This is the Morning Tempo podcast. I’m your host, Robonzo. On this podcast, I have conversations with business owners and the entrepreneurial with the slant toward creativity. It’s an opportunity for you to learn, with me, from people who are finding success in the business world, all intended to make your entrepreneurial journey a little bit easier.
Welcome to another episode. Thank you for sticking me in your earbuds or playing me on your speakers today. I’m honored. It’s been a while since I’ve had a new episode. November of last year 2020 the lost year, as I’m recording this, it is January 26th. You’re hearing it in February, early February hopefully if everything goes as planned in the year 2021. Yeah, last episode was with Max Branstetter of Max Podcasting. It was a cool episode. You should check it out. But this one is with a local gal here in Panama, where I am located in Central America. Not in Miami. Not in South America. Central America. ,I make fun I probably would have said or thought one of those two way back when before I lived here. But Jacqueline Bedke is the principal of Tierra Mia Organicos, a farm located not terribly far from where I am by the beaches. She is my guest for this episode. Tierra Mia is known today as a free range organic chicken and egg producer. I don’t recall who introduced me to the company, but I’ve been a fan for a while as I’m a fan of organic free range chicken and all things organic, when I can get my hands on it. Or all things that are grown and harvested and sold with care. That’s what I’m a big fan of. For last Thanksgiving 2020, the lost year, I decided to cook a free range chicken, which I got from Tierra Mia. Just before the holiday Jacqueline, before that holiday, Jacqueline invited me to come up and see the farm, so I took a neighbor and good friend of mine, Edgardo with me, and I was blown away. I think he really enjoyed it too. But I was blown away by what Jacqueline has created. She gave us a wonderful impromptu tour showing us the many hen houses and pastures, the egg inspection prep and packaging lines, the land rehabilitation projects she’s got going on there. That day she also shared with us her philosophy on organic and sustainable farming and she let us take some pics with one of our hens, which I will post in the show notes of this episode. I think it’s worth seeing. We both look pretty happy, me and the hen; and Egardo too. Maybe I’ll put Edgardo up there. Tierra Mia supplies eggs and chicken to major grocers in Panama including Riba, Smith, Deli Gourmet and Organica. These are all big names here. And luckily for me, does consumer deliveries for the local community, which has been super nice during this time of the pandemic which rages on as um, as I record this. The company ethos, as per the website is, reads like this in Spanish. Let’s hope I get my pronunciation right. Todos los días, vamos a trabajar con la esperanza de hacer dos cosas; Compartir alimentos frescos y saludables con su familia y ayudar a que el mundo sea un poquito mejor. And in English, Every day, we go to work hoping to do two things; share fresh, healthy food with your family and help make the world a little bit better. Jacqueline told me after our conversation, there were a couple things, she was like, she forgot to mention. She was frustrated. But among, one of them being among the guidelines for the business are the health of its consumers. She actually does mention this. And she also says the animal welfare, and it’s pretty much implied in our conversation, but these are among some key guidelines for the business. She also, I don’t know that we talked much about this, but she plans to start growing veggies again. They currently use rotational pasture of their hens, the rotational pasture of their hens for growing rice and corn, whereby the chickens clean their growing space out for planting. And she’s working out a similar system for growing vegetables. This won’t be her first rodeo with vegetables but it’s been a while which you’ll hear. In this conversation though, I wanted to learn about and share Jacqueline’s story and tell the story behind her business. I feel like she and I totally accomplished this and consequently, I didn’t dig too deep into her personal habits or insights as a business owner, which I kind of try to do in these conversations, although this comes out somewhat organically. But this is a story of real inspiration. Jacqueline pursued a dream, faced adversity and has come through the other side a shining star of the local business community here in Panama. She is doing things with a purpose of ethics with principle and dare I even say, with a kind of spirituality. I’ve not shared this with her but the day we met in person at the farm, as my friend Edgardo and I listened and walked with her through the farm, learning about the operational parts of the business and her philosophy. I was in a bit of awe. We didn’t even know one another that well, but she struck me as a smart, class act fighter. When you hear her story here, when you hear her story, I think you will agree. You can find Tierra Mia Organicos at TierraMiaOrganicos.com, or punto com, and on Instagram at TierraMiaOrganicos. Okay, I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. Here is me. And Jacqueline Bedke of Tierra Mia Organicos.
Thank you for making time to join me first of all, I really appreciate it, because I know you were kind of nervous about doing this.
Jacqueline Bedke 6:26
Yeah, I’ve never done this before. But thank you for inviting me.
Sure. Well, hopefully, next time, hopefully someone else will hear you. And this will be the beginning of a long history of people wanting to interview you on podcasts or something.
Jacqueline Bedke 6:43
Yeah. So I was looking back at my photos on my phone and I was trying to remember, when did we go? I feel like it was the holidays when I went to see your farm. It was on November 21. So it was Thanksgiving week, right? Right? That’s like the week maybe like the month that was probably like Friday or Saturday?
