The Fruits of their Labor
Our pousada, a small local guesthouse with 3 rooms, is serving breakfast at 6:30. Fresh maracujá (passion fruit) juice is the best! You can’t get this in the US. It will take another 2 hour drive to get to the buriti cooperative, imaginatively named “Buriti-Coop”. The distances outside the main cities of Brazil are staggering and of a scale we are not used to in the US. Even though the countries are of similar size, most of Brazil’s population is far more concentrated and served by very little infrastructure between.
We make it to the town of Palmeira, where Buriti-Coop has their “office”, an open air area where they hold meetings of their council and take care of co-op business. There are 25 families in this co-op, and they are excited to tell me about their way of life, and the importance of buriti, much more than a simple fruit from a palm. They share with me how they harvest, and what is important to them as a community. A few years ago, no co-op existed, and the members of the community sold individually to dealers. Beraca helped them organize, reducing their dependence on predatory dealers, getting better market prices and a more predictable income, and helping them continue to improve their sustainable practices. When asked what they need most, they responded that they would, of course, always appreciate better prices, and a market for their developing craft business, but that since working with Beraca they “feel like equals” and more in control than ever.
This community still harvests buriti by hand, with a few key changes due to better sustainability practices. For example, instead of cutting buriti clusters from the trees, they wait for them to drop, and gather them. Instead of burning leaves and other by products, they turn them into a rich fertilizer. They now hold classes for the community to help improve and teach forest management practices, even for those not members of the co-op.
Before we leave to see the other half of the co-op, they show me some of the ways they use buriti – foods, sweets & juices, baskets, paintings and kitchen utensils. The fibers of the buriti have a steel-like strength, yet are soft and flexible when boiled. I am able to do a little show and tell of my own, and show them a few Teadora products, which are literally the “fruits of their labor”. They recognize immediately that the Teadora logo is a buriti.
The other half of the co-op, where we’ll have lunch, is more than an hour through rough, unpaved roads that are nearly impossible to navigate without a 4-wheel drive. On the way, we pass soybean plantations stretching as far as the eye can see. International demand for soybean is at an all-time high, and we can see where 10’s of thousands of acres of delicate biome have been burned away to make room for a cash crop. We examine a well on the way, making sure things are working properly, and the quality of water is good. When we get to the house, we talk co-op business for a while and sit down together for lunch. Of course there is fresh juice! But also rice, beans, a dish made from pumpkin, a dish of cassava (yucca), tomato salad and chicken. We say our good-byes, and make the long journey back, stopping at one more house.
The moment I walk in, I can tell this is gramma’s house – I think anywhere in the world, they have this same feel. Her house is simple, and has several things made from buriti – baskets, lamp shades, brooms, etc. She takes me out back into the bushes and trees and I get a quick education in buriti, maracujá, babassu, tucu, bananas, limes and a few others.
It is finally time to say good night after a long day. Tomorrow we will head in a different direction, spending time with some other communities and visiting several schools. I end the day satisfied, well-fed, and liking what I see.
Stay tuned for Day 3. Tom