Catching up with Felipe’s Projects


About a year ago, after six years of consecutive joint and individual failures to make a reasonable living Felipe and I made an agreement. I said,
“If you think you can make a living raising animals, I will stay out of your way with my anthropomorphizing, and devote myself to writing this book I am fantasizing will sell millions of copies.”
He said “Great!”
His enthusiasm was mostly due to the relief of not having me poking my nose into every aspect of his farming: crying when we sold animals, insisting on yards so large it made it difficult to fatten, speculating on his sows moods… Shortly after my pledge he came up with a business plan to keep eight sows for breeding, and consistently market ten pigs a month.
We introduced Empire in May of 2o12 and Don Juan in December, since then he has grown his brood to eight sows. Four have already birthed, and we have two more litters coming this month. Bringing us to a whopping fifty pigs at present.

The reaction of La Tigrains to his hoard has been consistent.
“You are crazy! Forty piglets and two litters yet to come! That’s too many, you will never sell them. Hogs are down, everybody knows that, you’ll never make money.”
We’re accustomed to such nay-saying . It is a part of the community’s character. Are we immune? It seems so, or we probably would have packed up long ago.
An interesting aspect of his system is; he utilizes native plants for protein supplements. Protein is the most expensive part of a pig’s diet and he has saved a lot of cash and increased his profit margin by using ground cubata pods as a protein source. He is also experimenting with parota seed which must be toasted and ground to be edible. The best part is that he hired local kids to the pods collect for him. It’s great to see them excited about doing something a little radical (no one else is interested in these campo food sources) for their own prosperity.
Felipe has been building rooms for his sows on Sundays after he puts in his 60 hour week. The sows seem very pleased with them (whoops– mood speculation). They weathered the first rains with ample dry space and they have a nice mud bath! Also, we have lost only one piglet to crushing as opposed to the three Empire smooshed last time due to insufficient space.
In the afternoons I give them their lunch and a shower. The piglets are already fighting each other and rolling around in the food. There is much squealing, mud digging and play; pig happiness. Imagine! Felipe managed to raise happy, healthy marketable pigs all by himself.

Bomba

Bomba went blind because he had 24 fingers and toes; an extra digit on each appendage. Actually, it was the amputation the caused the blindness. His grandmother chopped them off with a machete. He was eight month’s old. He says she didn’t like the way they looked; they looked bad. When asked whether she meant bad, as in evil (belief in witchcraft  is prevalent in La Tigra), or aesthetically bad. He says, “Just bad.”

I remember well the first time I saw Bomba. I could tell immediately there was something unusual about him, but it was hard to determine what it was. Was he blind? He walked all over La Tigra unaided, but strangely, maybe it had something to do with his feet? After hearing his story I realized it was both. Continue reading

Empire

I have failed more since living in Mexico than in the rest of my life put together. Good examples; my struggling garden and abysmal Spanish. It is, however, making a living that is by far the hardest part. If you consider that we’ve lived without running water, a toilet, and went for almost a year with no electricity, you have an idea of how difficult it is for the average person to make money in Mexico. The evidence was certainly clear prior to our arrival. This is a photo of our first bathing facility.

our first shower

our first shower

Felipe left Mexico for the U.S. at 18 and lived there illegally for 12 years in hope of a better life. Of his friends and family,  nearly 75% of have  risked their lives for a more prosperous future in the United States. We all know that thousands of Latin Americans (an estimated 350,000 Mexicans) a year cross the border illegally. As it now costs $7,000 to pay a coyote (runner) to deliver you across the U.S. border safely, (Felipe’s trip 18 years ago required three attempts) it is a measure of the desperation for decent pay and reasonable work.

I will tell what I know to be the truth about this situation.

Why the desperation? Though minimum wage in Morelos is only 75 pesos a day, about seven dollars, the average rate of pay  is 150 pesos(about 13$) for  10 hours a day, six days a week to make the average weekly income 900 pesos, approximately $80.  If you are fortunate enough to find work. Steady work is especially scarce.

