Partnership Between EARTH Futures, Cargill, and CARE Opens New Opportunities for Rural Areas

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: October 2nd, 2023

Ana González and Sebastián Dobles make cheese with passion. You can see it in their hands, the small space where they work, and the unique flavor of their products. The couple started cheesemaking five years ago, apprehensive but enthusiastic about starting their own business and willing to learn as they went.

It seems it was destiny that brought Sebastian to learning to make different types of cheese and to working with dairy products. After working for years in tourism, he became unemployed. To make ends meet he worked in a dairy plant, covering for another employee on vacation. The on-site dairy technologist noticed Sebastian’s positive attitude and his ability to learn quickly. Within eight days of working at the plant, Sebastian was processing 3,500 liters of milk and absorbing a lot of knowledge. This is when he fell in love with cheesemaking.

Ana also worked in tourism for several years. But she knew that with her husband’s dedication and talent, and with her personal drive and organizational skills, they were ready to start their own business. They called it Quesos don Sebas (“Sebas’s Cheeses”). The couple is part of Nourishing the Future, a project funded by Cargill and implemented by the CARE organization in partnership with EARTH Futures. The project aims to improve the livelihoods of participants in Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica through training and opportunities for fair access and control over production resources, inclusive markets, and social environments where human rights are respected.

Since the beginning of 2023, the EARTH Futures team has been working with more than 100 women farmers in Costa Rica, mainly in the districts of Sarchí and Poás, two regions known for their agricultural production of strawberries, vegetables, and coffee. As micro-entrepreneurs, the women focus on pastries, baked goods, food sales, and added agricultural value in their businesses.  Jennifer Torres (’19, Costa Rica) and María Jesús Delgado coordinate and manage the Nourishing the Future project, creating educational workshops for participants and safe spaces to enhance social and emotional skills.

Like Ana and Sebastián, Maily Salazar recently started a new business, this one called Más que Pan (“More than Bread”). With her training and passion for gastronomy, she turned the small kitchen of her house into a workshop and creative space. She works quietly at night when her two children and mother are asleep, when she’s free to bake cakes, snacks, and bread. She says that the project workshops have been enriching because she learned how a business model works, and she has connected with other women who are also entrepreneurs.

“I want to know where products come from and how they work. I like to research and experiment to see what happens when you mix one product with another, even if sometimes I don’t love the results. That’s how I learn,” explains Maily. “I also like to integrate local products in my recipes. For example, I use dulce de leche (caramelized milk) from a local micro-business because I want to be part of a network of local businesses. When I know the history of the ingredients, I feel even more responsible for adding value to those products, to do things right.”

Small farmers Emilio Mejía and Karen Rodríguez grow strawberries. In the greenhouse where the fruit grows, their young daughter explains with much thoughfulness which strawberries are ready and which have yet to ripen. She grew up in the strawberry fields with her parents, who have been farming all their lives. Emilio says that recovering from the economic shock of the pandemic has been difficult. Their expenses went up, and farmer’s markets were closed, but he and his family began to use social media to promote their products and sell them door-to-door around the country. For the couple, the training they’ve received with the Nourishing the Future project has been crucial to increasing the soil’s nutrient capacity, improving their farming practices, and making better decisions that allow them to grow their business.

“We have noticed a big commitment from the participating farmers in their fields and businesses. Over time, we have seen them put into practice all the knowledge acquired, from creating their brand and using social media, to implementing sustainable production practices and strengthening their socio-affective skills. We have seen growth not only in their businesses but also in them as people,” says Jennifer Torres, coordinator of Nourishing the Future. As an EARTH graduate, she knows how vital these initiatives are for rural development.

We thank Cargill and CARE for being partners in driving the positive transformation of rural communities in Costa Rica and the world.