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To Kenya and Back Again

Last week I took a short break from South Africa to travel to Kenya for a 8 days. There I worked for my non-profit, PALS:Partnership of African and Lansing Schools at Mbaka Oromo Primary School near Kisumu. I fixed erosion control channels I built last year and helped the school start a micro enterprise. I had received funding from the Center for Entrepreneurship at Cornell before I left to help the school develop its business. Last year, we installed a solar stand that provided 3 of the building at the school with sustainable electricity. When I went this time I worked with the teacher in charge of the library at the school to create a business plan, a large sign to advertise the services, and taught them how to budget the program. The school will now begin charging cell phones of the local community for a small fee and teaching computer lessons on the few computers they have at the school. The money generated from this will go towards a lunch program for the orphans at the school. When I wasn’t busy with that, I helped install some new gutters at the school to control the roof run-off that was contributing to their erosion problem. So it was a lot of work there but so amazing to be back in Kenya. When I wasn’t at the school I was staying with my host mother and eating ugali (basically corn meal and water cooked and hardened….I don’t really recommend it but it is a cultural experience in itself) and fresh tilapia from lake victoria (definitely recommend). All in all it as a great trip and I was able to accomplish a lot at the school. The kids and teachers there are so inspiring and I was so happy to get back there.

I am now back in South Africa. It is good to be back and working on my project. Prof. Janice Theis is also here now along with Christian Pulver, a masters student in CSS. They are focusing on biochar production. When we first got back to SA we went to the Johannesburg fresh produce market bright and early at 5am. It was really cool to see the ZZ2 tomatoes being sold at a HUGE open market. The price is set by the demand and changes as the time passes. Almost all sales are completed by 8am. It is a very different system than the US and it was a fascinating experience. Yesterday I gave my first big presentation. I went to Polokwane to the regional Dept. of Agriculture to present to some higher up Dept. of Ag officials my outreach proposal for a partnership with the dept. It went extremely well and the Dept. said we will meet again next week to present to the real top dog of the region! They were very interested in the partnership and so the project is really moving ahead.
Currently, Prof. Theis is working on editing my proposal and finalizing it. I found out I will now be giving my final presentation to the ZZ2 managers on July 16th so I am going to work on making that powerpoint once we finalize the program. SOO….life is good! It is a bit colder in South Africa now (much colder than Kenya!) but it is pleasant at night and we have had some bonfires at the lodge.
So now I am off to do some more editing

Oh…and GO NETHERLANDS! (There is still world cup fever in South Africa!)

In Pursuit of French Dessert… and an Understanding of French Agriculture

Olive Trees Flowering

I have found my official favorite dessert of all time, and as promised, I am posting information on how the Domaine de l’Oulivie integrates value added tourism into their products to diversify themselves from competitors. Also, since I will be leaving before the olives are ripe, I was able to obtain pictures of the harvest from the Domaine de l’Oulivie, for everyone’s viewing pleasure. I had mentioned the trees flowering in previous blogs, so it is nice to now have images.

While at SupAgro University, we had a chance to meet with professor Fatina Fort to discuss her research on consumer perception of terroir products. Our discussion was fabulous for helping me understand value added strategies used by producers, some of which I am now witnessing at the Domaine de l’Oulivie.   She pointed out that in order for farms to succeed, there needs to be producer motivation, a market for the products, and an image that consumers can have about the producers or the region that is reflected in the product. She discussed strategies for producers such as quality and market segmentation, how to create added value, and what is needed to construct the “terroir/origin effect” on the consumer.

The Domaine de l’Oulivie adds value by integrating and inspiring tourism. They have a quaint shop so there is an outlet for direct selling from the producer, and they welcome the public with activities such as festivals, and tours of their museum.Ripe olives!

