Wednesday, May 30, 2007

12. Pineapple Plantation Tour (5/30/07)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007
At 2:15 PM we took our tour bus the short distance to the Collin Street Bakery-owned pineapple plantation,
Iron pineapple
Collin Street Bakery
and were dropped off at the very clean and modern open-air employees cafeteria.
Some women were folding in the spiky leaves on whole pineapples, and we were to learn why later.
Folded leaves
We boarded a special tractor-drawn wagon and our guide, Michael, introduced himself and the driver, Danny.
Michael & Danny
Funny how they all have American names!
Michael stressed the progressiveness of this company, saying that pregnant women are taken out of the fields and allowed to do lighter work with the ornamental pineapple plants.
Baby ornamental plants
That now 60% of the fields are organic and in the next couple years they hope to be 100% organic.
Regular field
Organic field
And out of all the land (600 acres) owned by the company, 35% has been left to nature.
Left to nature
The organic fields were covered in plastic and planted with the crowns of pineapples rejected for export, planted in slits cut in the plastic.
Michael holding a pineapple crown
The plastic makes the use of insecticides and herbicides for weeds unnecessary. Pineapples cannot be exported if weed seeds are found in the crowns. Each crown may produce 2-3 pineapples before the size and quality deteriorate. 
Once the plants have served their usefulness, they are pulled
Pulling out old plants
and composted, and the plastic is removed and recycled.
Removing the plastic
The fields are allowed to remain fallow for a time.
Fallow field
The field is then cleared,
Cleared field
drainage ditches are dug,
Drainage ditch
the field covered with plastic, and the cycle begins again.
Covered in plastic
At harvest time, a specialist goes to measure the sugar content of a sampling of pineapples. When the sugar content is appropriate, then the hand-picking begins. Some fields are arranged with roads between them in intervals to allow a machine to cut the tops of the pineapples at a certain height. Any pineapple with a crown below this level is eligible to be picked. Workers are looking for pineapples with straight crowns of a certain height. Because they are picking by hand, they can leave those pineapples that aren't quite ready, and pick them at a later time. One field could be picked over up to 10 times.
Our tractor drove over large mud puddles.
Mud puddle coming up
Mud puddle seen through floor of wagon
The workers are given snake boots and gloves to work in the fields of spiky-leaved pineapple plants. Venomous snakes are present. Plus it is hot and humid, and there are a lot of bugs. But the workers are paid well. Many workers are immigrants from Nicaragua ("Nicas") who are willing to do this "dirty work." The company deposits their pay in bank accounts to insure that the families benefit. Special buses shuttle the workers from the areas where they live.
Workers' transport
Danny stopped the tractor and hopped down to pull up a whole pineapple plant,
Danny pulls up a plant
which Michael used to tell us the parts of the plant.
Whole pineapple plant
Michael kept calling the body of the pineapple the "physical".
The prime pineapple grows on the main stem, slips grow from the fruit or stem and are usually removed, and suckers grow from the leaf joint or ground level and may be allowed to grow the second or third pineapple.
Pineapple Plants (Ananas comosus)
Then Danny picked several very ripe pineapples that Michael cut up with a machete
Pineapple line-up
Machete-cutting the pineapple
and served to all of us on the tour.
Bonnie enjoys a juicy core
Gina, Susan & Jimmy
Wow, very sweet and very juicy!
Some intercrop farming was pointed out with a guava tree here
Guava Tree (Psidium sp.)
and ... balsa trees there.
Balsa Trees (Ochroma pyramidale)
There were some flowering plants along fences, but perhaps they grow wild here!
Ginger blossoms
Poas Volcano is in this direction
We had to put on hairnets for the indoor portion of our tour, which we sheepishly donned.
Donning a hairnet
Containers at packing plant, blue for regular and green for organic
We disembarked from the wagon and followed the route the pineapples take in the packing plant. First a wash,
Wash station
then a sorting,
Michael at sorting station
with the rejects taking a side conveyor belt
Side conveyor belt
to a container to be taken to a canning or juice factory.
Reject container
"Please do not eat the pineapples!"
Then a waxing and another wash.
More conveyor belts
Inspection for size and symmetry, sorted by size,
Inspection station
Michael showing us a box
Hairnetted tour group!
and then stored at 40 degrees in a refrigerated room.
Pineapples will not ripen further after being picked
Neatly packed
Dole pineapples
After leaving the packing plant and tossing our hairnets, we were treated to virgin pina coladas in a hollowed-out pineapple,
Note the folded leaves
Kent shows the top of his pineapple drink
or straight pineapple juice. Plus slices of fresh pineapple and samples of the Collin Street Bakery World Famous DeLuxe Fruitcake.
It began to rain as we returned to the Selva Verde Lodge.
Next: 13. Cooking Class.

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