El Taller Eco Vegana en Playa Viva mezcla Tradiciones, Recetas … y Bebidas

Contributed by Nick Wolf and Evan Silberstein Traducido en Español por María Luisa Quintero

ESPAÑOL primero – English version after Spanish

El Taller Eco Vegana en Playa Viva mezcla Tradiciones, Recetas … y Bebidas 

Por Nick Wolf

EcoVegana2¿Qué tal te parece un poco de canalones de berenjena, otro tanto ceviche de coliflor o un arroz de jícama? Sabroso, ¿verdad? Si hubieras estado en Playa Viva la semana pasada hubieras podido probar estos deliciosos platillos y otros más, en un taller de cocina saludable impartido por la Cooperativa Eco Vegana de Zihuatanejo.

El domingo pasado más de 30 personas llegaron al hotel eco turístico Playa Viva e inmediatamente comenzaron el día con un desayuno vegano directo de la cocina de Playa Viva. Después los invitados recorrieron las casitas, el jardín y el campamento tortuguero, donde aprendieron más acerca de la energía solar, la construcción verde y los programas de conservación que hacen de Playa Viva un lugar sustentable.

Por la tarde, los participantes tomaron una clase para aprender novedosas recetas que tienen un impacto benéfico tanto en las cinturas de los que las consumen como para el medio ambiente. Desde agua-chile a las verduras a la talla, los expertos instructores de la Cooperativa dieron un giro vegano a algunos exquisitos platillos típicos mexicanos. Incluso, la famosa margarita de albahaca de Playa Viva se transformó al sustituir el tequila por la bebida fermentada de kombucha, una mezcla perfecta que da por resultado un ligero sabor agridulce, característico del coctel emblemático del hotel. Para el final del día el barman Johnny había añadido otra deliciosa bebida a su repertorio. Por su parte, el Chef Abraham y el resto del personal de la cocina de Playa Viva complementaron los platillos  elaborados durante el taller con más recetas veganas para redondear un abundante almuerzo y menguar el día.

EcoVegana4 Una segunda oportunidad de liberar bebés tortuguitas sorprendió los asistentes y cerró el día con broche de oro; mientras tanto los invitados charlaban acerca de las recetas, bebían sus margaritas de albahaca y kombucha y descansaban en ese paraíso eco-lujoso y sustentable. Fue una relajante jornada caracterizada por ricas fusiones: mezclando  platos clásicos con novedosas recetas saludables y sustentables, mientras los visitantes citadinos de la ciudad de Zihuatanejo se escaparon a ese paraíso de playas vírgenes y conocieron algunos de sus vecinos con quienes comparten la misma costa.

Este no fue el primer taller de cocina vegana de la Cooperativa, ya que el grupo organiza una clase mensual en Zihuatanejo y participa en el mercado local y artesanal Eco-Tianguis Sanka todos los sábados. Pero, sí fue la primera visita del grupo a Playa Viva, donde los participantes dijeron que les pareció un lugar que compartía los mismos principios que ellos valoraban y les ayudó a estar en un contacto más cercano con la naturaleza, mientras minimizaban el impacto ambiental. Las ganancias del taller beneficiarán al centro de salud de Juluchuca. Ese alineamiento natural que se dio entre el hotel Playa Viva y la Cooperativa Eco Vegana de Zihuatanejo significa una buena oportunidad para desarrollar futuros talleres. Invitamos a los lectores se unan a la Cooperativa Eco Vegana y visiten su página de Facebook. Y si estás de visita en la zona, haz una parada en el hotel Playa Viva, participa en los talleres de la Cooperativa Eco Vegana y visita el Eco-Tianguis Sanka en Zihuatanejo.

Por Evan Silberstein – El domingo pasado Playa Viva fue el anfitrión de la  Cooperativa Eco Vegana compuesto por un grupo de más de 30 participantes. El evento se prolongó todo el día y los invitados aprendieron acerca de una alimentación saludable y una vida natural. Pudimos mostrar al grupo muchos de los maravillosos atractivos de Playa Viva. También disfrutaron de no una sino de dos liberaciones de tortuguitas recién nacidas, así como un tour muy especial a nuestras instalaciones, incluyendo las casitas, el delicioso jardín orgánico, nuestra estación solar que genera energía y La Tortuga Viva – el santuario de anidación y desove de las tortugas en el borde de nuestra propiedad.

