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Ecuador’s Garden of Eden

Binyamin Rose, Quito

The imaginary equator divides the earth into Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Ecuador straddles the equator, so the days and nights last an equal 12 hours. Ecuador has been home to more than 4,000 Jews and only a few hundred live there today. Yet over the last 10 years, it has become fertile ground for the manufacture of kosher vegetables. Mishpacha’s Binyamin Rose went on a tour of Ecuador’s capital, Quito, a visit to its broccoli and cauliflower fields, to see how he raises his family in this land.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I was advised to pack a raincoat and be prepared to ask for an oxygen mask to aid my breathing at altitudes approaching 9,000 feet in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. As it turned out, I did not need either aid.

Except for a brief shower the morning after my arrival, Quito’s mild winter weather of sixty-five degrees was a breath of fresh air compared to the stifling hundred-degree temperatures that I gladly left behind during a short stopover in New York. While I never experienced any serious symptoms of oxygen deprivation, I did feel a conscious urge to take a few deep breaths in succession to fill my lungs with the rarefied mountain air, which also helped promote a feeling of relaxation. 

On the other hand, it was the scenery that often took my breath away. “Get ready for some of the most stunning panoramas you’ve ever seen in your life,” said David Glaser, the Israeli-born general manager of one of Quito’s leading tourist concerns, as our entourage headed out for a mid-morning excursion to the countryside.

The pace is slow in Quito, but the driving is an experience. For many drivers, stopping at a red light appears to be optional. A lack of passenger seats inside the vehicle doesn’t seem to present an impediment to travel, as riders are often seen dangling from the outsides or tops of vehicles, even on highways — giving a new meaning to the term straphangers. Gasoline costs a $1.49 a gallon in this oil-producing nation. And yes, you can actually pay in dollars, since Ecuador adopted the US dollar as its official currency in 2000 following a major financial crisis.

As we leave the city, the landscape is dotted with shantytowns, isolated shacks, and rundown homes. Cows are tied to hitching posts like household pets. Quito’s suburban mountain ranges tower at least a mile higher than the big city. Some people will tell you that because the earth is thicker at its tropical equator than it is at its ice-capped poles, that Ecuador is even higher than Mt. Everest, as measured from the earth’s center. The tallest mountains are a deep volcanic black, shrouded in grayish clouds, while the foothills sport variegated hues of green and yellow and everything in between. If I were on a tour and not on assignment, I would have asked Marco, our driver, to stop for a few minutes so I could run around and play on the grass.

An hour and a half outside of Quito, we turn off the main road and pass a military outpost. On a clear day one can see Ecuadorean soldiers practicing their parachute jumps here. Ecuador is at peace with its neighbors, but has warred with neighboring Peru on its south and east, and has faced border skirmishes with Colombia to the north. We continue our drive down a muddy, unpaved farm road, with fields as far as the eye can see on all sides. Ecuador is about the size of Nevada. Although only about 5 percent of its land is arable, this stretch of the Latacunga Valley is its fertile crescent. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and potatoes, among other crops, grow in the region’s estimated 100,000 acres of farmland.

Finally, we reach our destination, a set of houses set up around a quadrangle. It could pass for any kibbutz resort in Israel.

“This is what we call the ‘shikkun harabbanim,’ ” says Shmuel Duvid Edelstein, project manager at Eden Foods, who has accompanied us to this rural section of South America, which is the home of Eden’s broccoli and cauliflower farms and the site of its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. Eden itself has grown from humble roots as a food service company serving chadarim, nursing homes, and hospitals in the New York vicinity, to become one of the leading kosher growers and producers of bug-free vegetables in the world.

Even though Ecuador is two plane flights away from either Eretz Yisrael or Boro Park, mashgichim from both locations arrive at Eden’s facilities with frequency, rolling up their sleeves and tucking their pants into their boots to keep their cuffs from getting muddy. Their work ensures that Jewish consumers worldwide can enjoy broccoli and cauliflower that are free from the bug infestation that would normally render them unfit for kosher consumers. 

 

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