It's always inspirational when MESA Host-Steward teams bring their cultural exchange and experiential training to a full circle. During the lull of the Washington winter, farmers Louis Sukovaty and Jennifer Argraves of Crown S Ranch traveled with their two children for a month long visit in Peru. Henry Flores and Nestor Marinas were their first-ever MESA Stewards, and the exchange mobilized the family to further engage and participate in unfamiliar traditions.
CROWN S RANCH AND INNOVATION
Louis Sukovaty comes from a first-generation immigrant family and has always been keen on expanding his family's horizons and learning from different sources. When both he and his wife Jennifer changed their career paths from engineering to sustainable farming, their idea for the ranch was to incorporate appropriate technologies with traditional management systems. Jennifer is mostly involved in the farm tours, community outreach, marketing, and management, while Louis focuses on care of the animals and mentoring the MESA stewards. Their daughter, Icel, and son, Geza, also help with the animals. The breathtaking landscape of the Methow Valley provides a backdrop for their progressive techniques such as solar powered chicken trains, passive cattle fly traps and grey water catchment facilities.
Crown S Ranch began hosting MESA stewards last year, focusing their training objectives on innovative methods of sustainable farming and animal husbandry. The Sukovaty family intends to create a balanced system, rotating animals in pasture, producing their own food, and composting. They are very excited to share their techniques and small-town US culture with MESA stewards. Along with practical learning, stewards Henry and Nestor also found themselves incorporated into the daily routine of the family. Nestor was amazed by, “How they treated people and how patient they were, even though we weren't good with the language.” Both Jennifer and Louis were very patient with the stewards' level of English, they often communicated through writing and a dictionary- Louis even learned what he calls "Functional Spanish".
The Crown S Ranch motto simplifies their approach to raising livestock, "Better for the Animal. Better for the Environment. Better for You." The farmers, however, are anything but simplified. Last year, Henry told them he wanted to grow vegetables in addition to raising animals. Louis immediately took him to buy seed and arrange a schedule to transform some land into a working vegetable garden. A few months later, the family was able to diversify their marketing with vegetable sales at the town supermarket. Once again we see another example of the family's open attitude toward exploring new ideas and exchanging techniques.
FAMILY ARRIVES IN PERU
Just two months after the stewards' departure, the Sukovaty family took advantage of the slow farming season in Washington by planning a trip to Peru. First and foremost on their itinerary was to visit both stewards in the home communities. Unfortunately, a storm in Seattle postponed their arrival in Lima and prevented them from meeting with Henry. The family continued on to Cuzco, where they met Nestor to tour the Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley. This leg of their journey was purely for exploring, hiking and snapping photos at the famous Machu Picchu. After playing tourist for one week, Nestor guided the family north, passing Lima to his community in the district of Cajamarca.
VISIT TO NESTOR'S COMMUNITY IN CAJAMARCA
This was the first time in Nestor's lifetime that Americans came to visit his small town, a four hour drive from the highland city of Cajamarca. The conditions are rustic, as Nestor describes, “At 3500 meters above sea level, it is fairly cold and we don’t have heaters. There's no electricity and the toilets don’t have seats, but I had warned them, so it wouldn't surprise them.” The Sukovaty family spent four days working and learning traditional agricultural methods at Nestor's family farm. Louis laughed as he began to recount his experience, proudly saying "Nestor has a one track mind. He is going to be a farmer." The following are excerpts from Jennifer's travel journal.
One element from Crown S Ranch that Nestor has incorporated into his own farm is the cultivation of mixed grazing crops. Nestor and his brother are currently experimenting with an alfalfa species that Louis found in high altitude farms of Colorado. If this succeeds, the brothers are most likely going to save and share the seeds with their neighboring ranchers. Every week they exchange goods at their livestock market, traveling in the communal van ("I think we fit 26 people in a 9-person van! With chickens on top!" -Louis) to get to town. Although this trek seems far removed from the way ranchers in the US typically proceed with sales, Louis came to believe that this market does indeed sustain the farm economically. From Nestor's account, "Louis was also helping us sell. He didn't understand very much but he really wanted to know all the prices and figure out how the people traded and bartered for the meat. He was very attentive and ready to listen." Louis understood that the sales of one full grown animal provides the salary of one full time worker for a year- and as the ranch averages 20 head of cattle plus 20 other animals, the family is doing quite well.
If you don't know what "cuy" is- check out the bottom photo. These are guinea pigs that are slightly larger than the ones you might find in a pet store in the US. Louis laughed in saying "Izel was playing with them…then we ate 'em! I'd really like to raise cuy but I'm not sure how people would take that." As Louis learned from Nestor, raising cuy would be a pretty simple addition to Crown S Ranch though he is not sure how his CSA members might react.
To Louis, it seemed that Nestor's family had the financial means for simple luxuries such as flooring or a gas stove, but the family made their decision to stick with a traditional and very basic household. The Sukovaty family was impressed by the community's ability to live and prosper, "Nobody seemed hungry, everybody had enough. Like they say, everybody has a potato. These people have been sustainable for hundreds of years. ..they seem to have what they need to live well into their 70s." -Louis
Overall, the Crown S family's visit to Nestor's ranch was mutually inspiring and humbling. The Sukovaty's got first-hand experience in the rich culture of a highland Andean community while Nestor's family learned much more about the open attitudes and helpful demeanor of this unique American family. Nestor said in amazement, "It really surprised my family to see the level of their culture. Generally, people who have greater economic means are much different than we are. But with them, this was not the case. They were so nice, Jennifer helped to cook and Louis helped sow seeds for our pasture. Despite some digestive problems, they were always positive and happy to help, no matter the cold weather or the new foods. Perhaps my family was expecting something different, even I was not expecting this. Now I understand them much more and my confidence is stronger- as if we were family who has known each other for years. It was such a great experience, and it helped me emotionally."
ANOTHER LEVEL OF EXCHANGE
It's truly admiring how two groups from two very different regions of the world can join together and connect on such a friendly and familiar level after their MESA program. Nestor's experience at Crown S Ranch was educational and beneficial for his farming career, however, the family's visit to his home ranch provided an entirely new level of communication and exchange. Nestor revealed, "When I was at their ranch, it was often difficult to talk because we were all so busy with the production. Conversations were always brief and more difficult because of the language. But here, there was more time for conversations, we had time to walk and to talk. I feel like I've discovered the real Louis. Jennifer, I've found to be so kind and always ready to help. Both of them are such excellent people. I know their kids better, we had time to play. I feel like we got to know each other so well in their short visit, they've let me understand them personally."