In Northern Peruvian Andes halfway between Lima and the Ecuadorian border, a farming community called Granja Porcón has been quietly building its success for 41 years. Situated just miles from the largely controversial Yanacocha mine in the Cajamarca region of Perú, Granja Porcón operates as an autonomous, faith-based agricultural cooperative mainly composed of residents from its two neighboring villages, Porcón Alto and Porcón Bajo (upper and lower Porcón).
Vicuña in front of the pine forests of Porcón
It’s easy to discount Granja Porcón as being just one of many farms in the farm-laden Cajamarca region, but Porcón’s workers have become quite wealthy even while being located right next to many of the poorest districts in Peru – districts whose main economic activity is also agriculture.
Granja Porcón has an odd but brilliant success story. Peru’s agrarian reform took place in the 1960s and 70s under the government of Juan Velasco Alvarado. During this time land was taken from wealthy hacienda owners and distributed among agricultural workers, who were instructed to produce and sell agriculture as cooperatives. The great majority of cooperatives failed – they were shifted so much land and control with little to no training and support that they buckled, unable to move their products as the old hacienda owners had done.
Another vicuña in Porcón, because there´re lots of vicuñas
Waterfall near to the Porcón farm
But Granja Porcón was one of the few projects that stood. The farm was formed by a rural cooperative that named itself Cooperativa Agraria Atahualpa Jerusalén (Agricultural Cooperative Atahualpa Jerusalem). It had just barely entered into its journey as an independent cooperative when they connected with the Cooperación Belga, a Belgian development project. The Cooperación Belga had been looking for areas in Peru in which they could carry out a reforestation project without much interest from Peruvians. Until they came across the Cooperativa Agraria Atahualpa Jerusaén, who was willing to work with them.
Just above the zoo in Porcón Alto
The Belgians planted several varieties of New Zealander pine trees throughout Porcón Alto and Porcón Bajo over the course of the years, while providing support and training to the Cooperativa regarding maintenance of the trees. With the pine trees came an economic niche – no one in Peru had pine trees but Porcón, and the trees came with benefits: pine wood, pine-reliant mushrooms, and a restored forest ecosystem. Today’s Porcón has over 10,000 hectares of pine forest filled with deer, vicuñas (an adorable relative of the llama and alpaca), and mushrooms. They produce gorgeous pine products, among them the only Peruvian-produced pinewood furniture and lovely pinewood cabins and restaurants in which guests can stay for S/110.00 (US$ 31) a night to enjoy the farm experience, unique pine-forest views and activities, and farm-to-plate dairy and mushroom based cuisine.
The pine forest in Porcón
Famous Porcón mushroom, sold in humble menú cuisine in Porcón, to the Yanacocha mine, and on fancy burgers in Lima
Fresh cheese with molasses
mushroom stir-fry and bistec a lo pobre, world-class versions of classic Peruvian dishes
Pine berries, also used to make pine ice cream
And they are successful. There is no published record of how much they make, but our tour group was told by the guide that it was in the millions. While he did not specify whether those millions were in soles or dollars, either way in a region overrun with poverty both figures would be considerable.
Wealth not associated with mining means a lot in rural Peru. Peru is a country where most college-bound kids want to be engineers because engineering means you can work with mining, and mining equals money – especially in rural Peru. Peru is among the world’s top-ten gold producing countries, a lot of that gold coming from Cajamarca. One of the largest mines in the region, Yanacocha, is a huge source of wealth for some and grief for the rest – Colorado-based Newmont mining set up shop extracting the ore from the ground, allowing them the wealth that comes with exportation of such materials but also bringing substantial environmental contamination. Yanacocha is only one of many mines throughout Peru doing the exact same thing, while the rest of rural Peru survives on pitiable wages mainly from agricultural work. And as Peru is very centralized, poor rural Peruvians often turn to migration to Lima to work as taxi drivers and construction workers for a better wage.
Hummingbird taking nectar from a ¨Baston del Inca¨ flower
Bird in Porcón
Bird in Porcón
Baston del Inca flowers
But not Granja Porcón. Granja Porcón rakes in money doing the agricultural work that the rest of Perú struggles to survive on, while selling its products to mines like Yanacocha to boot. Its mushrooms are being sold on expensive foodie hamburgers in Lima food trucks. All while its workers live in an idyllic Andean mountainside picking mushrooms and tending cattle, far from the pollution and bustle of Lima.
Besides Peru’s only pine forest, Porcón teaches how to grow pine trees and sells pinecones for this purpose, has its own trout farm, produces Peru’s only sheep cheese, offers mushroom ceviche and (strangely delicious) pine and mushroom flavored ice creams, and has a small zoo equipped with ostriches, leopards, and lions - just to please the domestic tourists. They even bottle and sell their own water. So far it has managed to maintain a low international profile, but should be noted as a radiant example of how cooperatives and agriculture can be successful even amongst extreme poverty.
Mushroom ice cream anyone?