Monday, July 7, 2014

Visiting a Farm Family in the Amazon Basin

On our third day in the Amazon basin, we visited a working family farm.   The proprietor, João Evangelista, was one of the legions of people from Northeast Brazil who emigrated to Manaus drawn by the rubber boom, then the electronics boom.  He married a woman from the country, and they agreed to move back to the land where he works a substantial piece of land, growing fruits and vegetables, as well as earning funds from Maia Expeditions which brings visitors to see his operations.  He is in the process of buying the land on terms that sounded to me like an installment land contract – Cristovão said that mortgage lending is also used in Brazil, that is the way he and his wife bought their house in Careiro, but not for rural land transactions, perhaps because such land has low value and the production profits are so uncertain.   This launched into a discussion of the land distribution issue in Brazil – most of the land is in the hands of rich people, and it is hard for poorer people to acquire it. 

Sam confirmed from his studies in Latin American history that land distribution is a major social issue throughout Latin and South America.  The old royal rulers gave large swaths of land to rich families, unlike the United States where the homesteading program was used to encourage western immigration.  The government does have a program called "minha casa minha vida" whereby the government tries to get houses into the hands of poorer people; this rang a bell with me about a news segment I had seen on Brazilian TV, without understanding the Portuguese to be sure but it appeared that a house was being built and then a family was being introduced to it, weeping with joy and being hugged by a man who seemed to be in charge.

Cristovão said that the land was being sold to João by a “friend” who kept the payment very low, and thus affordable.

Agricultural Products Galore

João took us around his farm, showing us the hurucum plant, which produces a fruit whose red seeds although not edible, are widely used for coloring – coloring from red seeds, not edible
Hurucum Plant
Hurucum seeds
Nafisa with hurucum paint

The Tucuman palm, which protects itself from animals by these impressive thorns on its trunk, produces an edible fruit that is accessible to people whose technology enables them to bypass the thorns

After we took a look at a  couple  of skinny papaya trees, we had the fortune to eat a sliced one straight from the tree.

João showed us the ginger he was growing and after he cut out a small hunk we had the chance to taste freshly harvested ginger – super sharp and delicious.

The extra-large lemons on this tree were said to be good for blood pressure.  But I didn’t need that excuse – I have enjoy eating lemons almost as much as oranges and grapefruit.

The fruit of the vingrera plant, pictured below, is harvested to make vinegar.

Manioc Production

Next we looked at his white and yellow manioc plants – below, the yellow manioc are the smaller trees on the right. 

The key difference between the white and the yellow is that the roots of the yellow are poisonous unless properly prepared.  João proceeded to show us the techniques for growing and preparing yellow manioc.    He cut a length of an existing stem and showed us how it is buried in the ground, whence it propagates itself and grows new roots.  The roots are pared and the contents grated; the gratings are pressed to extract the liquid (here, the gratings are being squeezed) that is then  boiled to eliminated the poison, while the gratings are baked to be ground into manioc.  (When we got to his home we saw the ovens where João and his family baked the root solids. The ground bits we were given to sample were much coarser than manioc typically served in restaurants to out atop rice and beans; almost too coarse to chew but like good guests we bravely sampled some.

Newly cut yellow manioc stem

Burying yellow manioc stem to generate new root

Peeling yellow manioc root to expose flesh

Squeezing grated yellow manioc root to extract juice
Oven for roasting manioc root to make powder

Cooked manioc juice, no longer poisonous

Other fruits

Before heading into João’s house, we looked at a few other fruits he was growing:

It was really cool to see a lichee tree (such a refreshing fruit), even if there were no fruits on it, and a tangerine tree.  There were many banana trees, but also this violet banana tree

and the guanabanana – a false banana whose gorgeous, still green heliotropic blossoms were reaching high

There were lime trees with fruits, and a tangerine tree with no fruits that we could see, and several types of pineapple plants, one with a serrate leaf, and one with a smoother edged leaf (I gather from later online research that smoother-leaved pineapples are a modern cultivar; my question about what difference it makes to the fruit, such as white v yellow,  was not answered.

Pineapple plant with serrated leaves
Pineapple plant with smoother leaf

Bunches of pineapple plants -- yum!
On the pineapple plants,  only the central fruit would grow to be eaten; the other growths ringed around it were seeds for eventual planting. 

One of my favorite drinks in Brazil was cupuaçu fruit mixed with milk, and cupuaçu mousse was a favorite dessert; this is a young cupuaçu plant,

and here is a mature cupuaçu tree with past-its-prime fruit still hanging.  

I had a taste of this coriander plant, whose lead is broader and larger than the cilantro that we eat in the US.

This remarkably ugly anone fruit, here shown with our host João, is grown for its medicinal properties

After we walked around his farm, João brought us to his house, where we met his son Nene, pictured below with his pet spider monkey

and his daughter Tiana (photo is above, with the manioc curing oven). 

Here is the family’s kitchen, with João’s wife.

Because each of children had their mathematics practice books out in their room, I mentioned that Sam is a math teacher, which led to a lively discussion with the children about their schooling.  Tiana is in elementary school, a small building that could  be seen just across the river.  Although school is apparently out for the entire month of the World Cup, the school boat arrived carrying some neighboring children just as we were leaving.

Nene, however, has to travel by  boat ninety minutes each way to his intermediate school, which he attends for four hours each day.

Here are Sam and Nafisa chatting with Tiana

Finally, we said goodbye and headed back to the Turtle Lodge for lunch; here is the side of João’s house facing the river.

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