In Forest Gardens Where Spices Grow - Part 1
All week we had been looking forward to visiting our producer partners from SOFA (Small Organic Farmers Association) in Gampola and Matale. We always have such a nice time touring their beautiful spice gardens, and learn so much too. Being on the ground to see first hand how and where our spices are grown is a vital part of what we do, and we know how important this is to everyone back home who has grown to trust Arayuma as a leader in Fair Trade organic spices.
Friday finally arrived, the day we would visit the spice growers. Our driver arrived early in the morning, and we set out with 25 colouring books, 25 packs of nontoxic modeling clay and 5 larger children's toys and activity sets. They were to be given to the children attending a preschool in Gampola that had been built and financed with a portion of the money collected by SOFA from Fairtrade premiums. Mr. Bernard Ranaweera, SOFA's longstanding democratically elected president, had invited us to visit the preschool to see first hand the benefits SOFA members were obtaining from being part of the Fairtrade system. On the way, Mr. Bernard explained that not only SOFA members benefited from the preschool, but also others from their community who would have otherwise had to send their children to preschool in a different village - not very practical when you don't own a car.
Before visiting the preschool, we stopped at the SOFA Gampola office where Mr. Bernard updated us on recent developments. Following this, we visited a nearby SOFA member family that grew not only spices for export and local consumption, but also various house plants and other plants to be used for cut foliage. This cut foliage side project that many women in the local SOFA community were now benefiting from had also been made possible thanks to Fairtrade premiums, we were told. Stepping out of the car, we were met with the scent of cloves that grew from branches up above amidst coconut, banana and a variety of other trees. We walked along the red earth path towards the house and main garden, passing lush pepper vines that wound their way up the surrounding tree trunks. Insects chirped and birds sang, reminding us of all the life that this garden held in it's relatively small space.
Here and there I noticed what we refer to as tropical house plants growing, interspersed with the spice trees and other crops. Some were so tall they towered above our heads. The whole garden was beautifully planned and landscaped, striking a perfect balance between wild and cultivated. Marigolds had been planted along the borders of the garden kept other crops safe from garden-unfriendly bugs and animals, who would keep their distance due to the strong smell of this plant. Many such considerations had been taken into account, so as to maximize yields without the use of any harmful and costly chemical inputs.
A young girl stepped out of the house with her grandmother, and both smiled at us earnestly. Her mother, who was washing clothes by the open well behind the house, also smiled warmly at us and welcomed us to tour her garden. Grandmother, mother and daughter all glowed with the life energy of this beautiful garden. All three were living in safety and dignity, free from the risk of any harm caused by handling toxic, life-threatening chemicals. The vibrant, positive energy we felt from both the family and the gardens was palpable. We would have stayed all day, but we needed to get to the preschool by 11:30 since the parents would be picking up their children at that time. So we said goodbye and were on our way.
At the preschool, we were greeted by a group of smiling children who handed us bouquets of freshly picked flowers upon our arrival. Inside the preschool building, Mr. Bernard introduced us to the teacher, children and the small crowd of parents that had gathered around the back of the room. Looking out on all of their smiling faces, we could feel their genuine and heart-felt appreciation. We handed out the gifts one by one, then Mr. Bernard said a few words as we joined the crowd of parents. He spoke of the work that we do in Canada to sell SOFA organic products, and ended with a word of thanks.