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Organic Farming in Antigua, Guatemala

Mountain view of Caoba Farm

Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.

These past few months living in a foreign country have been many things—incredible, frustrating, rewarding and challenging all at once. I’ve felt the frustration of being a new college graduate in the current economy. Chances are the next step in my life will require more schooling before I’m actually qualified to do the things that I’d like to do. Instead of dwelling on this reality, I continue to turn to farming for a concrete way to see progress (or at least how I choose to see it at the age of 23). Farming for me is equivalent to therapy–working with my hands, helping plants grow, and eating and sharing the food that I’ve helped to create. It’s also a profession that seems to be of interest to many of my peers who were environmental students in university.

Farming is how I’ve spent a significant amount of my time here in Guatemala. In my Transitions post, I mentioned the prospect of working at Caoba Farms, a local organic farm in Antigua. Since that time, I’ve been spending my mornings working at the farm–weeding on Mondays, planting lettuce on Wednesdays and various other tasks in-between. As of late, I’ve been assigned to manage the compost pile. Throughout this time, I’ve been incredibly inspired by the farmer-manager-owner, Alex Kronick. Although not an environmental student in the academic sense, Alex has transformed his 1.5 acre plot of land into a bountiful vegetable farm with help from his knowledgeable employees and through good ol’ trial and error. Alex serves an example for me–as my next steps in life will most likely involve starting a farm of my own. He’s taken his education–a Bachelor in Science degree in Entrepreneurship from the Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe–and has filled a niche market here in Antigua for organic produce.

According to Alex, “Entrepreneurship is doing what you love to do and making a business out of it.” The combination of his passion for farming and the multitudes of high-end restaurants and hotels in Antigua have created a beautiful farm.

The future of Caoba Farms is also inspiring. Alex would like to create an experimental space for sustainable farming in Antigua, for people from all around the world, as well as from Guatemala, to enjoy. This future space will be a place where people can come see, do, eat, and learn various aspects about sustainable farming practices.

From the perspective of a current farmer-manager-owner, his advice for prospective or current environmental students is to work together with others involved, maintain a balance between your studies and actual hands-on experience, and above all work towards the betterment of the environment. All of which I whole-heartedly recommend.

Below are a few more pictures from the farm:

Another view of Caoba Farm

My mentors at the farm

Posted on: January 28, 2011, 9:00 am Category: The "After" Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: ,

11 Responses

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  1. Laura Stephenson said

    Thanks for your photos Iván! I loved looking at how you’ve used recycled materials to build your granjita (small farm). I wish I had known about you while I was still in Guatemala.
    Laura

  2. Iván E. Barrientos Stubbs said

    Hello, I have a little project located in Cobán area. I’ve put any photos on my facebook wall. Take a look: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.228408213852290.78899.100000493384315&type=3&l=d1beed94b5
    Thanks.

  3. Chelsea said

    Hello again Laura!

    The program is through my University and I’m going to be earning credits for Latin American Studies classes and Spanish. I have the opportunity to do in internship…and when I was brainstorming ideas you blog came up. Thanks so much! I will keep all of those options in mind when I start planning the internship next semester. Maybe I will see you around in Spring 2012! :) Thanks again!

  4. Laura Stephenson said

    Hey Chelsea,

    So excited to hear you’ll be in Antigua! Does your program have a particular focus? As Green As It Gets is probably you’re best bet–as well as an incredible option for working in the environmental sustainability world here. Other than them and Caoba Farms, there’s Valhalla, and they do reforestation work with macadamia trees and all things macadamia.

    Thanks for reading,
    Laura

  5. Chelsea said

    Hi Laura! I’m a college student that will be studying abroad in Antigua in Spring 2012. (I’m so excited, and the prospect of waiting a year is torturous!) I will have the opportunity to intern with a local NGO, and organic farming/environmental sustainability is a passion of mine. I am looking at As Green As It Gets at the moment, do you have any other NGOs concerning this manner that you know of? Also! If there are any other NGOs that you think I would enjoy (not necessarily regarding the environment), please do pass it on, I have provided my email address! I’m so happy I found your blog, I will continue to read it! Thanks so much!

  6. Laura Stephenson said

    Hey Amelie,

    Thanks for reading and great question. Living here, the local produce markets are absolutely the cheapest and most accessible to most people in terms of price. From what I’ve seen so far, the only option for most people is to buy the chemical-ridden produce from their local market. It’s not an option for most farmers and consumers to buy organically–or even to think about not using pesticides and chemicals to grow their crops.

    However, Antigua is an extremely touristy locale–and there are many people traveling through who are able to eat organically. Thus, the market exists mostly in upscale food stores, restaurants, and hotels throughout Antigua and other touristy parts of the country.

    So, the short answer to your question is yes. Issues of price and access are just as relevant here in Guatemala as in the U.S. As is the case in most places in the U.S., here the most disadvantaged communities are eating the least-nutritious and chemically-laden food.

    For a better understanding of the history of the Guatemalan food system, I just found an incredibly relevant course called “Corn and Coffee” offered at the College of the Atlantic that discusses the history of Guatemala through the lens of corn and coffee.

    Also please check out Alex’s comment and my reply,
    Laura

  7. Laura Stephenson said

    Hey Alex,

    You’re absolutely right–without a market, it’s hard to be competitive. However, on the brighter side I do know of a few NGOs in the area working on sustainable agriculture initiatives–As Green As It Gets, who I’ve just begun to work with–to name one. From what I understand so far, their model is to bring (mostly coffee) farmers together to empower them to be a part of the entire process of their coffee–from coffee field to coffee shop, all while using as few chemical inputs as possible. At least for the meantime, the market for organic and direct trade coffee compared to that of organic vegetables is a relatively more easily accessible market in Antigua. That said, I think your future vision of the farm–to have a place where all people can come and learn sustainable agriculture techniques–is incredibly insightful and needed.

  8. Laura Stephenson said

    Hi Karla,

    Thanks for your comment, and I’m really excited to know that you’re reading my post here in Guatemala. I’d love to talk with you about sustainable development initiatives that I’m aware of around this area.

    Thanks,
    Laura

  9. It is a priviledge to be a guatemalan citizen and read this kind of initiatives. I am interested myself in converting my lot in Santa Lucía Milpas Altas, 10 min ride from Antigua in an environmentally friendly complex of 7 homes in 4500 square meeters. If you are still in Antigua, is there any posibility we can meet and see what an environmental student can bring to this kind of project? Please contact me at karadiguana@gmail.com

  10. Alexander said

    Markets are starting to open up in different areas. Health high end groceries and famillies who are well traveled. Maybe in the future will other farmers undrstand the value of organic and sustainable farming.
    They are verry relevent if not more than the U.S. People here will not pay for organic prices so we are obligated to strugle and be competative with none organic farming. The only reason we are able to survive is cheap labor and not having to pay for rent of the land since it is owned. If it werent for these 2 reasons there would not be a chance to survive, our products should be selling for 30% more expensive than what they are today.

  11. WOW! This is incredible, what beautiful photos! Is there a market for organic vegetables in Guatemala? Are issues of price and access relevant as they often are in the U.S.?

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