EcoVegana3La Cooperativa enseñó acerca de la alimentación saludable; un montón de consejos increíbles y ofrecieron recetas a sus estudiantes de todas las edades, géneros y clases sociales. También se llevaron a cabo discusiones interactivas acompañadas con deliciosa comida durante un día emocionante de grandes descubrimientos y nuevos puntos de vista para todos los involucrados. Puedes tener la seguridad de que todos aprendimos a hacer cambios en nosotros mismos – ¿cómo te suena la experiencia de haber probado un ceviche de coco o una margarita con kombucha?

En el futuro esperamos tener un mayor y emocionante trabajo comunitario con la Cooperativa. Playa Viva se enorgullece de apoyar sus esfuerzos para aumentar la conciencia local sobre las opciones de alimentación y estilo de vida saludables.

Tú puedes comprobar su sabroso menú y encontrar sus caras sonrientes en el Eco Tianguis, un nuevo mercado ecológico que se celebra cada sábado por la mañana en Zihuatanejo. También Playa Viva tiene un local, donde vendemos nuestras verduras de la huerta, jabones artesanales y sales de Juluchuca. Asegúrate de comprobar nuestros productos en tu próxima visita, ¡vale la pena el viaje!

Echa un vistazo a la Cooperativa Eco Vegana de Zihuatanejo en Internet para obtener más información, hacer preguntas o ver algunos emocionantes videos de este evento tan especial.

———— English—————

EcoVegana1by Nick Wolf – How does some eggplant cannelloni, cauliflower ceviche or jicama ‘rice’ sound? Good? If you’d been at Playa Viva last weekend you would have been able to try these delicious dishes and a few more at a healthy cooking workshop taught by the Eco Vegan Cooperative of Zihuatanejo.

More than 30 people arrived at Playa Viva last Sunday and began their day with a vegan breakfast straight from the Playa Viva kitchen. After breakfast, the guests toured the casitas, garden and turtle sanctuary, learning more about the solar energy, green construction and conservation programs that make Playa Viva sustainable.

In the afternoon, participants sat down to learn new recipes that have a lighter impact on both their waistlines and the environment. From aguachile to vegetables a la talla, the Cooperative’s expert instructors added a vegan twist to a number of typical Mexican dishes. Even Playa Viva’s classic basil margarita got a makeover; trading out tequila for locally fermented kombucha that mixed perfectly with the light, sweet-sour taste of the signature cocktail. By the end of the day Johnny had added one more delicious drink to his repertoire. Chef Abraham and the rest of Playa Viva’s kitchen staff complemented the dishes prepared during the workshop with more vegan recipes to round out a filling lunch to wind down the day.

A surprise second batch of baby turtles ready to be released wrapped up the day as the guests chatted about the recipes, sipped on their kombucha basil margaritas and lounged in sustainable eco-luxury. Evidenced by the meals and margaritas, the day was one of fusion: blending classic dishes with healthier and more sustainable recipes, while city slickers from Zihua escaped to an untouched beach paradise and got to know some of their neighbors just down the coast.

EcoVegana5This wasn’t the Cooperative’s first vegan cooking workshop. In fact, the group hosts a monthly class in Zihuatanejo (with proceeds supporting local non-profits) and participates in the Eco-Tianguis Sanka local farm and craft market every Saturday. But, it was the group’s first visit to Playa Viva, a place participants said they felt like shared their values and helped them come in closer contact with nature while minimizing their environmental impact and benefitting the local community. Proceeds from last weekend’s workshop will support the Juluchuca clinic. The natural alignment between Playa Viva and the Eco Vegan Cooperative of Zihuatanejo means future workshops are a good bet. We hope you can join us for one over the coming months, but in the meantime be sure to visit the Cooperative’s Facebook group. Or, if you’re in the area, stop by and see both Playa Viva and the Cooperativa Eco Vegana at Eco-Tianguis Sanka in Zihuatanejo.

by Evan Silberstein – Playa Viva hosted the Cooperativa Eco Vegana this past Sunday. A large group of over 30 participants visited Playa Viva for an all-day event to learn about healthy eating and natural living. We were able to showcase many of the amazing things about Playa Viva. The guests enjoyed not 1 but 2 baby tortugita releases along with a very special tour of our property including trips to all the casitas, the delectable organic garden, our solar energy generating station and La Tortuga Viva – the turtle nesting and hatching sanctuary at the edge of our property.

