Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Porcón, Cajamarca

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.

Porcón vegetation 

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?

Cajamarca de nuevo

It's been a really long time since I wrote a blog :/ I guess life really caught up to me in 2016!

I had gone to quite a few places since then, too; I went back to the states to Texas & Colorado to settle visa issues and do Thanksgiving back home, went to Cajamarca & Cuzco, & visited Brazil!

I'll start with my winter vacation - my first destination was Cajamarca. I went with my boyfriend Bismarck. It was a special place for both of us since it's the capital of the province where I first lived in Peru, and for Bismarck he used to live there as a boy and still has family there.

Cajamarca City

Iglesia Belén at night

I got lots of pretty sunset pictures of the city

Bismarck taking a video of the city

Mountains in the distance

The main square at night

We went in November for my winter vacation - I try to take every opportunity I can to travel to the Andes, I absolutely love them. It was also an opportunity to revisit places in Cajamarca I had missed and for Bismarck to show me his side of his former home as well as meet the family.

Cajamarca province is most known throughout Peru for its dairy products - it produces cheeses, dulce de leche, and other milk products that are sold throughout Peru - and for mining - it is home to the controversial Yanacocha mine and has had a recent history of mining-related social unrest. 

"No to Conga" writing on the hillside visible from the main plaza - Conga is a highly contested mine located near Cutervo, Cajamarca

The city of Cajamarca is circled by mountains, and is filled with beautiful Spanish tiled roofs, much like Cuzco. It is the capital of the Cajamarca province. It's also actually the place where the Spanish first really began their takeover of the Incas - Cajamarca is where Pizarro and his men took the Inca king Atahualpa in a surprise attack, kept him in a room while they demanded gold from his subjects, and eventually executed him.

View of the main cathedral from inside the Cuarto de Rescate - the room where Pizarro demanded ransom from the Inca Atahualpa.

Cajamarca city is just absolutely beautiful. It has fantastic Spanish architecture and has so many hidden gems. It has beautiful hot springs in a lovely setting. We went one day to Laguna Seca to swim in the hot springs and enjoy the beautiful setting.

And my favorite nighttime spot is Usha Usha, a "trova" style peña where musician and composer Jaime plays with his band, Victor & Efrain. It's a lovely experience - the room is intimate, allowing you to get to know the band and other people visiting. You're invited to take part in the singing and to play an instrument. It's such a wonderful experience, definitely go if you come to Cajamarca.

from left to right - Victor, Jaime, & Efrain playing in Usha Usha

Excellent pisco sours made by Jaime's son Efrain in Usha Usha

And the food! We had some fantastic food!

Fried lentil appetizer before some amazing "parrillada" (BBQ) at Paco's Grill

Fried cuy at the market. We just had coffee and bread with cheese, haha.

Eating lopetines in the the main square - delicious little popcicles (chupetines) made by the Lopez family in the main square. So good! Bismarck's mom later got me the recipe :)

We got to see Bismarck's grandparents and cousins - they filled us full of Cajamarquino food and we were able to rest and relax with the family in their lovely house in central Cajamarca.

We also did a little tourism, including seeing the museum at the San Francisco convent. The museum was a little sparse, but it was a nice way to pass the afternoon.

The entrance to the Convento San Francisco museum

We also went with Bismarck's cousin to visit el Santuario de la Virgin del Rosario in Polloc, a nearby town in Cajamarca province. It's a beautiful church made with gorgeous glass mosaics from the on-site workshop called Don Bosco. 

Outside the sanctuary 

The sanctuary itself 

There were also beautiful wood carvings 

Bismarck took my picture 

Bismarck outside the sanctuary

Next we went to Porcón, an agricultural cooperative outside the city of Cajamarca, where we went hiking, ate some of the best food Cajamarca has to offer, and learned about the history and society that exists there. It deserves its own separate blog, so that one is coming up next :)