This is an idea of what basic essentials costs here:

Milk- 35 pesos a gallon  ($3.25)
Electricity- 200 pesos per month ($18)
Water service – 100 pesos per month or an additional 200 pesos per month if you want drinking water for a total of 300 pesos ($28)
Tortillas – 10 pesos per lb., with an average household consumption of 4 lbs. per day ($3.75 per day)
Eggs – 2 pesos per egg ($2.20 a dozen)
Gasoline – 40 pesos per gallon ($3.75)
Hamburger – 45 pesos per lb. ($4.25)
Rent – 1000 pesos per month ($90)
Total:  2,184 pesos ($153.20)
(Approximated conversion)

It is not difficult to see it’s not possible to live on 900 pesos a week when the average tortilla consumption, the greater portion of most people’s diets, is almost a third of the weekly income. With the exception of rent, things cost the about the same as they do in the U.S., although most luxury items cost more and are of lower quality. Products like coffee, technology, and shampoo are the kinds of things I bring back from the US for this reason.

Although Felipe has undertaken every form of work available, (and manufactured numerous others from his creative and resourceful mind) were it not for the small payment (500 pesos a week, $48) on an investment we sold, and the fact that we have no bills, we would be forced to return. Soon this payment will end, and we each have projects that we hope will succeed in filling the gap. I have recently finished writing a memoir about our experiences in Mexico, and Felipe is raising pigs.

This is Felipe’s sow, Empire. He bartered for her. He and a neighbor made mescal in a homemade still, and he paid with his product, mescal’s market value is solid in our community.  With Empire, he plans to build his pork enterprise. As the photograph reveals, she rose to the challenge by birthing 13 healthy piglets.

Empire

Raising pigs requires much more labor than feeding them twice a day. Felipe has spent a month of hours researching their health and nutritional needs, and, as seems to be the case with our animals, there is frequently drama. Pigs are high-strung creatures. When the first rains came, the piglets got wet, muddy and cold, they responded by screaming, which agitated Empire so much she started attacking them. Felipe spent a drenched afternoon, catching, cleaning and warming piglets, as he cooed to his overwrought sow that everything was okay. I think she has a crush on him. She isn’t interested in other humans, unless you have papaya. Perhaps it is because he massaged her belly to assist her birthing rather than giving her an injection to speed up labor, which is the standard practice. Felipe avoids any unnecessary medication.

This week he castrated his boars. Male pigs must be castrated or their flesh is gamey. I assisted him with his first litter — it was horrific. It was the most brutal act I have ever committed. It was easier on everyone this time because his friend Lolo replaced me as assistant. Incredibly, they all ran around that very night, as if nothing had happened.

Felipe has an ambitious, zero-waste vision for his pig empire that involves using their waste to make compost to grow the pigs’ green food. He will also raise fish to supply the protein and calcium needs of the pigs – the pricier portion of their diet. His production goal is to make and sell high-end, cured pork products (i.e. prosciutto, bacon, and a variety of specialty sausages), thereby increasing his profit margin and alleviating the need to send his animals to market. A practice neither of us are comfortable with. The only products of these kind are low quality and high-priced, or the ubiquitous, locally made longaniza, which anyone that has ever had a decent hot dog or bratwurst eventually tires of. Based on this fact and the experience of ordering a charcuterie platter in a fine dining establishment in Tequesquitengo and being served raw turkey hotdogs with my serrano ham and saltines, we feel the market is wide open.

In terms of making a living in Mexico I am afraid I must say it is the antithesis of very simple, or very easy, but the life at least is very good.

Do you have any questions about what it is like to live as an undocumented worker in the U.S., or why he decided to return to Mexico to live knowing how difficult it would be? Felipe would be happy to tell you about his experience there and his reasons for leaving. You may find his responses surprising.