To further diversify from competitors, the Vialla brothers have planted heirloom  olive varieties collectively called “Grand Crus,” meaning that the cultivars are all local varieties, no more than 300 trees are planted per hectare, and no more than 4 liters of oil per tree is harvested. The older varieties are unique in the market and embody the region, a crucial element of success as discussed by professor Fort. For example, the Farigoule variety is olive oil blended with herbs that grow in the Garrigue, the local natural vegetation. According to the legend, olive oil producers “back in the day,” would add herbs of the Garrigue to the last pressing to sterilize or clean the pressing equipment. They would keep this last “inferior” herb tasting olive oil for themselves. The Domaine de l’Oulivie now routinely adds herbs to their oil even though the process is modernized and does not need the traditional herb sterilization.  So far, it is one of my favorite oils and I have even had the chance to bottle it!putting oil in bottles

The farm is also going organic, which means they can have an organic label AB, or in French called Agriculture Biologique, which will be on the products. There are some policy disputes about this as organic laws are becoming standardized across the EU. Despite this, this is the first year that the Domaine de l’Oulivie’s products will be carrying this label. This is a definite added value strategy since an organic label will open up the market and command higher prices.

I inquired about the major complications of the olive farm to learn more about this whole value-added tourism aspect, and apparently going organic is a definite hassle despite its eventual rewarding outcome. Since no herbicides are used, the farm employs two cows and two horses to mow and fertilize the olive groves. Also, the olive tree’s major enemy is the olive mouche, a fly that normally would be easily controlled by pesticides. Instead, the farm sprays the ripe olives with clay which turns the olives white so that the fly does not recognize the fruit as egg laying territory. Unfortunately, this clay comes off with the rain, what little rain they usually get here, and is more expensive.the mouche!

Finding new clients can be problematic, but the new organic label is projected to attract a new customer pool. I love France and feel that I am learning so much here from so many vantage points! In my next posts, I will discuss how agricultural policy makes this type of operation possible, olive oil consumption trends as they are observed by the Domaine de l’Oulivie, and any other adventures I have on the farm. In the meantime, feel free to savor this picture of deliciousness, it is chocolate MilleFeuille which translates to mean a thousand sheets since there are so many layers of heavenly fav. dessert!

In Pursuit of French Dessert… and an Understanding of French Agriculture

Bonjour from a very busy week at the olive farm! I am now experiencing the Domaine De l’Oulivie savoir-faire, or the traditional “know how” of various olive product processes firsthand. Since I elaborated on the museum aspect of the farm in my last post, I think information on the modern equipment and processes will show a nice contrast. It depicts how here in France, they have the modern equipment, but also strong ties to the past and constant reminders of tradition.Lucques

We will be leaving in July, so I will not be able to witness the big gather, but from what I’ve learned so far, there is so much work here that is done manually!

packing olives

The green olives are picked by hand so that they do not bruise, and then half are left on the tree for three more months to turn black. They shake the branches with something that looks like an upside down weed whacker called “combs” so that the black olives fall to the ground onto tarps which are then gathered up and emptied into bins.   The olives, green or black and with their pits included, are put into the machine below to get ground up.

Crunching Machine The next machine further mixes, which is especially beneficial for tapenade and purees.Perfect for Puree

In the last machine pictured below, the oil and water is separated out of the mixture.


During July through September, the olive fruits continue to get bigger with sun and water. As of right now, it is possible to see tiny olives forming-so exciting! The flowering of the trees depends on the temperature, and usually lasts two weeks. Baby Olives!

We caught the tail end of this process when we first arrived in May. I could not believe how much pollen there was, but this is probably explained by the fact that the trees are wind pollinated, not insect pollinated.

We actually planted some baby olive trees, as shown below, but most of the trees on the estate are around fifty years old. planting baby olive trees

It was also very interesting for me to plant baby olive trees this week, because on the weekend, we ventured to the Pont du Gard, where there is an olive tree that dates back to 908 AD.

old olive tree!

I know this is not a travel blog, yet I cannot help but suggest that anyone who ventures to the south of France needs to see fireworks off of the Pont du Gard and try a Tielle, a traditional southern France seafood pie that I adore. Unfortunately, I just learned while attempting to research the appropriate spelling of this seafood pie that it is made with garlic, tomatoes and squid. I’ve been eating squid this whole time-agh!! Oh well, it’s delicious and I will probably still eat one every chance I get! learning how olive trees are grown

Anyway, back on topic… I love the aspect of tradition embodied here. The Domaine De l’Oulivie even manages to incorporate tradition into their marketing strategy to differentiate themselves by growing heirloom olive varieties, one specifically is called Violette de Montpellier which produces absolutely divine tasting, strong flavored, olive oil.  My next post will be dedicated to this interesting concept of how the farm integrates value added tourism to diversify their products and differentiate from competitors. 