Jacqueline Bedke 7:03
I think so. Yeah. Yeah, because you gave a, yeah
Yes, I was.
Jacqueline Bedke 7:08
You gave me an order for Thanksgiving.
Yes, I was so excited to have an organic whole chicken to cook for my Thanksgiving, because for those listening and don’t don’t already know this, but my wife is vegetarian. So she’s not going to eat any poultry or anything that resembles something that was formerly an animal that was alive. But so I can make a whole chicken though for myself. And you made it happen. It wasn’t easy, but you made it happen. And it was really great, by the way.
Jacqueline Bedke 7:33
Oh, I’m glad. Thank you.
Yeah. And also on that day, the tour was really great. I know, it was, you know, for anyone who listens and gets a big idea that they’re going to call you for a tour. I don’t know if you give those on a regular basis at all anymore, but it was very impromptu very, very kind of you to allow me and my friend Edgardo to come and you just did I guess sort of a maybe a little favor for us and gave us a really nice tour. I loved it. I have as you may have gathered, I have no background in the things that you have created there. But I’m very fascinated by it. Of course the the sort of whole food organic aspect of it, but the the nature of it and so many other facets that we’ll get into in the conversation. But let’s for the first thing I want to ask you is to go back. And have you refresh my memory and enlighten listeners of this podcast as to where you grew up.
Jacqueline Bedke 8:28
Oh, wow. That that that could take an hour? No, um, well, my background is very mixed. You know, I was I kind of traveled a lot. I mean, I was all over the place. But I grew up in Europe, I say Europe because it was between countries. So I was originally born in Vienna, Austria, and in the city. But you know, raised by single mom. And so for a long for quite frequently I would actually be moved to my grandparents house as well in Slovenia. So I was kind of between those two countries for my first few years and and during, when I was living in Slovenia, my grandparents also lived in the city, but they had rented like a little if you could call it apartment on a traditional farm. And so I spent a very significant amount of time on that farm during my childhood, and then I moved a lot later on when I was a little older and I moved to Canada and all sorts of places, but I started off between if you want to call it Austria and Slovenia.
Okay, so I would imagine that the the farm aspect of it was very memorable, but so as to dedicate more of our time talking about your farm here in Panama. I’ll try and just ask, keep ask you this question in a way that maybe is a little brief, but what is are your fondest memories of your youth in those areas of like Central Europe and between Austria and Slovenia?
Jacqueline Bedke 10:13
I think that farm and the farm was, my grandparents were mountaineers and and as I said, I was predominantly raised by them actually, somewhere in between them and my mother. And so the farm, where the farm was located was actually kind of like the it was kind of like a stop between just before a valley in the in the Slovenian Alps where my grandparents loved to mountaineer. So for them, it was kind of a stop to then start going up the different peaks all the time, you know, they love to do that. And so for them, it was that but for me, it was the farm. So and I think just the times in between our, you know, mountaineering trips, that was that’s what I enjoyed the most, I wasn’t big into the mountaineering as much because I just love green, everything that’s green, and the the peaks and the Alps are just, you know, bare. So I enjoyed it up until the end of the forest line. And then after that, it was like, Okay, do I have to? Wait, no, I’d say when I was a kid. But everything else that was below the forrest line and that was green and lush. That’s, I that was just, I loved it. And those are my best memories.
Wow, so for a city boy like me and maybe anyone else who listens who grew up in suburbia. When you say mountaineering, are you talking about like hiking? Or is there something a little more when you said your grandparents were mountaineers? What does that mean? Exactly?
Jacqueline Bedke 11:53
Okay, so um, yeah, that’s a good question. It was hiking. But the, the Slovenian Alps are pretty technical when you get higher up, so that we never had to take, even though my grandfather you have used ropes before and stuff, but when he would take me it was never with ropes or anything like that. But in the peaks, they already actually Slovenia, it is mountaineering is such a huge part of the culture, that the ropes, they have permanent, you know, cables and stuff on a lot of those peaks, you don’t actually have to bring any of your own gear. [Wow. That sounds amazing.] Yeah and there’s, you know, it’s pretty upright in a lot of places where you look down like hundreds of meters. So yeah, it gets a little scary, but I was used to that. So I didn’t find it scary. Now, I would find it scary. So yeah.
Wow. Sounds lovely. Okay, let’s jump to your studies in biochemistry. I was both fascinated and, I want to use the word delighted when you mentioned this during that the tour that we did, because as I mentioned, my wife has a somewhat similar educational background in the sciences. And I’m thinking, Oh, man, she would really appreciate all this stuff. But tell me about your studies and maybe where your career touched some of the biochemistry things and other things that you did in school.
