Tropical Fruit | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Tropical Fruit

Agricultural activity in Coastal Mexico astounds in scale and diversity: millions of acres planted to tropical fruits. Staple crops such as maize and milo grow primarily in the Bahio—the central highlands—as do vegetables such as broccoli and jicama. Here near Manzanillo farmers grow guavas, papayas, mangos and limas dulces—sweet limes—among many other fruits both common and exotic.

And they grow coconuts. My, how they grow coconuts.

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You see piles of them at fruit stands in every pueblo; green coconuts sold for their milk. For a few pesos, the shopkeeper whacks at the end of a green coconut with a heavy knife and sticks a straw in it. Drink up. Upscale stands offer coconuts bien frio—well chilled.

The vendors I met had all their fingers—remarkable considering they secure nuts with one hand and lop the ends off with overhand swings of their machetes.

Coconut plantations are elegant and serene. Orderly rows of tall palms stretch off into the distance, quietly absorbing the tropical sun and converting it into large fruits. Many orchards recently have been interplanted with limas dulces to increase productivity, as in the image below.

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Workers load trucks and trailers with husked coconuts. They burn the husks, a dubious practice in my opinion. I would think that returning them to the soil would increase fertility.

These coconuts are destined to be processed into copra; dried coconut meat that eventually will be pressed to extract the oil.

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(As a kid, I dreamt about hiring onto a tramp steamer engaged in the South Pacific copra trade. It sounded exotic, but probably was just gritty hard work.)

Hazards on Colima highways include crawling tractors pulling trailers full of coconuts. Behind them, impatient drivers place their lives in las manos del Dios, passing on curves and hills.

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Fieldworkers travel to and from plantations on stakebed trucks, hopefully avoiding encounters with cars passing slow tractors. Note the rear springs of this truck are fully bottomed out, rendering it barely maneuverable.

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The guy second from the right gave me a friendly salute as I shot this image. I love how friendly people are here.

A truck full of limas dulces awaits a driver. Rosario, my housekeeper, makes an agua fresca (a fresh fruit drink) from them during the brief season they're in the mercados.

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Tropical fruit plants look otherworldly to me. Apple trees seem staid and frumpy in comparison. Papayas (left) are sensual—perhaps a forbidden fruit. Mangoes hang unaccountably from long stems. Why does the plant invest so much energy in stem-growing?

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Driving through California as a young man, I was fascinated by endless orchards along US 99, and huge vegetable fields in the Salinas Valley. In the '60s, California produced well over half the fresh produce in the entire United States. Today, food production in Mexico is at least as intense. Representing only 4% of the economy, it employs a fifth of the workforce, not including subsistence farmers.

U. S. immigration restrictions now create shortages of farmworkers. American growers respond by shifting production south of the border. Somehow I haven't heard howls from those usually concerned about outsourcing of American jobs. But that's probably because nobody wants to work in the fields anyway.

Mexico may become America's breadbasket.

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