2017-05-01 / Dishing

Seed Exchange

Eden View Foods takes Central Pennsylvania to Central America — and back again
Michele Marchetti

The second act of Eden View Foods began in San Pablo, Belize, with the ceremonial call of a village chairman’s conch shell.

After earlier trips to the area working with a children’s home and other organizations, Cindy and Eric Noel set out on a new mission that reflected their agricultural roots. The idea was to provide villages with the seeds to increase their vegetable production, help build irrigation systems, and possibly even find distribution points in Belize. But after a Belizean banker turned the Noels on to a village with an interest in planting yellow ginger, the specialty crop known in the U.S. as turmeric, they embarked on a plan to make an even more profound impact on this third-world country.

As the conch shell sent out its call, Cindy and Eric gathered on the porch of the ramshackle San Pablo schoolhouse, waiting for the farmers to arrive. After 10 minutes passed and only six showed up, Cindy began to second-guess their plan. But a second blow yielded 17 village farmers, who sauntered in from different points for a meeting on the planned yellow ginger project. The farmers worked to provide crops for their village, while the rest of the men in the village worked in the banana fields for approximately $1.44 an hour. Yellow ginger was a pathway to financial stability and better living conditions.

A local policeman translated (“They spoke English, but they spoke Mayan better,” Cindy says), explaining that the Noels wanted to help. The men began to whisper. The Americans, they were told, were willing to train them. Lending credibility was a vital business partner: a Belizean farmer named Salucio the Noels would hire to serve as their eager, in-country “extension officer.” (So eager that, to reach the village from his farm, he endures a 1-mile walk to the bus, a 3-hour bus ride, an overnight at a cousin’s house and a 30-minute walk through the jungle that requires crossing a significant river with his cell phone and supplies.)

Eric and Cindy, the policeman said, planned to return to the village in a few days with 100 pounds of yellow ginger purchased from Salucio, who would throw in some extra for free. They wanted to donate them to the village, an investment in what they hoped would be a long-term partnership. (Cindy expects this initial planting to balloon into a February harvest of about 3,000 pounds of yellow ginger, most of which will be replanted for a tenfold harvest in 2019.)

As the Noels detailed plans to shepherd a project that would transform lives, the families started talking to each other in an excited, elevated pitch. The policeman took in the scene, turned his eyes on the American couple that had just unleashed an enormous amount of hope and asked, “You won’t leave us, will you?”

Maya Mountain Coffee and Spice Company is the answer to that question. That’s the export business the Noels are currently working to open in Belize. The plan: Their farm in Warriors Mark will help fund the export business in Belize, which will support the village (and hopefully others, too) while providing Eden View with a steady supply of imported coffee, chocolate and spices that will add flavor to their prepared foods and a humanitarian bent to their business.

“For the last couple of years we’ve felt an unsteadiness,” Cindy explains. It was getting tougher to make a living, and they couldn’t help but to question their chosen profession. Yet by making their lives even more challenging—the business will require splitting their existence between two countries and finding philanthropic funding that can support their basic living needs—they found an anchor more than 1,000 miles away.

“I feel an even greater purpose now, because what we’ve been doing for the past 15 years is going to have a direct impact on the life of people who simply need a chance.”

By supporting Cindy and Eric with our food purchases, we get to come along for the ride. Shoppers at Eden View’s farmers market stand will be able to buy packets that contain the base of golden milk, a drink made with Belizean turmeric, black pepper and honey. Add your own coconut milk and you have a drink with a one-of-a-kind back story.

It’s a story that starts with a plant growing wild in volcanic soil. You won’t find a label classifying the Belizean turmeric as organic, but you also won’t find any organic certifiers in the San Pablo jungle. (Perhaps we need to add “jungle grown” to our food-labeling lexicon.)

We can also look forward to chocolate smoothies made with raw dark Belizean chocolate and, assuming the partnership and business succeeds, handmade wooden bowls, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice. The young men of the village are currently searching for wild vanilla pods to harvest.

In between selling at the farmers markets, Cindy and Eric will be writing business plans and navigating the mess of red tape required to open an export business. Their Benefactor Harvest Dinners, which begin in June and run throughout the fall, will provide a break from the tedium. Intimate, outdoor dinner parties at Eden View, the Harvest Dinners feature food sourced from Eden View and 10 other local producers and cooked on their wood-fired grill and oven. Eden View covers all the food costs, so every dollar goes directly to the project in Belize. The servers are a revolving crew of friends and customers who have heard about the project and want to help. (Check for dates.)

While Cindy readily admits she sometimes feels like she, too, is wading through a river to pull this off, she speaks with resolve. “The coffee is just rotting on the plants in some of these villages,” she says. “Because of the remoteness, companies don’t want to go there. To me, the person-to-person connection is one of the most important parts of that. I want to see life as they live it. I want to be part of that.”  •SCM

Serves 4-6 people

4-6 lb. chicken breasts and thighs
1 small onion, chopped or sliced
1 small sweet red pepper, chopped
½ poblano or other hot pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 qt. chicken broth, preferably homemade

Spice Mix
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. paprika

Rub chicken with spice mix; marinate for at least 1 hour. Sauté chicken in hot olive oil, 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Add onion, peppers, garlic and stock; simmer for 30 minutes. Serve on bed of coconut rice.
Coconut Rice
2 c. white rice
2 c. coconut milk
1 c. water
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. butter
Mix all ingredients and bring to a boil in a pan. Reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Sprinkle with a little water and simmer until rice is tender.

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