Jacqueline Bedke 13:22
Okay, well, I did my studies in Canada. So I finished my high school there. And then I had to figure out what I wanted to study. And you know, couldn’t really figure out what I wanted to do. Because you know, when you’re young and you’re not exposed to everything yet, so you can’t really make any good decisions. I wanted to be a vet. And then I decided I didn’t want to be a vet, because it was just too painful. I was too involved with the animals. And then I was kind of stuck. I didn’t know what to do. But then I discovered I was a big health not always, you know, my grant, my father gave me this book once it was called I remember the Earl Mindell’s Vitamin Bible. And I was fascinated by it because Earl Mindell is a is a biochemist. And he was he wasn’t just about what vitamins, you know, there, there are, but he would talk about what vitamins you can take in order to help improve your metabolism for this for that, you know, everything from hair loss to you know, whatever, and then he wouldn’t even go further than vitamins. People would talk about, you know, other therapeutics, and he was, for my knowledge, one of the first people that really, I think, got into the whole era of you know, nutritional supplements and so on that weren’t just herbs but it was more beyond that. It was real biochemistry. And I was fascinated by it. And then I took a biochemistry course in university when I still didn’t know what it what I wanted to do, and I was just like, this is it. I need to do this. This is so cool. I remember the first lab project we did, we are isolating caffeine from black tea, and I was like, Oh my god, that is so cool. I don’t know why I thought it was cool. But I needed to learn that because I felt like it was the basis of life. And I’ve always been I loved life, I loved everything that was green, I loved everything that was alive, that already from an early age. So when I felt like I was learning the basis of life, that’s when I said that I have to study that.
So there’s, I guess, a good connection here. I’m trying to remember the name of the, I think it was a paper or something very specific to your studies, forgive me for not knowing you have your studies, do you have a Master’s or PhD?
Jacqueline Bedke 15:37
I don’t have either because I focused on technology. So I have a degree in chemical and pharmaceutical technology, because I like the whole aspect. And then I did an undergrad degree in biochemistry in another university. So I really like the practical and the lab aspect of it. And I didn’t want to go into research, I considered it but then I decided not to. So I worked a lot in industry.
Oh, I was gonna blame my lack of knowledge on this, what I’m about to reference on the fact that I only have a bachelor’s degree. But you know, now I should know, right? Because we’re kind of we’re not that far apart. But other than that, I also did not study in the sciences. But you did some sort of work in university on tropical soil improvement.
Jacqueline Bedke 16:23
Yeah, I did. So I started off in the whole, you know, vitamins, pills, things farm to that farm, I thought it was really cool. And technology, so it was mostly analytical chemistry and so on. So I started it at a technical college for that. And then then I went to Wealth University, and then I started studying biochemistry and I was kind of in the whole thing, you know, the lab and this and that, and I loved it. But there came a point I was always an environmentalist, there came a point where, where I was concerned about the environment. And I felt like I needed to do something with the environment. So I started, even though I was in the biochemistry, and actually I did a minor in molecular genetics. There came a point where there was one course that we had to take that was we had to just do a thesis and a research project. And I don’t know how I came across it, but it came across as something that was called Terra Preta, which is, which is an anthropologic soil based in Brazil. I had no idea that ancient Indians used to create their own soil. I was like, Wow, what is this? And so my advisor had a background in soil science and soil microbiology, that was his, Dr. Trevor’s was his name. And that was his big thing. So and he had a very open mind about anything that was a little different from the norm, scientific norm. So I decided to study that. And it just, it just got me into a path that was amazing. And enlightning. I was just amazed by, I was just amazed by what I was discovering that you could actually, that human beings have in the past had the technology and the know-how to improve, you know, tropical soils, which is one of the basis of deforestation in Brazil in other places, because for some reason, and this is another thing I discovered was that you cannot do regular agriculture in the tropics. Because the first of all the soil is different, the environment is different, you have torrential rains mixed with extreme dry seasons and droughts. So it devastates the soil and you cannot do traditional agricultural, you shouldn’t do traditional agriculture, because the soil just after a while it doesn’t it doesn’t support it for a very long period of time. And I didn’t know that back then either because I had never lived in the tropics. And so it was it, amazed me that that ancient Indians knew how to, you know, live in harmony with their soils and even improved it and created fertile soils that they were able, that people are still mining today. In Brazil, they’re mining the soils. Yeah.
Wow. Fascinating. So I think this is a nice tie in then to the fact that you move to Panama where you are now, and you are farming in, for all practical purposes, in a tropical environment. So these things seem to have led you quite nicely here, which I think will become more apparent with some of these questions, but in my, when did you move to Panama?
Jacqueline Bedke 19:38
I moved to Panama in 2004. [Okay.] I have no idea how I got here. So don’t ask me. It was just, I don’t know it was one of those serendipitous moments. I don’t, it’s just bizarre how one thing led to another and I ended up here.
