Eating healthier in Boquete
With so much talk of heart disease, diabetes and the noxious effects of agrochemicals, it is little wonder that more people are looking ...
With so much talk of heart disease, diabetes and the noxious effects of agrochemicals, it is little wonder that more people are looking for ways to eat a healthier diet. So when Ron and Kim Miller first started selling organic vegetables in Boquete around six months ago, they quickly found that everything was snapped up almost before they could get it out on the table. In fact, their produce proved so popular that many regular clients now email their orders ahead of time to be sure of getting just what they want.
When you see the quality of the vegetables, herbs and baked goods on offer it is little surprise that Ron and Kim are in such high demand. Giant orange sweet potatoes, small spinach leaves, bok choy, yellow heirloom runner beans, rosemary, oregano, thyme, dill and much, much more, all temptingly interspersed with home-baked ginger snaps, rum brownies and granola bars and with the scent of freshly-picked lemon, lime and Thai basil perfuming the air. It is all looks and smells irresistible – and is all the more so because the buyers know that it is all 100 per cent chemical free.
“We do no artificial chemicals for pest control or fertilizer,” said Ron. “All our fertilizing is done with organic abono (manure) which is produced locally. We also use a worm compost tea made by our own worms and from another farm close by.”
The couple’s 17 hectare farm is near the small town of Santa Marta, just 10 km west of Concepción close to the border with Costa Rica.
“It was a cattle grazing farm so it was easy to make it organic because it had never had any spraying done on it,” said Ron. The couple moved there in 2006 and spent the next two years getting everything started, putting in interior roads, infrastructure, farm buildings, their house and, most recently, a new deep well, to ensure that there is enough water in the dry season. Their greenhouses now cover 12,800 square feet, with another 20,000 square feet planned for next year. They have 100 free-range chickens ready to start producing eggs and dressed meat for the local market. Twenty five head of cattle have been kept on to keep the grass low and a steady supply of manure at the ready for the worms. And future plans include tilapia ponds to provide organic fish for local consumption.
Of the two, Kim is the gardener and she is also a trained herbalist. She had her own health food store in the US and still makes her own cosmetics and beauty products including lip balms, herbal salves, lotions, tinctures, bath oils and salts, facial scrubs and steams and more. For the moment she imports much of what she sells from her manufacturer in Virginia but her aim is to start to use the herbs she grows on the Santa Marta farm.
“I love the vegetables but the herbs are where my heart is,” she said. “My intention is to grow as many American herbs as I can here. But I also plan to get familiar with the local herbs. The growing is what I love the most. I love to get my fingers in the ground. I love the smells.”
Many of the seeds used by the Millers are organic heirloom varieties brought in from the US on their frequent trips home. Besides the organic fertilizers and avoidance of all things chemical, Kim also has her own special techniques to encourage her plants to grow. “I talk to them. I sing to them. There are different chants - Indian Cherokee songs, that kind of thing.”
“You have to honor the plant and you have to be respectful and then it is glad to help you. The essence is there and you get the medicine. Sometimes I pray when I´m harvesting that the herb will help specifically whoever it is.”
Ron is more pragmatic. “I guess we enjoy the challenge because we are still here doing it and most days we´re smiling,“ he said. “At this time in history, at this time in our lives, growing healthy foods is a great place to be.”
Organic fruits and vegetables contain up to 40 percent more anti-oxidants than produce grown with agrochemicals. Levels of organophosphorous dropped dramatically in schoolchildren who replaced their conventional diets with organic food.
Organophosphates are associated with respiratory problems, memory disorders, dermatologic conditions, cancer, depression, miscarriages and birth defects.
The Organic Producers Association of Chiriquí (APOCHI) offers courses on various aspects of organic cultivation. The next course to be held at the beginning of September will look at organic seed production and controlling insect infestations using natural pesticides. The courses are generally held on a Sunday at various organic producer´s farms so that participants can see, in situ, how the techniques work. Past courses have included composting with worms, tilapia and rice farming, organic cattle rearing and vegetable production. For more information, please contact Geovani Ostía, president, APOCHI on 6519 3898 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org