I’ve been here a year and a half now and I realize I’ve joined the local ranks of “small ventures with big hearts” – an irresistible state of being for those of us scratching a living in rural Costa Rica.
In my case it went like this: last year we had this brilliant idea of selling products (well, yes candy!) made out of dulce to promote our family trapiche (sugar mill). I made peanut brittle and coconut ice and took them out to ‘test drive’ on the community at a local event hosted by Bandera Azul. Both were successes but the peanut brittle (a.k.a. mani y dulce) was really unique. So we started selling it at other events and finally at the village store. From there on we won two contracts to sell at hotels and of course in our little soda.
So now I find myself with a peanut brittle cooking date every week and a bustling, but very tiny, business concern!
So much for ‘small venture – where does the ‘big hearts’ bit come in? Well, it’s the fact that for every package of dulce we sell we probably give away half again to events as fundraisers, or to friends or family popping by at cooking time. We’re just not full bloodied entrepreneurs!
San Gerardo is full of other such small ventures. Here’s a short list: fresh bread baked weekly, fresh cut flowers, sign-making, and all the wonderful artesania made by MUCACHI – the women’s crafts group who not only produce great gifts to take home after your holidays but use a lot of recycled products. There’s the egg-seller on Wednesdays, the fruit and vegetable van Fridays, Swiss cheese down in Canaan and for the many carnivores fresh pork anytime you can lay down enough colones to have someone butcher you a pig. There’s Jose who cuts men’s hair, Mr. Fix-It’s for anything and everything that can go wrong, the man in Herradura who still shoes horses from door to door, and horror of all horrors – the man who sells potions to rid your house of spiders or mice or whatever you want vanished. Women selling ‘Avon’, women with catalogues for clothes shoppers, and women with all sorts of items to sell in their houses for less than a dollar. Seamstresses, portrait painters and photographers. the hostel that is a home away from home.
The list goes on…You can get your pants hemmed for $2, buy 50 oranges for less than that, and pay anyone with a car the gas to go into town.
Of course in a remote village where full time salaried work is hard to come by, and coffee prices drop annually because of international competition, everyone does ‘a bit of everything’. And how wonderful it is to find that almost all your needs can be met by someone in the community, and usually for a song. Who knows how long this will last – most of the youth now complete their high school education and their dreams are of university and city-bound jobs, not eking out a small living with humble trades and helping out their neighbours. But I hope some of this will survive, or at least we can capture this in memoirs of a very precious time when communities were self-sufficient out of individual necessity and communal regard.
Now for the next venture – our crop of miniature sweet peppers have mysteriously crossed with fiery jalapenos to produce a mixed harvest of unpredictable results! But the piquantes are superb for making salsa – I’ve already given away half the crop but there must be a way to turn this into a business??
Salsa San Gerardo anyone?