The Cooperativa taught about healthy eating and shared lots of amazing tips and recipes to their students who came from all ages, genders and walks of life. Interactive discussions along with delicious food highlighted an exciting day of discovery and new insights for all involved. Rest assured, we learned a few twists ourselves – how does some coconut ceviche with a kombucha margarita sound to you?

We look forward to more exciting community work from the Cooperativa in the future. Playa Viva is proud to support their efforts to raise local awareness about healthy eating and lifestyle choices.

You can look out for their tasty menu and find their smiling faces at the Eco Tianguis – a new green market held every Saturday morning in Zihuatanejo. Playa Viva has a booth too; where we showcase greens from the garden, handmade soaps and local salts from Juluchuca. Be sure to check it out on your next visit, it’s worth the trip!

Check out the Cooperativa Eco Vegana de Zihuatanejo on the internet to find out more, ask questions or see some exciting video footage from this very special event.

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Güelcome to ‘Julu York’

You definitely won’t spot the Statue of Liberty and you’re more likely to hear a cacophony of farm animals than the honking of horns and rumbles of the subway. Dusty dirt roads and towering palm trees fill in for Manhattan’s asphalt jungle and iconic skyscrapers. There are no world famous delis here, but the tacos at Doña Lupe’s aren’t bad. This is the city that definitely sleeps—mostly after 10pm and also usually a siesta in the late afternoon heat. Welcome to Julu York, population a few hundred give or take, and gateway to Playa Viva.

Juluchuca is no New York, so why all the comparisons? That’s the same question I asked when I first heard residents of this little town rechristening their pueblo with a moniker reminiscent of that most famous of cities. What in Juluchuca could possibly make someone think of New York? Sure, crossing the Juluchuca creek in the rainy season can be a little chancy, but it’s no East River. The truth is there’s not much in Julu York to remind you of New York, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of Juluchuca’s new name.

Julu York isn’t a PR stunt or even old-fashioned civic boosterism. It’s much more natural than that. Usually it’s just a joke over a beer:  rural Mexico’s take on modern sarcasm. Who could confuse Julu York with New York, the big city’s bright lights with the flickering bare bulb holding the countryside’s nighttime shadows at bay? But behind the laughter, I think there’s something more aspirational about Julu York.

It seems that even in the smallest specks on the map of Mexico citizens are eager to define their towns themselves. I don’t think anyone in Juluchuca believes Julu York will ever rival New York (and many probably wouldn’t want it to). I think with the new name, joke or not, people are trying to tell the world that there’s more to Juluchuca than meets the eye. The 20-second stretch of Highway 200 that crosses the town from one end to the other doesn’t do it justice.

For me, looking for comparisons between New York and Julu York was a good reminder of all the interesting things I’ve been able to see and do in Juluchuca. From a local farm that’s a solitary outpost of certified organic agriculture to a ceiba tree so big locals call it the ‘Avatar tree’ on the road up into the Sierra Madre mountains, there are a few surprises in Julu York, and the town can even hold its own with the big city. Take a trip up the sierra to eat a home-cooked meal with a local family and you can boast to all your foodie friends about a meal measured not in the great distances of food miles, but in the short steps of food meters—fresh, hyper-local food to rival the best farmer’s market in the biggest city.

So, why not trade in your Empire State of Mind for an outlook that’s a tad more provincial? You might be surprised what a one-tope town has to offer. Yeah, maybe it’s not as catchy or exciting as the New York of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, but give it time. After all, how long can it be before some enterprising chavo down in the town square pulls out his iPhone and autotunes an anthem that will really put Julu York on the map? Watch out world.

The ABC’s of Local Produce

More to “P” than just Playa Viva…

Yes, the alphabet starts with ‘A’ – I can’t change that. But neither can I change that this story begins with ‘B,’ so that’s where I’ll start.

