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A Dairy for a Deaf Children's School in El Salvador?

Posted 2/7/2018 4:50pm by Kinley Coulter.

      It was a bit of a shock, this past Friday, to fly out of San Salvador, in El Salvador, in the heat of the afternoon... 

      After a week of 90 degree temperatures, 6 hours of travel time delivered me to the Baltimore-Washington Airport at a bone-numbing 19 degrees… Brrrr!  I had spent the week driving around El Salvador (I have a whole new appreciation for the term ‘defensive driving’)  as part of an organization called ‘Anabaptist Financial’ that is investigating the possibility of financing new dairy/processing operations.  The vision for the first of these proposed dairies is that it would help to support a deaf children’s school near San Salvador.  Currently, 14-20 poor deaf children get language training at the school. 
 
 
     The group that operates the school has a dream of providing work for the older students as well as for the community.  Their board presented a request to Anabaptist Financial for a loan of about $200,000 for a building, 40 dairy cows, and equipment to milk them and process the milk for direct marketing.  Eventually, they envision processing their own milk into yogurt, cheese, bottled milk and ice cream, and direct marketing all their products.  My experience of putting together this type of a farm at Coulter Farms got me drafted into exploring the possibilities of this venture.  
  
 
      Anabaptist Financial, an organization that funnels funds to worthy groups,  sees this kind of an investment as ‘seed money’ to allow ministries such as orphanages and handicapped children’s schools to kill two birds with one stone.  First, an operation such as this would provide work for teenage and young adult students that have grown up in these communities, and struggle to find employment.  Secondly, if these ministries were not dependent on outside charity for their operating expenses, they would have the satisfaction of ‘paying their own way’, so to speak.  Additionally, the funds that are freed up from supporting existing ministries could be used to establish new ones.  
 
 
     We visited ‘Strong Tower Children’s Home’ which operates a coffee business on a similar premise.  They house 20 orphans of the country’s Civil War and gang violence, and are moving towards being self supporting by using some of their land to produce coffee that they export to the US. (Coulter Farms is going to offer their coffee at our Saturday market, and on our website store, if you want to do some good with the money you spend on coffee.)
 
 
     We spent much of the week visiting existing Salvadoran dairies in the area, as well as learning about how dairy processing is done in El Salvador.  I was surprised at how well the dairy cows seemed to manage in the heat of an equatorial climate.  The cows have acclimated to weather that would shut down our Pennsylvania cows’ milk production.  Also, the Salvadoran farmers have carefully introduced some ‘tropical’ cow genetics into our typical, European dairy breeds.  The result are some rather odd-looking ‘Holsteins’ and ‘Jerseys’ that can not only survive, but even thrive with year round temperatures in the high 80’s.  
 
 
     We determined right away that we would need to work with local animals, and include some local milking methods, because to transplant a Pennsylvania operation to El Salvador would probably be a disaster.  A lot of our highly efficient (expensive) systems and equipment are unnecessary in a place where wages are 10% of US farm wages.  For example, using a $2,000 milking cart might take four men a couple of hours to milk 40 cows.  A $100,000 milking parlor in the US allows two people to milk 80 cows in an hour… but parts and service technicians for specialized milking equipment are not sitting on every corner in El Salvador.  Also, the community would much rather have the additional employment that less efficiency provides.  Five ‘local style’  $200,000 dairy operations can support more schools and orphanages than a single million dollar facility that is so efficient that it hardly employs anyone, and has to sit idle when something breaks.
 
 
     At Coulter Farms, we produce 18 types of cheese, and I was shocked to visit several corner ‘cheese stores’ and not recognize a single type of cheese.  Butter is almost unheard of.  Fluid milk is not a popular product.  Cream, yogurt and skim milk cheeses are abundant.  I watched a clunking and sputtering ‘rattle trap’ pick-up truck back up to the off-loading dock at a good sized dairy processing operation with an open top 55 gallon drum half full of warm milk sloshing round in the plastic barrel.  Absent refrigeration (or even a lid) a worker stuck a hose in the drum, and sucked the milk from somebody’s little 6 cow, hand milking farm up into the big tank of milk waiting for processing.  I think that my USDA dairy inspector would have keeled over from a heart attack.  I’m not a huge fan of government regulation of small farms, but I have to admit that my mouth was hanging open a little bit... that was the end of my milk drinking for the trip. 
 
     We barely made our flight out of El Salvador when the only road to the airport was closed after a gang stopped a bus, and killed six people and wounded four police when the bus driver refused to pay the demanded extortion money.  We take a lot of our blessings and security for granted here in the US.    
 
     Anyway… I just thought it might interest the customers and supporters of our little family farm to know that part of the proceeds of what you invest in our products are playing a role in trying to establish safe, healthy dairies among some of this hemisphere’s most underprivileged communities.  We’ll keep you informed as things progress with this project.