In short, we help farmers out by investing money that they can use for irrigation systems, labor, seeds etc. early in the process, and the farmers pay us back in produce. This is essentially an interest-free loan that removes some of the risk from a bad harvest from the farmer and moves it onto us – the consumer of their produce.
Our Sustainable Chili PartnershipVera Mexicana strives to bring the best Mexican products to Europe in a socially sustainable manner, while focusing on quality, flavor, and fair pricing. For that reason, we have started a crowdfunding project in collaboration with Coop Crowdfunding to test a new business model with the chili farmer Gerardo – a model we hope to reuse with other small farmers in Mexico.
Gerardo - The small farmer with big ambitions
When Gerardo speaks about farming it is obvious that he loves what he does for a living – even though it has been very difficult for him and his family. In his own words, he “is a man drawn to the earth, the magic of its soil, and the flavors it gifts us”.
Wise from 26 years of growing vegetables and chilies, Gerardo has made chilies his primary focus, but he continues to experiment. And this is one of the reasons we find it so wonderful to partner with him – not only does he have exceptional expertise within the field of growing chilies in Oaxaca, but he is willing to test new methods and crops.
Gerardo has grown habanero for the past ten years, using a sustainable and completely natural method, one that is as careful and attentive towards the health of his lands as the environmental forces allows him to. His ingenuity led him to create a novel fertilization system based on local worms, and various other ingredients – but we would never give away his secret!
Together with Gerardo we are cultivating several different chilies: chilacas (pasilla), jalapeno (chipotle and morita), guajillo, arbol, ancho, and habanero. This first batch is mostly a test to see how the various chilies respond to Gerardo’s particular soil, and in the future Gerardo has ambitions to supply us all the chilies we want – a wonderful partner indeed!
The struggle of small farmers in Mexico
The only time, during our visit with Gerardo, where his face and demeanor changed from that of a passionate teacher, was when the discussion turned to his experience with the classic food-industrial system. It was almost scary, and definitely heartbreaking, to witness him retell his version of an all-too common tale.
He had landed a great contract, allowing him to grow his labor-intensive quality product with a relatively high selling price – but when time came for the harvest, the international company that had promised him a certain price said they were only willing to pay 70% of the agreed-upon price. The result was devastating for Gerardo. He had to sell his high-cost product at below standard prices in an oversupplied market, leaving him both disillusioned and at a great financial loss – one that left him and his family in debt.
For farmers, it is an increasingly difficult line to walk; embracing the economic possibilities inherent in dealing with larger, often international, buyers of their produce and the risk of being hung out to dry. Even if the producers have all paperwork in order, it remains a David vs. Goliath fight – one that David never wins in modern Mexico.
Our crowdfunding project
The development of new farming areas at Gerardo’s farm has already begun, but we are looking for financial support to get over the finish line. The money we get from the crowdfunding project will be used to pay for lab tests for the chilies – so they can be sold in Denmark, labor until the harvest, an oven to dry the chilies, and much more.
With this support, we will be able to tie the whole supply chain together – from Gerardo harvesting the chilies to the consumers’ table in Europe. This way, we ensure a transparent and fair treatment of all involved parties which means that Gerardo will have more time to focus on his precious chilies, while resting assured that he will get paid for his efforts.
The habanero seen here is nice and shiny with “thick” walls. These are two of the most important traits when evaluating a habanero, according to Gerardo.
A note on the Habanero chile – because Gerardo loves it
Mexico produces a vast variety of chilies, both fresh and dried, but the queen of capsaicin is without a doubt the Habanero. On average it brings a hundred times the heat of a classic jalapeño and was long considered the hottest of all until an ever-increasing number of selectively bred peppers surpassed it. Where most of these satisfy a seemingly insatiable hunger for an ever-stronger burn, the habanero is also bursting with fresh floral and fruity flavors.
In Mexico, the habanero is most popularly grown on the Yucatan Peninsula. There, a plethora of habanero-based sauces and salsas entice locals and visitors alike, alongside wooden crates brimming with colorful displays of the fresh peppers.
Gerardo considers the habanero a very noble product and has this to say about the chili “I eat it in all of the food I eat. For the past 15 years I have eaten a lot of spicy food, and now that we have habanero, I eat habanero every single day. For lunch, with any kind of dish. Or in salsas that we make at home. Basically, that’s how I like them, either raw or in salsas. I don’t like to combine/mix them with vinegar or lemon. I think them just like that, cut it and wash it and eat it with any food we make at home, or I just eat/chew them”.
Scoring up to 350,000 on the Scoville scale, there aren’t a lot of people who dare to eat habaneros raw like Gerardo.Thank you for taking the time to read about our project, and we hope you will help us create a better way forward for us and Gerardo.
The Vera Mexicana Family