Maria and her husband Chon live in Santa Fe de Veraguas. We coordinate to visit Maria y Chon Farm and possibly stay there for the night. When we arrived in town we consulted where the farm was located and they sent us to an area called ‘El Pantano’. We had to park the car and continue on foot. You must cross an aging bridge suspended on a great river. From there you follow a path that the community uses in this rural area of Panama.

To get there, you have to walk about 15 minutes uphill. We were too lazy to carry our suitcases and we preferred to opt for another hotel in Santa Fe de Veraguas. They say they usually don’t offer the option of accommodation since hostels and hotels refer them customers and they do not want to compete with them. They have a room with three beds without air conditioning (which is not needed) and camping.

An orchid paradise

Maria’s eyes got bright when she told me about her orchids. It started because some friends had orchids and she liked them. They made tours in the woods. When there is a lot of wind trees fall on the ground, then they become dirt and the orchids die as they need live trees. She picked up the ones she found and brought them to her farm to keep.

She has been cultivating orchids for more than 20 years. She believes that she has a minimum of 60 varieties of native orchids from the area of Santa Fe de Veraguas. The crops of the Maria and Chon Farm are organic, she only uses moss. No matter when you visit, there will always be flowers, since today there is a flower and tomorrow is another.

21 years ago they started an orchid contest in Santa Fé during the month of August. It’s usually around 15 and it’s done for a week. They always compete and win prizes that you can see on their big ranch.

This last year they have been bothered by the Ministry of Environment that is putting additional requirements. I asked if they sold them and she told me that they were not allowed either, which I thought was a bit absurd.

Apart from the orchids they have a large botanical garden in front of the house where you can see flowers like begonias and other tropical flowers. They have a nursery to reproduce plants.

Organic sowing in the Maria y Chon Farm

When we arrived there was a couple of Dutch people who were hiking and had arrived at the farm by chance. They were sitting on a ranch and had several dishes in front of them, including a salad, fried plantains and meat. They offer tours with or without food which comes from the farm. It looked very good and it is economical so I recommend opting for this option.

First they told us about the coffee they sow. There are two types of coffee, arabica (mild and most sought) and robust (stronger). After the coffee is harvested, it is fermented for 20-24 hours to wash it. Then it is left to dry in the sun and is piled on the pylon by hand to remove the parchment. If you visit, they will give you a cup of coffee.

Then went to the crops area that is part outside and part under the roof of a greenhouse. They plant tomato, broccoli, lettuce, beans, cucumber, celery, carrot, banana, cassava and others.

Maria y Chon Farm has between 8-10 hectares divided into several plots. They recently achieved their organic certification issued by the Ministry of Agricultural Development of Panama (MIDA). What they cultivate is for family and visitors.

History of Santa Fe

Santa Fe de Veraguas was one of the first villages founded by the Spanish conquistadors in Panama. In 1557 the captain Francisco Vásquez founded the town. In 1630 it increases its importance when it was named capital of the province of Veraguas. Currently it is known as the place where Father Héctor Gallegos began his campaign to organize peasants to earn better salaries. He was accused of being a communist and was kidnapped by the National Guard in 1971 during the dictatorship of Omar Torrijos. He was executed and his body was not found until 2018 after 47 years of searching. The cooperative that he organized still operates.

Maria and Chon arrived to the area 42 years ago. They say that in the 1970s the peasants earned .50 a day. Some people developed coffee farms or livestock and did better. The situation has been changing little by little with the entry of tourism. They have been venturing in agro tourism in Panama for a little over 10 years. Santa Fe de Veraguas is one of the most beautiful places in Panama with primary forests, national parks, waterfalls and rivers. It is the ideal place for lovers of eco-tourism.

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