Microbusinesses emerge at the Finca

For the past ten years, we have been planting trees, experimenting with different crops, growing organic food, and cultivating connections in our local community of Balgue and throughout Nicaragua. As Project Bona Fide grows, as we build more solar, social and intellectual capital, as more and more trees begin producing, the potential for business ventures begin to emerge. Over the past few years, we have begun processing our plethora of mangoes into jams and chutneys for sale. This year, right now, we are launching two new sustainable micro-businesses: selling salad greens and jackfruit seeds and hummus to restaurants around Ometepe and Nicaragua.

These will help bring more revenue to the farm, which will be reinvested in new infrastructure and projects, as well as giving us the ability to expand our staff. As always, our goal is larger, focused on community: once we find a product that tastes great, that sells, that is profitable, we will start integrating the project into Balgue, processing the products at Mano Amiga’s new kitchen, and, eventually, form a local co-operative to grow, process, and distribute products from the farm and town. In this way, we can begin to make an income from farm products, expand local economic opportunities, and provide people with delicious, organic food at the same time.

The Greens Business

For the past couple years, Nevis, Nolbert, and Erwin have been expertly managing the volunteer kitchen’s vegetable gardens, producing hundreds of pounds of organic greens every year. They’ve traveled around Nicaragua teaching organic gardening to different communities. They know how to grow delicious food. This year, we decided to turn this knowledge into opportunity, and launched an organic salad greens business.

Nevis, Nolbert, and Erwin are managing, harvesting, and delivering an organic salad green mix to different hotels and restaurants around Ometepe and Nicaragua. So far, they’ve delivered over 50 lbs of greens to Aqua Wellness Resort, Totoco Eco-Lodge, and Finca Magdelena. It’s a big project with a lot of work, but the greens business is flourishing.

Right now we have planted indian lettuce, vegetable leaf amaranth, katuk, Okinawa spinach, arrugula, basil, mustard greens, malabar spinach, and a variety of other salad greens. As the business grows, we hope to much of the island’s foreigner driven demand for organic greens.

 

The guys are thrilled about this project – they’re taking it on as their own business, working overtime, and producing an awesome product. And congratulations to Nevis, who recently became a father!

Jackfruit Seeds; Jackfruit Hummus

Jackfruit is one of the weirdest and most productive trees at the Finca. The world’s largest tree fruit, each tree produces hundreds of pounds of yellow, spiny, oval fruit that can weight up to 70 pounds (!). Jackfruit is an incredibly low maintenance tree – jackfruit trees need no irrigation throughout our 5 month dry season, and after a few years, their dense canopy and leaf litter mean that they require no weeding. The fruit and leaves make good animal fodder, the timber is excellent, the wood produces an orange dye that was traditionally used to given Buddhist monks robes their unique color. And it provides environmental services – jackfruit makes a great windbreak and helps reduce erosion. Jackfruit is a permaculture rock star. After extensive plantings in the past 8 years, we now have a jackfruit orchard fully on line.

The question now is, What do we do with all this jackfruit? We use the super-sweet, yellow flesh – which was the original taste base for Juicyfruit gum – in curries, and are experimenting with making jams and wines. The fruit can be cooked underripe as a green vegetable. Oftentimes, the urracas get to the fruit first, and it then becomes pig food.

What makes jackfruit a true permaculture rock star, though, and a potential tree crop, are its seeds. So far this season, we’ve found that each large fruit may contain between .5 and 3 lbs of the large, oval, starchy seeds, rich in vitamins B1 and B2. They need to be boiled or roasted before eating, but afterwards can be added to a variety of dishes, or ground and eaten like mashed potatoes. Their texture when ground is reminiscent of a chickpea, and we’ve been using them in hummus and falafel.

We recently found buyers for our jackfruit seeds – Aqua Wellness Resort has offered to buy all of our seeds to use in their hummus and falafel dishes. While they are labor-intensive to process, this presents an excellent business opportunity, especially because jackfruit tree require almost no labor to maintain. Thus, this year marks the beginning of our jackfruit seed business, and, hopefully, as we refine the process, we can start selling our own, farm-made hummus.

I (Jim) think, probably with a little exaggeration, of this as the start of the Ometepe jackfruit revolution. If the business model proves profitable – sale price outweighs processing time – we will start moving jackfruit processing to the community kitchen at Mano Amiga. People from Balgue have already started asking for and planting jackfruit, and if we can show that it is a profitable tree, hopefully more will be planted. It seems like a business that can scale up easily – the western appetite for hummus and mashed potatoes appears to be endless.

If this works, it not only builds local economic opportunities, but also increases food security and resilience in town, which, as always, is the long-term goal. Jackfruit is very durable tree, supplies many environmental services, and can be used in a variety of ways – a great addition to local homegardens and farms.

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So that’s the start, the beginning of many soon-to-emerge microbusiness experiments at Project Bona Fide. And if experiments succeed, they’ll expand into Balgue. We’re trying different methods, different combinations, different buyers. Growing markets for organic food in Nicaragua; growing food; growing businesses; growing communities.

Copyright © Project Bona Fide 2013