How a Mango Turned me on to Slow Rainforest Food!

I remember when I was a little kid growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and I would watch my MOM gobble down these green mushy “fruits”, all cut into little squares inside their perfect little natural bowls. She would drip lemon and salt over the chunks and slowly savor each and every bite. I could tell how much she was enjoying this mysterious food because she would smile like she was in heaven. So,  eventually, I got curious and asked her for a bite. Oh, I sighed, this is good… Now I get it.

That was the first time I tried the amazing AVOCADO, not knowing then that it grew all over the rainforest in Costa Rica.  I don’t think we ever went to the grocery store again without me asking for them. They weren’t always available so I learned young that avocados are  a special treat. This remains true today. Even though  I live in the rainforest and have avocados trees in my backyard, they are not always in season. Sometimes I still do without.  Whenever I germinate avocado seeds for tree production, I think of my Mom and all those avocado seeds she would stick with toothpicks and try to sprout in glass jars in our kitchen window. I wondered why she tended those vines when they could never become a tree since Louisiana was still not the right climate for growing avocados. I guess it was just “fun”.

My Mom introduced me to other kinds of fancy food from the rainforest, which at the time, I just did not understand how precious they really were. I also remember those special little while round discs MOM would toss into our salads. I never really knew what they were but I knew I liked those special white nuggets in the salad.  I remember when my Mom showed me the can with the “HEARTS OF PALM” inside. I could not believe something so yummy could come out of a can. I would search longingly for it every time we went to the grocery store, not knowing then that hearts of palm are a rainforest treasure I would one day grow by the thousands.

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It’s funny how I never knew that hearts of palm actually came from a palm tree. Yea, the words were there, even written  on the can, but I never truly “got it” that these delicacies came from the center of a palm tree.

When I moved to Costa Rica 15 years ago, I was stunned and dismayed to hear that each and every palm only gives one heart of palm. Once cut, a new palm will only regrow from a new palm tree. It does not regenerate out of the stump. Again, this could seem obvious to some, but I had to move across the world and discover this hard truth for myself.  Once I understood how  over exploited  the rainforest palms were for  this high quality nutritious food, we started replanting them in droves! Indeed, no forest would be complete without a diversity of symbiotic palms to complete the ecosystem. Hearts of palm must be replanted regularly to keep the supply sustainable.

Baby Mango trees !
Baby Mango trees !

Perhaps the most noteworthy introduction to slow rainforest food my Mom made to me was   the marvelous mango.  ( I am keeping chocloate out of this discussion because the precious cocoa tree deserves it’s own story in my book!) I met the MANGO at a special buffet offered at a fancy breakfast party I attended as a small kid, again with my adventurous MOM. I remember seeing this work of  food art decorating the fruit table. Mangoes had been  cut away from the big seed in the center then  perfectly cut into cubes while still attached to the skin. By turning it inside out,  little chunks of sunshiny goodness, all fleshy and sweet, were easy pluck off one by one.  I remember asking my MOM it it was edible or just part of the decorations.  She laughed, inviting me to sit and share it with her. I remember picking up the heavy fruit from the table, and bringing it carefully to where my MOM was sitting. After bursting with surprise that anything could be so yummy and soft, I exclaimed that I wanted to go and buy a mango tree and plant it that very afternoon on the way home from the brunch. My Mom just laughed again and explained that mangos  only come from tropical countries near the Equator where the rainforest grows. She explained how mango trees take a long time to grow. She told me how generous they were once grown because they give hundreds of fruits per year. I marveled at how anyone could have a mango tree in their backyard.

So I have to thank my  MOM for introducing me to fancy rainforest foods, including chocolate, one could say the “finer things in life”. Imported foods like avocadoes, mangos, hearts of palm are a regular part of my diet now. But the cool part is that I am lucky enough to have them growing right  in my own backyard! It has taken some time to get these trees going and harvest their fruits, but the wait is well worth it. Easy picking from low hanging fruit in a carefully designed tropical food forest means abundant and diverse food for export, all organic and non GMO. It is as easy as taking a stroll with a big basket. Just collect the bounty of your harvest. Because we really do reap what we sow. And with rainforest trees, we get more fancy food per hectare with the least amount of effort long term. Plus a world of other environmental benefits.

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