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A Walk Through Cusco Peru's Huancaro Market


We've been very quiet lately... no social media posts, no emails, no blogging... but all for a very good reason. January 2022 was dedicated entirely to family. Paul, the girls, and I traveled to Cusco, #Peru, to spend a memorable month with our Peruvian family-- including Paul's parents, eight siblings, brother-in-law, niece, grandma, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins. I knew the month would fly by-- it did!-- and so before we even loaded the car for our first leg of the trip, I made the decision to take off my "flower business hat" so that I could be entirely present during these precious, fleeting moments: No social media posts (successful), no taking new orders (mostly successful), NO ORDERING MORE SEEDS (don't ask).

Here we are with Paul's parents, my wonderful in-laws, and "Mama-Gi" and "Papa-Tur" to our girls. The forest behind us is all eucalyptus trees! As there is a worldwide eucalyptus seed/stem shortage right now, it felt strange to sit among such abundance in this thriving forest.

Now that we're back, I'm so excited to share about our January. Most days were spent at home with our immediate family, sharing stories, cooking, and playing games. But when my mother-in-law offered to take me to the #local farmer's market, #Huancaro, one Saturday morning, I jumped at the opportunity. I've been to this particular market before, but not since starting my flower business. This time I was sure to pay more attention to the #cutflowers!

#Cusco sits in the Andes mountains of Peru at about 11,000 feet. To compare, that's over twice as high as Denver! Most people feel the effects of the altitude upon arrival (headache, fatigue), but usually get acclimated within a few hours.

The temperatures vary slightly-- usually 50s at night, maybe 70s during the day if the sun is out. If not, 60s and sweatshirt weather is the norm. It rains often this time of year, and sometimes hails. One thing they don't have to deal with (not normally, anyway) is FROST. Since this is generally a frost-free area, their growing season is virtually year-round-- which means that they can count on fresh, local produce every week of the year! And so, food preservation is generally not needed-- you see very few families with a freezer, or at least, a large one dedicated to long-term storage. And I explained to my mother-in-law how we use canning to preserve vegetables, meat, fruit, etc. She was interested, but had never heard of it.

When it comes to #freshfruits and #freshvegetables, talk about selection! Cusco's climate does support the production of apples, strawberries, potatoes, carrots, and countless others. But even for those tropical fruits that need higher temps to thrive, the "selva" or jungle, is found just five hours by bus from Cusco. These tropical fruits -- bananas, mandarins, and more-- are brought to market consistently, and are always available as well. In addition to the typical things we are used to seeing at the store, there are probably just as many more that aren't even available in Wisconsin.

Here's a picture of "pacay", a fruit that is known for its cotton-like consistency inside the pod. You eat the "cotton" and spit out the large, black seeds.

Also available is a wide variety of grains and legumes, including quinoa, barley, lentils, and split peas. These things are sold dry, usually out of huge sacks of bulk product. Most everything is priced per "kilo" or kilogram (about 2 lbs.) You can find fresh, unpasteurized milk-- bottled in a reused Coke bottle. (Everyone boils their raw milk.) You can buy cow tongue to throw on the grill, or chicken feet to throw in the soup (not kidding). You can buy kelp for your salad or trout from the rivers of the nearby jungle. Homemade yogurt, homemade bread, eggs, fresh and dried herbs, purple corn ("maiz morado") which is boiled to make the famous Peruvian drink "Chicha Morada"... You could honestly do all of your grocery shopping-- produce, meat, dairy, grains, beans, bread-- at this Saturday morning market, which hosts hundreds of vendors each week.

And the #freshflowers! There happened to be a fair the morning we attended, which meant that the vendors were competing against each other in a multitude of categories, similar to our own county fair. They had their posts all decorated, and everyone was in native dress. At one stand, we inquired about buying some flowers, and the lady smiled and said that they wouldn't be for sale until after 10 am, when the judging was over. Everyone was hoping to take home a monetary prize that day, even at the risk of losing a sale!

I must admit, that although I raved about the variety of fruits and vegetables compared to our own markets in Wisconsin . . . in terms of flowers . . . I think we have more variety at our little hometown markets. They had mostly roses, sunflowers, lilies, alstroemeria, and baby's breath. I found some Red Hot Pokers (Knifofia) that I couldn't resist. Five stems were priced at only 3 soles . . . an equivalent of $0.75, or $0.15 a stem!

The flowers that were available were beautiful, though. Currently most flower sales are for altar arrangements, funerals, cemeteries, or special occasions. I'm guessing it will only be a matter of time before the cut flower trend hits Peru, and hopefully with it will come more variety, fair market prices, and more demand for casual bouquets on dining room tables and kitchen counters.

Something else I noticed was that the vast majority of vendors displayed their flowers lying flat, out of water. Some vendors had a bucket or two for their premium blooms, but as most people use public transportation, it is simply too difficult to transport water in buckets to market each week-- not a realistic option. By mid-morning, most flowers are looking a little floppy, but thankfully, most customers know that their flowers will perk up once they get the stems in a vase of water. I bought some sunflowers and lilies to go with my Red Hot Pokers (they were called "cresto de gallo" in Spanish, which means "rooster's comb" in English). We got some roses and baby's breath for Paul's mom-- an early birthday present. She did her weekly grocery shopping and Paul helped carry her bags-- overall, a morning very well spent!

It's always interesting to see how people live in other places. My mother-in-law always says that she can't wait for the day that she can visit us and see our #farmersmarket, where I sell our cut flowers every Saturday morning. I'm excited to someday show her everything Sparta's market has to offer, but warned her that she may be disappointed if she's looking for local bananas, or fresh fish. Our market may be on a smaller scale, with fewer options as our climate allows, but we still have several treasures to be found. Our market treasures are simply different-- but definitely just as special!


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