Beto Bravo began with basil, bringing a bunch of bodies together to build a business.

La Costa, the organic producers cooperative where I work, began with one man and one product. Since then, La Costa has followed a steady course growing its organic basil export business, but always with an eye on cracking the burgeoning local market for organic produce. After several previous attempts, this year we’ve redoubled our efforts and have begun supplying two hotels in Ixtapa and a number of restaurants in Zihuatanejo with fresh, local produce.

While basil was a great beginning, we went back to ‘A’ to get started in the local market.

Angelo asked for our assistance and after a short adjournment, arugula arrived at his eatery.

Unlike other local farmers, we wanted our approach to the local market to be demand-driven from the beginning. There’s still a lot of room to develop the market for local organic produce in Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, so we started with owner-operated restaurants that cater to diners who already appreciate the unique characteristics of our products. After our first meeting with our first potential client, it was clear what our next product would be: arugula.

La Piazza d’Angelo is a small restaurant on a quiet pedestrian street about three blocks from the beach in downtown Zihuatanejo. Angelo, the restaurant’s namesake, faces the same problem as many other restaurateurs in Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa—a lack of locally available high quality ingredients for the dishes that really draw the crowds. It’s a paradox that has perplexed me since I arrived on the Costa Grande. Why, in one of the world’s most productive ecosystems, is there a lack of such ingredients? But, that’s another blog.

Chefs like Angelo are our allies in the effort to promote local organic produce. It makes sense – we offer high quality ingredients he can’t find anywhere else. If he does find them, they’ve covered so many miles and passed through so many distributors’ hands that they cost too much for his clientele. Mexico’s food distribution system is very much hub and spoke. We’ve heard stories of fish from Zihuatanejo’s bayside market being bought by distributors, trucked 400 miles to Mexico City, sold to wholesalers, bought by their hotel customers, and then trucked back to Ixtapa, about 4 miles up the road from the market a week later.

Angelo reports that local customers are big fans of his arugula pizza, and even more so when they discover the arugula comes from right down the road. We’re fans too; it’s a tasty combination of hot pizza with a pile of fresh, virtually untouched organic arugula on top. And, demand keeps us busy cutting arugula out in the fields. Arugula appears to have been a success, and now we’re looking for our next hit. Maybe it’ll be one of the catchy stories below.

Cherry tomatoes charm choosy chefs?

Our cilantro seems standard, but surprises the senses with a super savory ‘sabor?’

Dill dominates downtown dining establishments, drawing diners day after day? –Well, maybe not. They can’t all be winners.

‘E’ might be hard, but we do have some eggplant seeds waiting to be planted…

Playa Viva promotes partnerships to popularize local organic produce? Luckily we didn’t have to wait until we got to ‘P’ to make that a reality.

Who knows where the rest of the alphabet will take us? If you have an idea, please pass it my way!

Paradise, Interrupted

Alberto Bravo Villalobos, La Costa, Organic Basil, Organic Agriculture, Organic Agriculture in Mexico, Juluchuca, Petatlan, Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Even in beach-side paradises we have bad days. Monday was one of those.

I woke up early and was getting ready to head into Zihuatanejo for a busy day at work when I heard my friend Paco in front of my house calling my name. I stepped to the window, surprised to see him at the early hour.

“What’s up?” I asked and smiled. After all, everyone likes visitors, even at 6:45 in the morning.

Paco skipped the standard Mexican small talk that precedes any conversation here and went straight to the point.

“Nick, Beto died last night.”

“He died?” I asked. I was hoping that some combination of the early hour and Spanish as my second language would conspire to erase what I thought I’d just heard. But Paco’s face said it all; there was no conspiracy here.

I stared straight ahead silently. I didn’t know what to say. One result of leaving home (Oklahoma!) after high school and moving around every few years (or months) is that I’ve never been there when someone close to me has died. I’ve made it to funerals, but I’ve always been separated from the first news of death by hundreds of miles or the lo-fi audio of an international phone call.

Not today. The pain of death, evident on Paco’s face, was looking right at me this time.

“I’ll be back in half an hour.”