Okay. [Yeah] So I had gathered, I’m just reading the Tierra Mia website, and I’ve gathered that things sort of started in 2004. Now did the farm start in 2004, or did that come a little bit later?
Jacqueline Bedke 20:05
The farm started a little later, once they moved here, which is, you know, Northern spring, if you want to call it spring of 2004. I was, I ended up marrying a person who was in, who was in, in real estate. So I’ve always wanted to have a farm because you know, this whole childhood thing about farms. And then, so he was always looking for good deals and and land happened to be really cheap here at the time. And it was like a big boom in real estate, we were in real estate boom. So we were always looking for a piece of land, we got one very quickly, and I believe it was around the end of 2004 where that we got this piece of land, but you know, as a process, because we had to, you know, we had to buy it and we bought it, you know, right of possession, we had to title it. So it was a whole process. So I didn’t begin actually working, we didn’t actually begin working on the farm, I believe until 2005 at the beginning of 2005.
Well, you didn’t waste much time. I’m sure the land acquisition in and of itself was quite a quite a process. So I also gathered in, you can tell me how accurate this is. But from the website that the farm started out, with or including, or maybe exclusively I don’t know, in organic vegetables, but today, clearly it looks like it’s super focused on on poultry, chickens, and eggs. And corn if I understand right, and maybe some other things, but has, can you talk a little bit about the evolution of what you’ve been doing there versus what what’s happening today?
Jacqueline Bedke 21:53
Yeah, um, well, we had this piece of land, we didn’t really know what we wanted to do with it. It was during the time where land was so cheap, and, and we wanted to have a family farm. So it was, you know, we had no idea what we’re gonna do with it. I was just happy i’d a piece of land and
How big is the, how big is theproperty by the way?
Jacqueline Bedke 22:13
It’s about eight hectares. [Okay] Yeah, it’s around eight hectares. And so, um, we surveyed it, we put a road in that was it had nothing on it, it just had like an internal road, didn’t even have a gate. It had a rope, it didn’t have a gate. So, um, I was like, Okay, well, I have this piece of land, I know how to do I, you know, I, I studied theoretically, how you improve soil, and the soil was completely degraded, because it was part of this whole culture here, where they keep nature at bay with with a yearly burning. So here, because it’s the easiest way to keep, you know, what they call the monte, in order to keep the shrubs down and all the weeds because, you know, in land here in the tropics, if it’s not forest, it turns very quickly into impenetrable bush. So one of the ways that they keep this, you know, clean as they call it, and, you know, making sure there’s no snakes or whatever animals is they burn it yearly, every dry season, they burn it and they burn it and burn it. And what happens is with the burning you you, you degrade the soil tremendously, you know, you’re you’re killing the ground cover, oh, oh, and they obviously cut the trees as well. So so it was one of those pieces of land that was just has been continuously cut and burned throughout its, I don’t know, very long history. And not only that, this piece of land is in an area that’s interesting because it’s has very, very high clay content. And this clay is used here by locals to mine for clay to make pottery, pottery, okay, and so also not only that, what they do is they have dug holes in it to harvest the clay. So there’s tons of holes in this, which I didn’t show you because this was during the it was it’s actually in the forest. So we have these huge pits. The first thing that I did was to regenerate. I realized how important trees are in tropical agriculture. So the first thing I did is I took the transition zone which is the area between the forest and the plains if you want to call it, you know the open areas and that transition zone is usually the most fertile land because everything else is was impossible to grow anything. So that transition zone because it’s the most fertile because it’s closest to the trees and because it gets some of the leaf cover from the trees, you know when the leaves fall, and I planted trees there so I kind of extended the original forest that had some trees in it. Not much and a lot of bush but it had creeks through it. So it was kind of maintaining its fertility there, because Panamanians even though, you know, they do a lot of damage to open areas, they know, at least one thing that they’re good at is protecting creeks. They’re very, it’s very ingrained in them to protect creeks, so they usually don’t cut trees around creeks or bush. They always protect those. So that’s, that’s a really good thing. So, um, so yeah, so I plant a whole bunch. And it was all it was a food forest, essentially, which is all fruit trees, a lot of native fruit trees. And that was the first thing I did. And then that’s when I said, Okay, the next step was, I was a little concerned about, you know, chemical or agricultural chemical residues on on foods here in Panama. Because I know that we’re using it indiscriminately. So I decided, well, let’s see if I can do a plot plot of land and grow something. And I found the most fertile land that I could find, and I grew something there and some tomatoes and things, and I struggled a little bit. And I started improving proving the soil and I actually use those same concepts from Terra Preta from Brazil, and which is a high charcoal content, I started doing additives to the soil. And, and I grew and I had, you know, I had a good harvest. And it was for us mainly, but then, you know, I had neighbors and friends that were interested. So then I started, you know, selling something to them. And, and then later on, I thought, Hey, this is kind of cool. It’s kind of working. And I started expanding the little plot of soil. I think I showed you the original plot that we started with. So we started there. And then I said, oh, maybe I can do a little business out of this. And then I started selling these baskets to people’s homes, you know, I would get whatever, you know, what you what is called, what is a community supported agriculture. I think it’s called CSA, I believe it’s called, there was nothing like that here. There was no organic certified organic vegetables, there was nothing. So I decided I was going to grow mine. And then I had people interested and I would, you know, I would deliver baskets to people’s homes. And it kind of were kind of spread, you know, amongst the community that were conscientious enough to understand the whole, and then I had a few chickens as well. We had land we had all sorts of animals, it was kind of like a homestead farm, except we didn’t live on it. I had to travel from the city. We were still living in the city. It kind of grew into that. And, and then I would, they would have add ons, they would have, you know, they say, add a dozen of eggs, add a chicken, add a duck. I had ducks, I had rabbit. I had everything. So as a small farm, but I didn’t think of it as as so much of a business for profits. It was more like a hobby for me. And you know, I took advantage of it too, because you know, I would feed my family with it. So that’s kind of how it started.
