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Eating locally in Guatemala


A smokey haze blankets the Guatemalan mountains as we wind our way to Quetzaltenango (a three and-a-half hour trip west of Guatemala City), competing with the “wild” chicken buses for space on the road. As the vibrant red sun sets, we’re told that farmers are burning their sugar cane stubble in preparation for the wet season.

Paddocks of lush fertile volcanic soil full of beans, corn, carrots and lettuce pass us by as we look up and see Santa María Volcano, a large active volcano in the western highlands of Guatemala (which we would climb a few days later)!

There are 22 departments (somewhat equivalent to states), each with its own cuisine dependent on the foods grow in the area.

Jenna Bigman lives on the banks of Lake Atitlán in Panajachel. She has a magnificent garden where she grows her own avocados and herbs. I asked Jenna a few questions about the ‘from paddock to plate’ concept in her region over a home cooked omelette one morning. Thank you Jenna for providing your insight below!

What local produce do you source, from where, from whom and why?

I feel very strongly that if as an expat living in Guatemala and benefiting from the wonderful climate and easy living, I have a moral duty to give back as much as possible to the community. This involves hiring as many people as I can afford and making sure that all foods are grown in Guatemala. We do all our shopping at the local market and I’m always on the lookout for homegrown products such as eggs, chickens and so forth.

Why do you believe it is important to support local farmers?

I seriously don’t see the value in buying imported foods. First of all, I don’t trust them. Food in general has been so modified over the years that I’m pleased to buy food that looks ‘normal’ to me. Different shapes and sizes, full of flavour and I know that everything is picked ripe and therefore ripened in the sun and not by artificial means. This seems a lot healthier.

Why do you believe it is important for people to know where food come from?

I remember when I was bringing up my kids that if they ever became fussy about certain foods, only wanting chicken breasts for example, I was always insistent that if we’re eating an animal we should eat the whole and not discard any part. To me that seems disrespectful to nature. It’s all part and parcel of being aware of how things are grown, whether it’s vegetables, fruit, meat or fish. Part of that also is that farmers get more money selling their produce at the market rather than exporting, so my money goes to the local farmers.

Briefly describe your own experience making coffee. Why did you decided to give it a go?

Making coffee is an insane proposition. I decided to harvest it one year because the house I was renting happened to have 10 plants of it in the garden.

  • Pick the coffee fruit when it is red and soak in bucket of water for three days. This takes away some of the bitterness.
  • Remove the “mulchy” fruit around the bean and put the bare out in the sun for about a month.
  • Crack the outer shell of the bean and put out in the sun again for another couple of weeks.
  • Remove the remaining thin skin on the bean by shaking and tossing the beans in an open container. Hopefully this is happening in the early month of November when it is windy and this thin skin flies away.
  • Take to the local coffee roasting place and go back the next day for your roasted beans.

The price I recommend for the coffee given the amount of work involved: $100 an ounce!!

What food education or food schools programs are in Guatemala to encourage people to eat local and support local farmers?

I am not aware of any food education programs in Guatemala to encourage people to eat local foods and support local farmers. Away from the bigger cities I think people in general look for locally grown produce just as a matter of course.

Do farmers in Guatemala receive sufficient support to stay viable?

Life for the Mayan Guatemalan farmer is hard for the small individual farms. They work long hours and get paid very poorly. The people who make the millions in farming grow flowers, coffee and other specialised products and are the few wealthy land owners who are not Mayan but are descendants of Spanish, German and Norwegians.

Louise FitzRoy | Founder
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