I nodded, stepped away from the window, and went to get a shower.

Beto, short for Beto Bravo, short for Alberto Bravo Villalobos, was a man I met shortly after arriving in Mexico. He was the president of an organic farmers’ cooperative, and was one of those guys you needed to know, mainly because he knew everyone and everyone knew him. Paco and Beto were partners in the cooperative.

Beto was widely known throughout the Costa Grande for his support of organic agriculture, environmental stewardship, and his endless stream of ideas to harness one of the world’s most productive ecosystems to build a better Mexico. A few weeks before he died Beto was explaining to me how he was going to build his next house from organic bamboo using techniques he had learned during a weekend seminar.

A few days later I saw Beto again. We talked about his next house again, but this time bamboo was all but forgotten – mud bricks were now his material of choice. He was enrolled in a course for the following weekend to learn all about it.

Unfortunately, Beto never made it to that course. Last Wednesday he entered the hospital with chest pains. The doctors ran their tests, and his family and friends waited for results. By Friday, Beto had stabilized and the doctors equivocated between a diagnosis of digestive inflammation or heart problems as everyone had initially suspected.

On Saturday, I went to see Beto again. He was in good spirits and had cabin fever. The doctors released him later that day with a recommendation to see a cardiologist in Lazaro Cardenas, a city about an hour north of Zihuatanejo.

His family talked about going that same day, but decided to wait. Sunday was a holiday and the celebration would carry into Monday as well. They made an appointment for Tuesday. I think everyone thought Beto had dodged a bullet and that the hard part was over.

Paco was back in front of my house just as I finished getting ready to leave. As we drove to Zihuatanejo, he didn’t say much. I didn’t know what to expect when we got there.

We arrived at the funeral home for the wake before most people. I greeted the mourners I knew and soon followed Paco over to speak to Beto’s wife, Angeles. Her face was a mask of sadness. We embraced as her sobs shook her body as well as mine.

When I saw Beto in his casket, the larger-than-life man I had known seemed much smaller.

At noon Beto’s family took him out to his farm, Rancho La Ceiba, for the last time. The señoras from the neighboring community surrounded the casket, began to pray a rosary, and sang hopeful hymns while we looked on from the shade of the trees Beto had spent years caring for.

Rancho La Ceiba was Beto’s pride and joy. I first visited it just a few weeks back. Beto took a group of us on a tour, and as we walked he excitedly described each plant we passed. Tropical flowers, bananas, bamboo… The variety seemed endless and Beto’s pride was evident as we strolled through his organic paradise—no small feat in an agricultural environment that promotes a chemical solution to every problem. As dusk settled over the farm, Beto described one of his latest finds to me. Water spinach, he explained, was a delicious green that was perfectly suited to this tropical climate. He insisted I take some home with me to plant. I did, and it’s growing behind my house now.

I was never surprised at Beto’s success on his farm; he was used to beating the odds. When he, Paco, and their other partners had first talked about growing and exporting organic basil, many of their peers dismissed Beto’s project as a waste of time.

“Beto thinks he’s going to sell basil to the gringos,” they smirked.

Six years later Beto was laughing. La Costa, his organic cooperative, had shipped more than a million pounds of organic basil to the US and was projecting more than half a million dollars in revenues for the coming season.

The export market had been a success, but Beto wasn’t content with what La Costa had achieved. He turned his sights on the local market – selling organic produce to the hotels and resorts in Ixtapa, and increasing availability of organic produce to local consumers as well.

As the funeral procession drove away from Beto’s ranch, we followed the coastal highway and looked down from the cliffs on Ixtapa and its high-rise hotels below. They were minutes away from his ranch, but cracking open the market they represented was the last big step Beto didn’t get to take.

We drove south through Zihuatanejo, on our way to Beto’s hometown. Police stopped traffic along the route, and within the hour we arrived at the church in Petatlan. Family, friends, and acquaintances filled the pews. Beto’s casket was in the main aisle, surrounded by six people. Throughout the mass, different family members and friends took turns standing by the casket, accompanying Beto on his final journey. Paco, his father, and I took our turn near the end.