Wow. and managing it from Panama City.
Jacqueline Bedke 28:00
Yes, I traveled every day.
Wow. I know that well. I’m guessing in the beginning, that was easier to do than it is today. But still, that’s a good amount of time on the road. And then you’re out there working tirelessly. I’m sure. A lot of hours.
Jacqueline Bedke 28:15
Well this was then. I had my kids. So I couldn’t really live here because my you know, I was having babies, two my two girls. And so they were in school. So I had to kind of figure out the school and then come over here and do what I have what I had to do, and then go back and be there for them. So it was Yeah, it was a bit of challenge.
Wow. Supermom. Harder than I imagined. So you made, it seems that you made a transition from having kind of a vegetable focus, and maybe you’re doing a full circle. I don’t know, but so what I saw anyway, my friend and I saw when you gave us the the grand, the 50 cent tour, was a lot of chickens. We saw the egg processing. We talked about a lot of different things, you know what the chickens eat, some of the things that you’re doing to supplement them to help them out and also about the nature that you’re dealing with there, and corn. Are you growing any vegetables today? And how’s the corn project going?
Jacqueline Bedke 29:17
Okay, so the reason why this whole focus changed was a number of things actually was a number of pressures. I had, my life changed a little bit, well, quite drastically. After went through a divorce. I had to close down the farm for a while. And like I just couldn’t, couldn’t sustain everything that I was doing at the time. So I had to shut it down for about a year, a little over a year. And then, then my whole focus changed because it wasn’t into a family kind of hobby farm anymore. It became that I had to make some my living, you know, and so I decided that it wasn’t going to be this kind of homestead farm anymore. Tt would have to be a production farm, a full full production farm. So I put all my focus into the farm and this time it really had to, you know, make, you know, sustain us to, you know, myself and the kids. So what I did was, I said, well let’s do vegetables and, you know, invest into somewhere a little bit, you know, some machinery, small machinery, and I worked the land and I did everything that I had done more of a micro scale, I started expanding and did it in a microscale. Unfortunately, that was around, I’m trying to think it was two-thousand and yeah, it was 2013. I actually moved here. We had a little bit of, a little shacks. So we were kind of camping out on the farm. I left, I left everything in the city, because I realized I couldn’t do this thing anymore. So I actually moved with my kids here. We lived in this little wooden shack, we had no electricity, nothing. We would fill up a water tank with with a generator. So that’s kind of how we lived and we had no fridge. So we had this we, I would buy this block of ice 50 pounds, I believe it was 50 pounds of ice and put it in this big cooler. And, you know, I would have that. It lasted me for about a week. That was our fridge. So and then, yeah, and then I worked on on the vegetables. And I decided well, now we’re gonna have to do really, you know, well done. And you know, I certified I certified the farm organic, all vegetable vegetables with certified organic, I approached Reba Smith and said, This is what I can produce for you. I started I had an arrangement with Reba Smith and I started selling. And that was around, when I finally started selling to me, it was around 2014. Unfortunately, what happened, just at the tail end of that year, we got a huge drought. We started, I started seeing the drought in 2014. But most people know of it in 2015, where a lot of even livestock died during that time. People, towns here didn’t have water. Not even you know, for showering, they would go to creeks, the creek dried up. They couldn’t even bathe and creeks anymore. It was it was really, really severe. It was so severe that even my well that I was using for irrigating dried up. So um, so I was kind of in a little bit of a pickle. Because my my crops just kept shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. As soon my well could only give me 15 minutes of water, you know, when I would pump into our tank, and then it shrunk to 10 minutes. And that’s when I said we’re not going to have enough for ourselves. So I had to abandon all the crops. And because I needed focus that we had water for our own consumption. And for the, you know, small amount of animals that I had a few chickens, you know, everything else I had sold when I was on the farm. So it was a severe problem. So what I had to do is, I realized I wasn’t making money anymore. I couldn’t sell during this month anymore. And so I got a job. I got a job in a real estate office. And, and I sold real estate at this, I actually had five jobs to try to make ends meet. Yeah, I still had a little bit of the farm going well, at the time it closed it off completely. But then I mean, then the second stage, which I’m going to, you know, I had that I did some consulting, I did construction, I sold real estate and I worked as the I worked in the office, you know, as the administrator of the office.