So I wonder how many of the olive trees I planted will live to be 1000 years old?

Duck, Duck, Goose

     Off we go out into a marshy patch of woods where the vegetation is so thick at times that you can hardly walk and you constantly feel as if you are walking on a wet sponge.  Not the sort of spot you want to go on vacation but ducks and other waterfowl would consider it the Ritz.  Many tracts of land that were once havens for waterfowl have over the years been altered by agricultural practices.  These former wetlands are still beautiful but yet offer a less than desirable habitat for migrating waterfowl.


The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is a voluntary program offering landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property.  The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical and financial support to help landowners with their wetland restoration efforts.
     Our mission on this fine day was to accompany the biologist and make determinations regarding the best practices to implement which would restore this patch of woods into its original wildlife habitat.  We discussed the appropriate sites for construction of small water bodies (potholes) within this tract of land would attract migrating waterfowl.


As we slowly make our way through the thick underbrush we discover we are not alone.  We encounter signs that one of nature’s greatest architects (beaver) calls this wooded tract its home also.  The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is often thought of as the governmental agency primarily responsible for preventing land erosion but they are just as concerned with the protection of the natural habitat of wildlife which is the driving force behind visits into these deep dark jungles.


Workin’ During the World Cup

So it’s been a little while, but they have been keeping me busy! Last week I met with some local Dept. of Agriculture officials to suggest the extension program idea, the meeting went quite well and we are hoping to meet with higher officials either this week or in the coming week or two. I also met with local farmer Steven Mohale, which ZZ2 has been working with and he liked the idea of the program and the idea of possibly holding field days at his farm. He started out as a very small farmer and has been able to build up his production from about 3 hectares to 100. This is the kind of thing we hope to help other farmers do! Besides from a few other meetings I have been busy working hard on my strategic plan proposal, which I will be presenting on July 9th. I know I promised pictures, but my internet is too slow and won’t let me upload, so when I get back to the US I’ll make a post of pictures!

Culturally, it’s been crazy here! The World Cup is in full swing and I have never seen a country so excited. I went into town last Thursday and people were running around with South African flag capes and Vuvuzelas( Gosh those things are loud! (I’m definitely buying one) But, everyone here is in the spirit and although I cannot go to see a game, I am definitely getting into the spirit too and was excited to see the USA tie with England and am currently rooting for the Dutch team! It is great to see the country coming together like this. I also learned how to say how are you in the local south African language (not Afrikaans), it’s Le Kae (pronounced lay-chi) and “I’m good” is Ra gona pronounced (ray-ona: the g is pretty much silent). So it is cool to learn some of that aspects of South Africa too.

This week I am just working more on the proposal and possibly have a few more meetings with local farmers and stakeholders in the proposal. This Friday, though, I leave for a week long trip to Kenya. There, I will be visiting the school my family helped start a non-profit with and checking on the erosion control ditches I built there last year. I will also be installing new gutters and helping them start a cell phone charging business off of the solar energy that was installed last year. It should be a short exciting break and fun to see all my Kenyan friends from last year.

Well I better get back to work on my proposal, till next tim

In Pursuit of French Dessert… and an Understanding of French Agriculture

I am now in St. Gely Du Fesc, at my internship site, the Domaine De l’Oulivie. I will be discussing and relating my internship experience to the literature about agro-tourism, and detailing more of my university coursework on how French government plays a role in agriculture, but for this post, I am just going to concentrate on describing the olive farm, how gorgeous the farm is, and how absolutely delicious their products are. I do have to point out however, in a paper titled “America’s Changing Farmscape: A Study of Agricultural Tourism in Michigan,” agriculture tourism is in defined as “ incorporating visits to farms for purposes of on-site retail purchases, and education,” and the Domaine De l’Oulivie is certainly this and much more…

