In 2006, we began a relationship with Catholic Relief Services, working with about 100 small apple farmers in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. The goal was to improve income and reduce migration to the US among small apple producers, their families, and their employees in the region.
These small producers historically had no access to credit, cool-chain storage or transport. Desperate for income at the end of a long growing season, they had no alternative but to accept rock bottom prices from intermediaries for apples still on the tree. The result was continued poverty and high migration for families.
Because we were apple growers ourselves, the project afforded a beautiful opportunity to share both knowledge and resources. We first hosted a delegation from Chihuahua to our farm, to gain hands-on experience with pruning and thinning techniques designed to produce much higher quality fruit. Back home, they convinced a pilot group to commit to product upgrades over a minimum 2-year period. When we visited them in 2010, we met with farmers in their fields, looked at their harvesting processes, and discussed their questions. We also traveled out to the Copper Canyon to meet with Tarahumara indigenous communities, often employed as migrant workers in the orchards during harvest. The impact was evident – when small producers are equipped to access markets directly, families benefit on many levels.
During the second part of our trip, we visited with World Vision in Nogales, Mexico. Here, we met families living in the slums who had lost their connection to the land. Children attending after school programs in buildings next door to drug lords. Children born and educated in the US deported with their parents with few resources. We visited a multitude of sites, including women’s income-generating projects, youth leadership development projects, and after school tutoring. As we sat in our car waiting to cross the border back to the US that night, one of our kids starting singing the familiar song “Why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends…” Let us never stop seeking the answer to that question.