From the church, we drove truckloads of flowers to the cemetery, while mourners followed the casket through the streets. We carried wreaths of flowers up to the grave; there were flowers from legislators, schools, civic groups, and his friends. As the burial came to a close, Beto’s uncle spoke a few words. He remembered Beto’s enthusiasm and big ideas most of all. He called Beto a revolutionary—said he was out to change agriculture in the Costa Grande. Finally, he called on all of us to stay true to Beto’s dream, finish his projects, and make his ideas reality.

By the time we headed back to Juluchuca, the sun was setting. We were on the same highway I’ve traveled up and down nearly every day since I got to Mexico three and a half months ago, but this time felt a lot different. I knew the town would be the same as I had left it that morning, but I was much less sure what tomorrow, or the next day, might bring. I had expected to make great friends when I moved to Mexico, but I never thought that I would lose one too.

Paco was thinking about the future too.

“We were supposed to become old men together and spend our days teaching courses on organic farming,” he said suddenly. The surprise of Beto’s death had changed so much.

You still can,” I answered. “He would want it that way.”

I knew Paco knew this better than I did, but it made me feel better to try and make the future less uncertain.

“I remember his laugh, how it made me want to laugh too” I said, preferring to focus on the past, where I already knew what surprises awaited me.

“You hadn’t seen the half of it,” Paco answered. He smiled as he stared at the road ahead.

“You were just getting to know him.”

Yeah, I was.

Turning Good Intentions into Good Business

A week at the Club Med – let’s just say I’ve definitely had worse weeks. Many of you would agree that a week at a Pacific beach resort is a pretty good time. Last Saturday, my week at the Club Med in Ixtapa had just ended and my head was full of ideas for fighting poverty here on Mexico’s Costa Grande. No, I hadn’t packed The Bottom Billion for beach reading; in fact, I spent very little time on the beach because I was busy meeting everyone I could at the Opportunity Collaboration conference.

This was Opportunity Collaboration’s third annual ‘convening’ in Ixtapa, and the first time I attended. I wasn’t there as a full delegate bragging on all the great things we’ve accomplished in Juluchuca (next year maybe?). Instead, I was there to get a taste of the latest happenings in the social enterprise sector, and to make sure that everyone else got a taste of the local, (mostly) organic basil margaritas that were on offer especially for the conference.

The basil margaritas were a hit with attendees, and also with the local farmers who grew and supplied the ingredients. They were the culmination of a multi-year collaboration between Playa Viva, I-DEV International, and Opportunity Collaboration and are an early step in the conference’s journey to expand its local impact around Ixtapa. I worked with farmers, the hotel, and the conference for two months to make sure the margaritas were on the menu, so I thought they tasted especially good.

Local sourcing is part of the mission at Playa Viva, but is not yet part of the organizational DNA at a large resort like Club Med. With a push from Opportunity Collaboration, that’s changing. Locally harvested and produced sea salt and bath salts were also centerpieces of local sourcing at the conference and will be part of the hotel’s usual purchases going forward.

These kinds of collaborations are what Opportunity Collaboration is all about. After just one week there, my head is swimming with ideas that will keep me busy for at least the next 51 weeks between now and the next conference: expanding local sourcing throughout Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo (and building a model for other tourist destinations), funding projects in Juluchuca through an innovative online donation site, and building a sustainable salt products industry just down the road from where I’m living now, among many others.

Stay tuned for updates on these and other projects. Oh, and if you want try a basil margarita for yourself come on down to Playa Viva and order one from Johnny, the bartender who invented the local version.

A Simple Salt and Its Complex Journey to Your Plate

If you’ve visited Playa Viva, then you’ve had a chance to try Juluchuca’s local organic sea salt. A small bowl is on the table at every Playa Viva meal and salt crystals adorn the rims of many of the bar’s delicious drinks.

Using local salt means that the extra pinch you toss on the morning huevos rancheros didn’t travel hundreds (or thousands) of miles to land on your plate. But while this arrangement seems so much simpler, it’s still a pretty complex operation to get that salt from the ocean-side salt pools a few miles away to Playa Viva.

Low prices for bulk sea salt have put that complex system at risk. Farmers are switching to plastic-based, non-organic production methods that risk not only their cultural heritage, but also the local ecosystem. An article (in Spanish) in one of the Costa Grande’s local newspapers highlighted this challenge and the damage it could provoke in the salty lagoons near Juluchuca.

