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The Socma service learning trip took Brentwood students into the home of Nohemi, one of Mosqoy’s Andean Youth Program students. With the objective both to experience a day in Nohemi’s life and to help on her family’s farm, the Brentwood group headed up to Socma, a remote community outside of Ollantaytambo, in a combi or large van. The only way to access this community is by foot up a windy hill or, as within the past 10 years, a muddy road carved out of the side of the mountain. The students were greeted by Nohemi’s mom with flower petals and a welcome beso, or kiss, before beginning a day in service learning.

Socma was an interesting cultural exchange. The Brentwood students learned about different agricultural practices, from earlier to more developed methods. For example, tilling the soil consists of hiking to a severely slanted plot of land and ridding the area of weeds in order to plant a new crop of potatoes. Despite notions that machinery could do the job, tilling tools would neither be helpful nor financially beneficial on this specific plot of land. Through this we get an idea of what a specialized knowledge set each farmer must have in the Andes, working with extreme slopes, deoxygenated soil, a severe rainy season, and altitude.

The Brentwood students spent a little over two hours on the farm before agreeing, in unison, that they were hungry. We walked back down the windy hills to Nohemi’s campo, where we were greeted with a traditional Peruvian feast. Nohemi’s mom prepared an incredible dish of esciviche, which she brought from the kitchen hut into the dining area, one of the three rectangular, single-floored, humble buildings that compose Nohemi’s family home. We dined on the traditional chicken and vegetables soaked in vinegar, served cold, for lunch. We drank coca tea, menta (or mint, a local Peruvian herb) and Milo, a powdered chocolate treat that has apparently reached corners of Canada and beyond, judging by the yelps of joy for its presence on the global table.

We were then introduced to another Peruvian dish, cuy, but in its precooked form, running around in the confines of Socma’s Cuy House. Nohemi’s family contributes to their community through helping with a cuy (or guinea pig) project hosted right in their backyard. An industrialized greenhouse holding over 100 cuys resides at the foot of the hill behind their house. Nohemi and her family help to care for these guinea pigs, in part to raise them for an important project by the Municipality of the District of Ollantaytambo. The purple marks on cuy heads are both an alluring punk hair-style and indicators of their participation in the municipality project. Once they have been raised in Socma, they will be given to familys in and around Ollantaytambo that do not have guinea pigs of their own. This is an effort to create sustainable meals and meat products for families in this region, whose land traditionally renders potatoes, corn and, in particular areas, strawberries.

The cuy project perhaps presents a new light for farm to table, as does the communal calf and pigs that run around Nohemi’s campo. The girls bonded with Alejandro, the baby calf that lounges in Nohemi’s yard, not yet old enough to mate but being watched over until he is. Nohemi’s mother also introduced her dogs and cats as part of the familia, as it is fitting in Peruvian farms to have animals that live amongst the family but not necessarily indoors with them in the way that many westernized pets would.

The Brentwood service trip to Socma presented tastes of Peruvian farm life, the flavors that the labor renders, and differing perspectives and methodologies that dictate agricultural lifestyles in the Andes. We were able to experience the importance of teamwork and the sheer physical strength it takes to farm in the Sacred Valley – but also see the importance of each potato or animal living on the campo. Nohemi’s family involvement in the cuy project testifies to their willingness to give back and help their community and beyond. From the moment we were invited into their home to the time we piled into the combi to head back to Ollantaytambo, Nohemi’s family was extremely accommodating and willing to share intimate windows into their life, a learning experience for everyone involved.

- Words and Photography by: Alexandra Leinweber, Marketing Coordinator

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