at the olive farm

The olive farm has been in the Vialla family for three generations, and has about 30 hectares of olive trees. They grow three main varieties that are well adapted to the hot dry summer weather, which I will detail later. They employ 8 people year round, and more during the harvest season. One of the best aspects of the farm is the fact that they uphold tradition and continue to demonstrate to their clients the “traditional” way of making olive oil through their museum. In fact, for my first weekend on the olive farm, I was lucky enough to be able to witness the spring open house, Le Printemps Des Oliviers, where a demonstration of making olive oil the “old school way” was available to tourists, the general public, and clients. Pictured below is the big granite wheel, powered by a Moulin (windmill) and a giant water wheel, which crushes the olives and their pits. This can then be made into tapenade, or further pressed into olive oil by being loaded into bags and pressed with a giant weight-see the picture below as well.Crunching the olives



The open house was an excellent way to introduce me to what agro-tourism is all about. In one farm visit, there is honestly something for everyone. After today, I can definitely understand why French farmers would choose to follow an agro-tourism path and focus on niche production of quality versus commodity production of quantity. Even though agro-tourism farms exist in the U.S., I’m surprised they are not as popular as they are here in France. It seems a fantastic way to combat increased costs of production with low revenue, and international competition.Oil Press

At the open house, there was a greeting station where visitors could be welcomed to the farm and get an introduction to the various programs. The museum was open as previously described. Local vineyards set up a wine tasting booth and there was also a craft booth selling terroir products, pictured below. The store selling all of the olive products was also open as well, with guided tastings of the various oils. I was actually able to guide a tasting for English speaking tourists who wanted to explore the very strong tasting olive oil varieties.Terroir Vendor

There was a scavenger hunt in a section of the olive grove for the kids, in addition to stations where they could color and paint with clay. My favorite part, of course, in addition to the food tent where people could purchase gourmet lunches, wine, espresso, and ice cream to eat at tables located in the olive groves, was the patissier (pastry chef) who gave demonstrations on making delicious olive products. Did I mention I’m in love with French desserts?Pastry Chef working with olive products


Bottling Day at Long Point Winery

Owner and winemaker at Long Point Winery, Gary Barletta, was sure to give us a full week’s notice before ‘bottling day’.  A few selected days out of the year are devoted to bottling the wine, and require intense preparation and diligence, especially on the part of the winemaker.  Bottling days tend to be some of the more hectic days at the winery with all hands on deck and a steady work pace.  Long Point Winery hires the service of a mobile bottling unit operated by Cornell grad and owner/winemaker of Hickory Hollow Wine Cellars, Peter Oughterson.  Mobile bottling units can save wineries the enormous up-front costs of a stationary bottling unit and also the floor space required by one of these units.

Unloading empty bottles
Unloading empty bottles
Bottle filler
Bottle filler
Labels going on
Labels going on
Finished bottles of Ciera Rosé
Finished bottles of Ciera Rosé

Like a highly-tuned, machine-opearted assembly line, the bottling unit fills a bottle, squeezes in a cork, shrinks on a capsule, and sticks on a label, all in a matter of seconds.  It was really quite fascinating to witness all the raw materials come together to produce the finished product.

More soon.

In Pursuit of French Dessert… and an Understanding of French Agriculture

My stay at SupAgro University has certainly given me an in depth look into the French food labeling system, and today was excellent for going beyond the policy literature to see a real world example. We ventured out into the country in the Languedoc region to visit the goat farm of Jean Poudevigne and learn about, (and taste!) the renowned Pélardon cheese.Cheese!

This cheese, pictured below, is marked with the AOP label which stands for Appellation d’Origine Protégée. This means that the product is under very specific restrictions and the consumers know they are getting the real deal. The AOP is a label recognized on the European Union scale and is in the process of replacing the French AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) label. Both labels ensure the geographic origins, the process, and the quality of a product. For example, the label guarantees that Pélardon cheese is “copyrighted”, it cannot be labeled as Pélardon anywhere else in the world except in Cevennes and Languedoc.  In addition to the location requirement, the cheese needs to be made with goat cheese, from an unfrozen curd, and aged at least 11 days to be considered Pélardon. We actually tasted the cheese throughout all steps of the aging process-a one day old cheese, a 12 day old cheese, now true Pélardon, and a 3 month old cheese, also Pélardon. In the picture, the younger, very creamy, cheese is on the right. The 3 month old cheese, on the left, was quite strong for my tastes, but pairs well with the strong red wine of the Languedoc region. Jean Poudevigne pointed out that the stronger flavored cheese profiles of Pélardon are usually preferred by the older generations of southern France and by young girls-definitely interesting!