Of the real estate office?
Jacqueline Bedke 33:45
Yeah, so I did that to make ends meet for about a year. [Wow] Um, you know, all of 2015. And then I was like, I have to do something, I have this piece of land. I can’t just, you know, so at the very beg…, like, around June, July 2015. I said something, I have to do something. So I decided, well, with this small amount of water that I do have. Oh, and nobody wanted to come drill wells, because everybody was without water. So I couldn’t even get somebody to come and drill a well. And not and I had to didn’t have any funds by that anymore anyway. They wouldn’t come. They just wouldn’t come. So, um, because they were so busy everywhere else. So I decided to build a little hen house, and I put in I remember 250 hens. I said, Well, let’s see if I can sell some eggs. At least they don’t require a lot of water. So that’s what I did. So I built my first hen house. And the demand for the eggs were tremendous. Like they were just tremendous. And I realized soon that I was actually, it was less work for me, and it was giving me more income than when I did vegetables. So eventually I was able to pay everything on the farm. Just with that one henhouse. Like the work, you know, I had one worker in me. And I was like, wow, this is pretty good. So then I expanded to a second one. And I think after the second one, I was able to really quit my job. [Wow.] I mean, we lived very frugally, you know, but, but yeah, and then I said, this is it. We’re gonna do hens.
Wow. Well, I have to back up and ask you a series of questions here. I was laughing a little bit to to at the possible answer here. But what, how do your kids reflect on the early days of when you came to the farm and you’re really roughing it?
Jacqueline Bedke 35:39
That’s a good question. My oldest, who was I think she was around eight at the time. She took it a little hard, you know? Maybe just her personality as well. It was a little hard at the beginning. For her she actually got really sick with chickenpox. And when we got here, [Oh, no.] So that was kind of, you know, living in a wooden shack with a girl with chickenpox. It was not fun
Jacqueline Bedke 36:05
In Panama, in the heat, it was so hot
In the jungle pretty much
Jacqueline Bedke 36:10
In the jungle with no electricity, no air conditioning, nothing. You know? Well, uh, yeah, it was a little tough for her. It took it took her maybe but you know, she she got over it quickly. I think within four to six months, she was you know, she kind of had kind of, you know. My little one. Oh, no. You know, I always said, it’s camping. We’re camping. She was great. I mean, she was already a jungle girl to begin with, you can stick her anywhere. And she’ll just she’s fine. You know, and so she loved it. She really loves it. And she, well, my, my, my eldest there’s two, they’re both teenagers now and they’ve kind of accepted this is your lifestyle, you know, they don’t kind of fit in with the, with the rest of the crowd. You know, they’re, you know, they’re now the Zoomer generation right? They’re on social media on this, they can go anywhere. So you know, they chat with other people, but nobody has this lifestyle. So they feel a little different, but I think they’ve come to terms with it.
Okay, so one’s destined
Jacqueline Bedke 37:08
And they have a better living situation now, yeah
You do. It’s quite nice there, by the way, for anyone who’s concerned for her or her and her family. Yeah, I was joking. I was joking in my head that someone’s gonna end up in therapy, and the other one’s gonna embrace the farm and take over the family business.
Jacqueline Bedke 37:25
Yeah, it’s possible. It’s possible, I don’t know. [And then] No, but you know what, it’s a whole it’s still a wholesome environment. It’s actually helped me a lot. Being a single mom having them so isolated, especially now as teenagers is actually is actually pretty good for me right now. You know, it’s helped me be able to be, parent them better?
Yeah, sure. I’ve heard this.
Jacqueline Bedke 37:46
Maybe they’re not too happy with it. But yeah
They could, they could have it worse for sure. [Yeah] So yeah, my wife and I arrived here in 2016. We had visited in 2015. But I think that we were both actually, if I bring it up to Sami, she might recall from reading or something, she was doing most of our prepping as we’re trying to figure out where we’re going to move to from the United States. And, but for me, I won’t speak for her entirely, but I was oblivious to this big drout 2014 2015. So that’s kind of scary. Is it fair to say that the, the chickens and the eggs have made you somewhat, if not very drought resistant now as a farmer?
