MESA has traveled to the mountains of Peru, the crowded metropolis of Lima and to the bucolic community of Thanksgiving Farm at the Center for Discovery in upstate New York to share a little slice of Pedro Flores’ life with you…
Farmers are survivors
They have resilience and fortitude. They know what it’s like to work hard for little gain. Take 2006-2007 MESA steward Pedro Flores from Chuquibamba, Peru. Caught in the crossfire of war, raised in poverty, and hit with the jarring reality of a fluke accident, Pedro has maintained strong values and tapped into a unwavering belief system. He has recognized that war is never worth the cost, family ties and cultural roots are a powerful force, and that the combination of a pesticide-free farm, wholesome food, physical exercise, and a supportive community has the power to heal.
After losing his parents at the age of seven, and then working throughout his childhood on his grandparents’ farm, at twelve years old Pedro was forced to move to the city to begin supporting himself by cleaning houses and doing other odd jobs. Five years later, he returned to help manage the farm and care for his siblings – ten in all.
War and Reflection
Civil war erupted in the region in the 1980’s. Pedro watched with despair as the Shining Path Army ravaged farming communities and killed members of his family. Without financial resources and hungry for retribution, Pedro chose to forgo the dream of attending university and instead joined the Peruvian Army. During ten years in the army, Pedro became a Sgt. Of Arms, learned how to cook, attended and began teaching food science and nutrition classes, and began competitive long distance running. He even developed a side business selling hand-made bread, a venture that enabled him to send money back to his family. Pedro also succeeded in convincing the army to put a base in his village to protect his community against the constant threat of the Shining Path.
Several years later, when the bloody war against Ecuador broke out, Pedro fought on the front lines. There was nothing that could have prepared him for the horrors he would witness. In fact he credits it as the period when he was forced to ponder the relevance of war and whether or not there is ever a justification to kill another human being. After narrowly escaping with his life and spending a reflective week wandering through the jungle with no supplies, relying on every survival skill he had learned, he vowed to leave the army on principal. One year later, he was honorably discharged.
With the lucrative skill of bread baking as his new weapon, Pedro built a cart from which he sold his bread on the streets of Lima. His bread was popular, and for the first time in his life he was able to begin saving a bit of money. It all came to an abrupt end when, on his 26th birthday, October 19, 1996, Pedro was hit by a truck. Just short of taking his life, the accident caused severe injuries and the doctors doubted he would ever walk again. The accident resulted in a long and painful two-year convalescence that cost him his livelihood and entire savings.
Back to His Roots
Alone and broke in the polluted and over-crowded city, Pedro was starting to lose hope. He became nostalgic for the farm. He fondly remembered that his grandparents’ farm had always provided a safe and nurturing haven; a place where he felt productive and alive. Still unable to walk, he spent the last of his money to make the 24-hour bus ride back to his roots where he discovered the healing power of the farm. Pedro’s spirit was reinvigorated. He started to recognize the direct connection between how we treat our air, soil, and water and the quality of the food that sustains us. After teaching himself to walk again, he made an earnest commitment to pursue a life of sustainable farming, improving the health and well-being of his family and community.
MESA and Partners
Angela Diaz, an engineer from COSUDE Peru/Pymagros, first met Pedro (who had since become a member of the Associacion de Productores de Valle Comdebamba (APROVC), while working with farmers in the Condebamba Valley. Angela contacted MESA’s regional partner in Peru, El Huerto- based in La Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina. El Huerto’s staff immediately recognized that Pedro would be a perfect MESA steward.
[img_assist|nid=192|title=Pedro shovelling|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]Pedro’s farmers’ association organized a fund drive and raised the $200 needed to send him to Lima for his English course and orientation. MESA matched Pedro with long-time MESA host Thanksgiving Farm at the Center for Discovery in Hurleyville, NY. At Thanksgiving Farm Pedro has been both teacher and student and has taken full advantage of every opportunity – from artisan bread baking to intensive, rotational cattle grazing, to value-added marketing. In March Pedro left Thanksgiving Farm to return to his village in Peru.
The day he left Chugquibamba, Pedro promised his community that with their blessing and investment he would return with new ideas to help them realize their dream of sustainable small-scale production and self-reliance. He had a vision of a very bright future and they had no reason to doubt him.
Since returning to his community, Pedro has pursued developing a producers’ cooperative. He is the lead organizer of a 100 member farming cooperative where producers grow paprika and sunflower on 35 – 435 acres of land respectively. The growers’ cooperative has helped secure long-term markets and improve income levels throughout the region. This year the organization is considering adding 100 new members and they are experimenting with saffron production and the use of guano fertilizer.
On this journey, MESA is grateful for the opportunity to meet international agricultural stewards like Pedro, and facilitate an experience that will provide them with additional tools and knowledge to realize their dreams. We invite you to join us on this journey where bold few have gone and become ambassadors for MESA’s Program. As farming communities in the US and abroad feel increasingly isolated, cross-cultural exchange on behalf of sustainable agriculture has never been more important.