It was also very interesting to discuss the producer’s take on the label regulations. Mr. Poudevigne  agreed that the AOP label is totally worth the regulation hassle because it opens up the market for him, and allows producers to  set similar prices for a specific quality.  Marsden and Smith’s 2005 paper, “Ecological entrepreneurship: sustainable development in local communities through quality food production and local branding,” discusses existing sustainable operations are occasionally overlooked and not supported due to initiatives that support large scale sustainability policies. They also discussed the concept of sustainable value creation, where additional value is added to mainstream farm products through Agro-tourism, and the concept of ecological entrepreneurship where a farmer preserves cultural, ecology and environmental integrity, but find ways to obtain economic benefits. It seems to me that the French concept of the AOC label allows both sustainable value creation and ecological entrepreneurship to take place, is valuable for even a small scale producer, and is a very informative label for the consumer.

Mr. Poudevigne discussed with us briefly how it is hard to supply the specialty cheese shops, local grocery stores, on site sales, market sales, and the supermarket with a high quality product on a year round basis. In order to do this, the farm has two sets of goats on different milking schedules throughout the year to ensure enough production.

This was my first experience eating unpasteurized cheese, notice that I lived to tell about it, but unfortunately due to regulations, I will not be able to bring back any of my 11 day aged unpasteurized Pélardon. According to Mr. Poudevigne, unpasteurized cheese  is better as it still has the good bacteria that helps keep the bad bacteria at bay-I’ll let the professionals debate that one… and in the meantime, will just enjoy the Pélardon and the desserts!


Left Side Truck Drivin’

So the past few days have been amazing. Yesterday I learned all about ZZ2 from Burtie, the son of the CEO and he also studied at Cornell these past 2 years, and let me tell you this is nothing like farmin’ in the US. ZZ2 owns and does everything from planting to growing to packing to shipping! Total, all over South Africa they have about 4,500 hectares of avocados, tomatoes (mainly), onions, apples, pears etc. They also have 60,000 hectares of conservation land! And the conservation practices on the farm are amazing as well. They mix several different types of compost, which they apply to all their farms along with EM or Effective Microbes. They now have no need to apply any pre planting fertilizer! And they have reduced post planting chemical inputs by 30-70% depending on the crop. They also have come up with several plant based anti-pest concoctions that have no chemicals and is made up mainly of certain plants and EM. Some of the anti-pest concoctions come from the Neem tree originally from India of which they have planted a hectare here in order to make the mixes. It was really breath taking to learn everything. And, also how dedicated they are to what they do and protecting the environment. Total they have 8000 workers all over the country and they are mainly from the local areas and Zimbabwe. ZZ2 provides housing, primary schools and nurseries for all of them!
Today, I was taken to town for a bit then met Piet Prinsloo, a project manager, at the main ZZ2 center. He set me up with a USB internet connector which is nice so I have internet in my hut now and a truck….which was an experience. Here they drive on the left hand side with the steering wheel on the other side, stick shift and mainly on dirt roads between farms. So, when it was time to go to their mechanic shop to get my truck Piet handed me the keys and said “let’s see what you can do”..and that is how I learned to drive here. Luckily, I didn’t hit anything and I caught on quickly. By the end of the day I could drive the 20km from the center to my hut and also to the other natuurboerdery center! Tomorrow I am driving further to the soil testing lab at the University of Limpopo (the province I am in). And, next week I am meeting with officials from the Department of Agriculture and University of Limpopo and other people in ZZ2. Basically we have solidified my project to basically designing, with Bombiti and others, a strategic plan for an extension program at ZZ2. It is going to be a lot of work but it should be really cool. At the end I will be presenting it to management and some other representatives. But, there is a lot to be done between now and then!
Anyways, I’m off to make dinner but I promise I will work on uploading some pictures soon. The area here is in a beautiful valley surrounded by forested mountains, it is really spectacular. And, I am starting to feel part of the family here! More updates soon!

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