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La finca / The farm


By Raquel


I always write about my mother and her garden, and that’s because it is really she who takes care of it and plants it and waters it. But that’s not to say my dad doesn’t like growing things. I suppose it’s just not flowers!

My dad actually owns a very small and rather neglected farm near the town of Tonacatepeque, El Salvador, which he inherited from my grandfather. It’s neglected, unfortunately, because as anyone who has land knows, it’s expensive to keep a farm running, it require investing financially as well as plant-wise and when you don’t live off the farm (and we don’t) it’s difficult to invest what needs to be invested. In our case the problem is the cost, more than the will.

Also, I have to say, it was impossible for my dad to do much before my grandfather died (he died last December at age 99) because even though my dad had received it, my grandfather still considered it to be his, which makes sense in a away. But it made it so that my dad couldn’t make many decisions and it meant that my grandfather sometimes had things done at the farm that my dad had not planned for but had to pay for.

My grandfather, I think kept the farm as a hobby (he and my grandmother also didn’t live off it) as a way to remember perhaps that he had grown up on a farm (my great grandfather did live off his land, and also worked for other landowners, overseeing their land) in Jayaque. But his intention over the years was certainly not to make the land commercially productive. That didn’t mean he didn’t sell what he planted – mostly coffee – he did – but as the price of coffee fell, it became more difficult to maintain the coffee plants. Now they are quite overgrown, and you can walk undeneath them without stooping (well, if you’re as short as me you can! =) I’m only 4 feet 10 inches) and coffee, unless it’s organic coffee, really does not sell all that well.

So now my dad – because it is really he who owns it – has this farm, and he woud like to make it productive. But how do you do that without capital? It is difficult to have an opinion, as well, because he wants to do what he wants to do – in a way I understand that, because my granfather was such a domineering man that it wasn’t until he died that my dad truly could do as he pleased with the land, and I think for him it has been like stretching your wings and flying, finally. But for me and my siblings it’s hard, because we – well at least I – feel more and more alienated from the farm, as nothing that we say is really taken into consideration. Tha noni plant is the big thing right now, and my dad – last I heard – had planted 100 noni trees!! Is this wise? Should we rely on just one crop? The farm also produces very small amounts of fruits (oranges, bananas, mangos) and vegetables/flowers (loroco, an aromatic flower we use for cooking and to flavor cheese).

Well, at least he is selling everything the farm produces now, which was actually a suggestion from me. It used to drive me crazy that my dad felt that the amounts the farm produced were so small that it wasn’t worth selling them, because, he told me at one point, for I think it was oranges, he would only have gotten the equivalent of $10 dollars or so, and I said, ‘but it’s ten dollars you didn’t have before!’ Of course the amounts he gets are sometimes ridiculously small, but my view that something is something. It could be wrong, of course, I am not a business-type person, but it just seems wrong to me to let the stuff rot rather than try to sell it. So now he makes an effort to sell it. It doesn’t always sell, so them we have oranges and sometimes we give the oranges away to the rest of the family as well.

The reality though is that the farm does not produce very much. I think it could, if we could invest heavily in it. But at the moment that is impossible. =(

More blog posts by Raquel

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Next post: So what would you do with a farm?



Interesting Raquel,
More and more small farm owners are going into co-ops where they pool the produce and sell to a group of customers who pay a one time fee for fresh produce once a month. Maybe something similar could work for your family. Anyway all the best to you all.

25 Aug, 2008


I don't know how the economy is in El Salvador. I have no idea how big the farm is. Do you have plagues there, do you have destructive and intrusive wildlife there? Is it all fenced off. Growing things really cost a lot of money and if you cannot sell with a profit it is hardly worth your troubles. What is the land worth? I can just imagine selling the land or leasing it to overseas investors. I have heard of European countries investing in forest plantations in Costa Rica and making money from that. Is there anything you could plant like a long term investment? Say for instance fast growing hard wood, pines or Eucalyptus for paper industry? It all depends on the size. But nomatter what you plant, you will have to spend money doing it. Tidying up the weeds, cultivating the land, fertilising the soil, fencing it off. If you have no tractor, you have to hire one. All adds up to the costs.
Is there any bank that would lend you money for say: building some cottages on it to rent out as holiday accommodation? I have no idea how the situation is. Growing crops involves intensive care, labour to harvest and a market that buys. By the sounds of it, the farm has been neglected a bit and perhaps by now it is overgrown with unwanted vegetation, which would first have to be controlled. Perhaps Raquel, next time you are there, take some pictures of the land, good or bad and we will have more of an idea. You mention siblings, so how many of you are there? Do your siblings have any suggestions or are they totally uninterested in the project?

26 Aug, 2008


Thanks Wohlibuli, a co-op is interesting and I think there is one for loroco but to be a part of it you have to pay a fee - and I don't remember what that is.

Thanks Marguerite - everything you say is quite right, of course, and if we can't produce anything we should sell, but the fact is that my dad has a deep emotional tie to the land. Were it mine, it would be much easier for me to sell it, but it isn't for him. I've even thought of my dad selling that one and buying another piece of land somewhere that has better climate - where it is now is very hot and dry, so that doesn't help. Land itself is expensive in El Salvador, and so it is worth a bit - how much exactly I have no idea. But unfortunately to sell it would be to sell it to someone who will probably just build houses there, not keep it as a farm. And that just personally annoys me. I don't even know how big it is. Not very big. It is all fenced off. No, no real wildlife problems that I know of. El Salvador is overpopulated, so the wildlife has been pretty decimated now for awhile. It has a small creek running through it. I would hate to sell it to foreign investors. I know it might be practical, but it is a matter of pride (misplaced perhaps). You can't forget the history of foreigners coming in and taking over the land. Especially since the farm is in an area that during the war was guerrilla country, meaning that the Marxist guerrillas had taken it over. In fact guerrilla fighters used to walk thorugh the farm down by the creek (without permission and yes it was trespassing but who was going to complain? Nobody. You could get killed that way). What I would like is to have enough money to invest in it. But I don't. This is about the only time I wish I had studied business rather than fanciful things like poetry, because we know how much money there is in poetry, right? =) ha ha just poking fun at myself. I think if my sister had money she wouldn't mind investing. My brother is sick of the whole thing and says he isn't interested in it, but I wonder. May he rest in peace, but my grandfather sure made life difficult the last decade or so of his life, and my brother bore the brunt of it. He's the only one of us who lives in El Salvador.
Mmm...some trees might be a good crop, that you mention it...have to think about that one. Thanks for writing, Marguerite, I really appreciate your comments!

27 Aug, 2008


I can understand how your father feels about that land Raquel, I guess that is how my mother was also, she keep that little tiny bit of western Oklahoma that she got from her mother until she died though she never lived on it, no one had since the 30's. We sold off the land after she died in 2004 and split it amongst us kids, but we kept the mineral rights. That's oil country! : )

27 Aug, 2008


Yes, it's an emotional attachment to it, Wohlibuli. Didn't know there were such things as mineral rights, nice to know, wonder if we have that in El Salvador? Probably not!
=) As far as I know we've no oil, just hydroelectric dams and geothermal power. You lucky duck, Oklahoma being oil country. =)

29 Aug, 2008

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