Jacqueline Bedke 38:30
Yes, yes. We do consume a lot of water now because, you know, we went from having one to two hen houses to now, I just built my 12th. So so now we do consume a lot of water. But, you know, with the income we received from from, you know, as as money was coming in, I was able to reinvest and reinvest. And one of the first investments I did was build another well, and we we were so lucky. This was for us, I think the biggest stroke of luck that we discovered a source of water that was abundant. Just I think if I’m not mistaken, I’m trying to remember what the correct numbers are. I think our original well give us like, nine gallons a minute if I’m not mistaken. I think we’re now at like 50,55. [Wow.] Yeah, it was something extraordinary. We had we discovered some sort of an underground vein and it’s just amazing. So I feel so blessed and I will never ever complain about too much rain ever again. It was, it was devastating. No the, drought is something that if you haven’t lived through it, you can’t understand how devastating it is. It’s just you can’t do anything without water. Everything starts dying. It’s it’s devastating. It really is. So the fact that we have a really good well right now that produces so much water and we’re able, and we have a not a crop anymore. But you know, we have, we’re producing something that doesn’t require that much water. It gives me a lot of peace. We shouldn’t ever run out of water, I’m not going to say we won’t. I say we shouldn’t ever run out of water with the business that I have the business model that I have right now, which are the hens and the chickens and the nice well. And actually, that’s one of the reasons why I have not gone back to vegetables. I’ve actually been afraid to. Well, there’s two reasons. One is I have learned that if you really want to make bringing good income, enough to sustain a farm, you have to focus on one product at a time. You cannot focus on too many. So for me, it was always eggs at first and then I received a lot of interest in chicken. People are constantly telling me, and chicken, chicken, I want chicken, there’s no chicken. And I didn’t want to do chicken, it was so much more complicated. I really didn’t want to. I said no eggs, eggs, once eggs was doing really well. I said, Okay, fine, I’ll do chicken, then I started doing chicken. And there was a huge demand for chicken. And it was good to because I had already a nice base of people that knew me from the vegetables and they trusted and what I did and not you know, word of mouth, and so on. So I never had to do any advertising or anything, it just kind of flew on its own. I’ve never done any major marketing or advertising. So it was that, you know, I count myself lucky for that. And, and so then I then I started focusing on chicken. So now we have two products with, and then the chicken, we actually start with whole chicken, then we started having different pieces of chicken, you know that we start cutting. So I think that was something that I’ve really learned through through these experiences, you have to do one product at a time, make sure it works. Make sure it’s sustainable, as best as you can, you know all the kinks in the production line from everything from whatever you’re going to do the entire, make sure it’s sustainable and solid, and then you move on to something else. So now, and and the the other part was, you know, the insecurity or the fear of running out of water, I didn’t want to do vegetables and I didn’t want to irrigate. I still have fear, every time the dry season comes, that something’s happened, we’re going to run out,
I was going to say that I sense a feeling of like a memory thing with you. Because when I ordered chicken from you, I always get asked, Do you don’t want some eggs. Because those eggs were the beginning. And they really helped you create something sustainable. And they were [Yeah] something that you felt more secure with in the beginning. But for anyone who’s listening or anyone who maybe thinks about ever moving to Panama, or even if you’re visiting, the chicken that you produce, and the eggs are amazing, I was getting very frustrated before I even, I don’t remember how I encountered your farm, but I was getting very frustrated buying chicken from the local stores. And to me, I don’t know, you know, would know a lot more about this. But to me some of the problem is they just are not as diligent here with refrigeration during the transport handoff process. That’s some of it, but I know there are other factors in store as well, but extremely frustrated at the quality. And since I’ve been ordering your chicken, I’m like I’m never going to eat that stuff from the store again. It’s so good. It’s really good. Yeah, I love it. And the I feel we feel lucky that the delivery services has been available in our in our area too. So amazing story though all the things that happened adverse adversity wise and then things that worked in your favor. But they didn’t come without a lot of hard work. Obviously five jobs, keeping things afloat during during the drought. [Yeah] I did want to ask you, so that the drought maybe has made you some like crisis resistance. So we’re in the we’ve been in the pandemic for we’re gonna we’re rolling on a year pretty quick here. Tell me, maybe that, I don’t know how impactful it was on your business. So how how has it been and did that, all those tough times with droughts, sort of maybe prepare you mentally for what’s happening now?
