.

Remarkably, Someswar has been a Small Tea Grower since 1976. In fact, he was the first small tea grower registered in Assam! A small tea grower is someone who owns and operates a tea garden (like a sole proprietor) - often their garden is in their backyard or close by to their home.  Officially Small Tea Growers may have a garden up to 10 hectares.  The growers of Level Ground’s tea have gardens between 1-10 acres.


Someswar not only has pioneered the idea of  small tea growing in Assam, but he is a champion of organic. He is an officially recognized trainer in organic tea growing and processing and uses his time to share the knowledge he's gained.   Thanks to efforts like Someswar's, there will be more organic tea growers in Assam!

 

Laurie, Level Ground co-owner, and Someswar visit in his Assam tea garden.

Laurie, Level Ground co-owner, and Someswar visit in his Assam tea garden.

Two leaves and a bud are plucked from Someswar's garden. This provides a good mix between quality (the bud) and quantity (the leaves) for tea. 

Two leaves and a bud are plucked from Someswar's garden. This provides a good mix between quality (the bud) and quantity (the leaves) for tea. 

Someswar shows us the list of students who have attended his training seminars over the past year.

Someswar shows us the list of students who have attended his training seminars over the past year.

about 100 students attend Someswar's Training Centre each year.

about 100 students attend Someswar's Training Centre each year.

 

Meet Catalina

Meet Catalina, the face of Aromatic Rice.

She is one of very few farmers that have an Education Degree. She wasn't able to teach, but instead used her education to work overseas to help out her family, supporting her siblings through school. When her parents fell ill, she returned home to the Philippines to care for them. After her parents passed away, she took over tilling the rice terraces along with her siblings.

Catalina is the secretary of the local women's group, farmer's group, and a community leader. She also manages to find time to work on the farm and grow Unoy (Aromatic) rice.

What an amazing woman!

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Meet Jaime.

MEET JAIME, THE FACE OF COLOMBIA COFFEE.

 
Colombia Dark Coffee
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Jaime Marín lives near Jardín, Colombia, where he grows coffee and fruits like lulo, a popular fruit among urban Colombians. His coffee plot is 2,000 meters above sea level, which makes his coffee a favourite among specialty coffee drinkers.  At this high elevation the coffee ‘cherries’ ripen very slowly and the flavour concentrates in the beans.  Jaime Marín’s coffee also earns Direct Fair Trade premiums through the “Programa San Miguel” and his coffee is shipped to Level Ground directly. 

Co-owner Stacey shows Jaime his face on the Colombia coffee package for the first time!

Co-owner Stacey shows Jaime his face on the Colombia coffee package for the first time!

Dave (Level Ground), Jaime, Robyn (Level Ground), and Elizabeth (Famicafé) visit at Jaime's farm.

Dave (Level Ground), Jaime, Robyn (Level Ground), and Elizabeth (Famicafé) visit at Jaime's farm.

Meet Tenzing.

MEET TENZING.

Tenzing is a small-scale tea grower in Assam, India. He's committed to organic tea cultivation because he's seen the impact of chemicals first-hand. Tenzing tells a story of a labourer in a tea garden with a spray pack, full of chemicals.  The container started to leak onto the labourer's neck. The labourer urgently took off his shirt to rinse in a nearby pond. As he rinsed the shirt, fish died and floated to the pond's surface. Upon witnessing this event, Tenzing committed to organic tea production!

Since converting to organic, Tenzing has become a role model. He educates and promotes organic cultivation in his region. His passion is spreading so that more of his neighbours are working in a chemical-free environment, producing healthy tea! 

We love that smile!  

We love that smile!  

Level Ground staff, Wyn, shares a laugh with Tenzing at his home in Assam.

Level Ground staff, Wyn, shares a laugh with Tenzing at his home in Assam.

Meet Dissanayake.

The minimum farm-gate price has assured us of real value for our hard work. We now have some extra money to invest in our dwellings and my family.
— Dissanayake

Dissanayake and his family grow rice and spices on an 1.25 acre plot of land in  Alutgama, Yatawatte, Sri Lanka. 

His biggest challenge? "The adverse weather. We do not have irrigation channels and have to depend on the rain and ground water. During the dry season, the ground water resources tend to dry-up and then we have to abandon our farming".

Through the work of Ethical Inspirations, Dissanayake was able to sell his spices at a fair price.

Peppercorns ... coming soon!

Peppercorns ... coming soon!

Dissanayake in his backyard spice garden.

Dissanayake in his backyard spice garden.

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. 

Meet Julian.

MEET JULIAN.

Julian (pronounced 'hoo-lee-ann') is the Director of Famicafé, a small organization established to support coffee farming communities in Colombia.   

Julian is a trained Agronomist and well-loved in the coffee farming community. As the Director of Famicafé, Julian's job is to match children in the community with educational scholarships. He is vigilant in seeking out the poorest students in the region who stand to gain the most from financial support in their education. He provides thoughtful, human interaction between students and their educational funding so that best outcomes are most likely.

He frequently travels between schools and communities to check in on students. To these students, he is a counsellor, friend, mentor, and great resource. Julian's ongoing involvement with Famicafé has him caring for the efforts of the foundation in 36 schools with 200+ students!

Julian is a dear friend of Level Ground. This past summer, Julian and his wife came to Canada to visit Level Ground and encourage our staff with stories of how Fair Trade directly impacts farmers and the farming community in Colombia.

Since 1998, Famicafé has invested $1.4M in education, supporting over 1400 families! 

To read more about Famicafé, see our blog here.

Julian champions peasant farmers and their families’ future by thoughtfully directing our Fair Trade premiums to deserving students. He creatively inspires the students to work, plan and dream for a better future.
— Stacey Toews, Level Ground co-owner
Julian and Level Ground Quality Control Lead, Josh meet up in Colombia.

Julian and Level Ground Quality Control Lead, Josh meet up in Colombia.

Julian (far left) visiting Brazo Seco School in St. Inez, Colombia

Julian (far left) visiting Brazo Seco School in St. Inez, Colombia

Julian working from his mobile "office" - the top of a Jeep! (check out the 'cushy' seating)

Julian working from his mobile "office" - the top of a Jeep! (check out the 'cushy' seating)

Meet Gobin.

MEET GOBIN.

Gobin is a small-scale tea grower in Assam, India. He is a heart-felt organic enthusiast. He has devised a way of making his  signature tea, Smoked Tea, using equipment traditionally used to pound rice and a wok over a fire.

Travel to Gobin's village involves crossing the mighty Brahmaputra river on a long narrow wooden ferry.  

In honour of his mother and father Gobin has named his backyard garden, the Meen Mohan Tea Garden.   It is a beautiful garden backing onto the specular mountains of Bhutan.

Despite our challenging language barrier, we always appreciate the enthusiastic discussion with the workers at Gobin's garden and the heartfelt sharing of his poems.   

The workers at Gobin's garden have allocated their Fair Trade Premiums towards livestock, hand looms and roofing supplies.

 

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Laurie (co-owner) and Gobin meet in Assam in 2012.

Laurie (co-owner) and Gobin meet in Assam in 2012.

River Ferry on our way to Gobin's home.

River Ferry on our way to Gobin's home.

Meet Gobin. Smoked Tea Grower