The answer is simple, right? – Stop producing sea salt using black plastic sheeting that contaminates the environment, and switch back to centuries-old methods that use sand and clay to form shallow pools to evaporate seawater.

But low-income producers have an equally simple response:  produce as much salt as cheaply as possible in order to earn enough pesos to feed their families.

In reality, neither response is sufficient. Using local salt doesn’t allow Playa Viva to opt out of a complex global food production system. Instead, it just brings the complexity closer to home and makes addressing the risks that much more pertinent.

A longer lasting solution is to work with the salt producers to adapt to the market dynamics they face. That’s why Playa Viva partnered with I-DEV—to help farmers profit from the benefits that organic, artisanally produced sea salt offers consumers. It’s a multi-year process, but we’ve already taken the first steps. During the next harvest season, which starts next February, a select group of salt farmers will rededicate themselves to the artisanal production methods their parents and grandparents used. This will mean more work and higher production costs, but also means they’ll be able to charge higher prices in the local and international markets.

Group members vote for their leaders with carefully placed hash marks.

The group has been meeting weekly for the past month, getting ready for a production season that is only a few months away. They recently elected three of their members to lead them through the next season as they buck a national trend in Mexico and say ‘No’ to plastic-based sea salt production. Members scratched three hash marks each on piece of paper taped to the wall to cast their votes. I was the outside election monitor (first time!), and I can say that we avoided any lengthy legal battles over the group’s leadership.

So what do hash marks on a crumpled paper in rural Mexico have to do with you? Whether you’re eating salt that’s been flown, trucked, and shipped around the world, or savoring that simplest spice from right down the beach, complexity is infused in the food you consume. These artisanal salt farmers are learning how global markets have influenced how they produce their salt, and are opting for a return to traditional methods of production instead.

Watch for kitchen and bath salt products from ‘Sal Mar Azteca’ next year. Or, if you can’t wait to get your hands on some you can order Playa Viva’s ‘Sal Viva,’ an artisanal sea salt produced right up the beach from the eco-resort.

Sweet Coco, These are Good!

Abundant plant life surrounds Playa Viva and the neighboring community of Juluchuca. Right now, during the rainy season, the leaves are green, flowers are blooming, and coconuts are falling. In at least one way Juluchuca is a lot like how you would imagine a tropical paradise to be—there are palm trees everywhere you look. With so many, someone is always harvesting and each day trucks pass through town with their beds full of coconuts to be processed and/or sold.

These coconuts are an important source of income for the landowners, farmers, and workers who harvest them, but selling fresh, unprocessed coconuts can be a gamble in a commodity market.

With the support of the Guerrero state government, one group of young entrepreneurs in Juluchuca is taking their local coconuts and turning them into coconut candy (dulces de coco). About 20 local residents are participating in a year-long program through which they are learning how to make candy from coconuts and other local fruits. Once they’ve got the basics of candy-making down, program instructors will also teach them how to start their own businesses to market their locally produced treats and develop brands that they can sell in nearby tourist centers.

The participants just finished the first four-month stretch of the year-long program and celebrated a couple weeks ago with a graduation ceremony (and after-party). They invited me to attend and the ceremony was a great chance for the students to share what they’d learned and show their excitement about the next phases of the project.

In between plates of chicharron, guacamole, and tacos I got to taste test some of the new candy and it tasted great—not too sweet, slightly crunchy texture, and a delicious essence of coconut throughout.  In fact, I’m munching on a piece as I write this.

Programs like this one are vital to helping Juluchucans turn their natural resources into sustainable livelihoods. One of my roles in Juluchuca is to help connect these efforts with the nearby tourist market so the benefits that visitors bring to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo can extend beyond the high-rise hotels and into nearby communities. Places like Playa Viva already ‘get it’ and have long engaged and integrated with their communities to spur local economic development.

So what’s next for Juluchuca’s latest batch of candy-makers? As they start their businesses, we’ll start to connect them with selling opportunities outside Juluchuca. Judging by the taste of these candies, finding buyers shouldn’t be too hard!