Jacqueline Bedke 44:35
Yeah, the drought definitely made me aware that in business things can change on a dime. Well, actually, I had two crises. One was when I had to shut down my farm. You know, the the personal crisis that I learned a lot from that as well. And then the drought. So I learned that business is, you know, is very fickle. You know, things can change on a dime. You never know what’s going to happen and I already had that mentality. I knew that need to be aware of any sign and react as quickly as possible. And when the pandemic came, actually it was funny because they closed everything down. I think it was after Carnival, people were still going to Carnival. I was already reading in the news way before Carnival about this pandemic. And actually, I had been following it. Because of being a scientist, I think I always knew we were always taught that if there’s anything that could affect humans on Earth, in a major, major upset in a major way, is a pandemic, I learned this back in school. And then I remember when President Obama would always say, you know, he was set up setting up for a potential pandemic, I remember it was in the news all the time. And I was like, yeah, that’s the right thing to do. Because we’re in any at any moment with the globalization that we have, right now. We may end up in a pandemic, again, I was so aware of that. But it was not something that was in the forefront of my mind, that was going to happen now. But I was, I knew that this could happen. And I think one of the reasons why I also probably chose agriculture in the end, was because and why I decided to live on the farm to begin with is also with my insecurity. After my divorce, I felt like, if all else fails, you know, I can grow something and eat here, you know, I won’t starve, I have a place to live, even if it’s in a shack, and I can make my own food. So I think this survival was already ingrained in me, as I said, from my first crisis. My second crisis was more you know, how to, how to set up the business in such a way that you can resist. So the first one was personal, make sure that I can have enough to eat for my family. And the second one is how to set up the business in a way that it will be will be resistant. So when the pandemic came, people need to eat. We it didn’t affect us, it really didn’t. And actually, we got to a point at the very beginning of the pandemic, where we couldn’t keep up with the demand. There was so much demand, the shelves were always empty, I would deliver today and tomorrow, they would call me, we’re out of eggs, we’re out of chicken, it was incredible. I have no idea. Like we were just trying to stay afloat. You know, with the production line, the production line. I mean, the production of the of our products. And but you know, there’s not much I could have done because it’s not something you can’t just produce more eggs on a dime, I don’t think people understand. I hadn’t produced the same amount every day. So unless I bring in a new hen, which can take about five to six months to start producing eggs, that’s how long it takes to get to expand our production. Five to six months from the day I buy the baby hens to the day you start producing, there is no way that I can expand that quickly. You know, with chickens, it’s a little easier, because it’s about two months or so. But then you have to have the space, you know, so it’s a whole, it’s the production is very. It’s, it’s complex. It’s quite complex that people don’t understand. So and then you have the other problem that you know, sometimes, you know, sales go down, and then you have to figure out what do I do with all these eggs, you know. But luckily, the pandemic made us well, they there was maybe once here around September, where all of a sudden, sales just plummeted for about a week or two. And we’re like, what do we do with all these eggs? But the rest of the year? Yeah. I don’t know why it was weird. It was just these two weeks boom. I’m not sure if it was September or October. Yeah, it was around that time. But yeah, but the rest of the time it was it’s actually been in our favor. That the production part, but in the sales. the back part was what made it very, very difficult for us was, it was a transport, getting the product to our clients. There’s supermarkets and so on, because they shut down the roads, they had these huge lines, um, you know, to get through the serco sanitario. What do you what would you call that?
We call them sanitary fences in English, English, but it’s not a, it’s basically, for people who are unfamiliar with Panama and in what’s been going on in the pandemic, so they’ll try to contain certain districts from crossing over into one another, which they’ve been marginally successful at. But one place that they can do is implement these, as they call them sanitary fences and on the highway, and try to keep people from crossing who should not be crossing just to sort of contain infection rate. So yeah, I guess that’s a good way to explain it.
Jacqueline Bedke 49:52
Right? Yeah, the problem was it wasn’t very well organized. So they did it more mostly for people not to travel from one province to another, but they kind of didn’t focus on the food trucks. So when our truck was going through, I remember that one of the first times they had the sanitary fence, I remember, Thank luckily, I have a very patient driver. He was stuck in line for eight hours. Eight hours on the highway. I kid you not eight hours, and they weren’t moving. Because it was just it was just a mess. Like it was a? I don’t know, I’m not sure what exactly, I mean, it wasn’t the only time there were many times where he stayed for five up to I think one more time eight hours. I mean, it’s insane. So that was very challenging, we would have to then leave earlier, we’d have to leave very, very early in the morning, there were times we were left at two in the morning trying to figure out how to work around that. And then sometimes we didn’t know. Was there a sanitary fence wasn’t there. And then when they reopened everything again, then it was a regular traffic that we were used to. So we had to go back to original schedule. So it was a lot. It took a lot of, you know, trying to figure out and being prepared. That was the challenging part. Really. Yeah.
Yeah. Amazing. And I guess another note for people who are listening and may be unfamiliar with Panama, we have this one highway artery currently through the country. I think I heard this week in 2040, or something the new highway, or the rail system will be complete? [Yeah.] And so when that thing gets shut down for any reason, one highway, yeah, through the entire country. It’s kind of the highway one, like in maybe California or something. But not even, I should even compare it to that. But yeah, it can get… Yeah,
Jacqueline Bedke 51:38
Yeah, sorry. There’s one more thing that people don’t understand. We have somebody that makes our feed for us. And we have our own formulas of you know, we decide what goes into our feed, and so on with our vitamins, and so on. And, and the feed truck sometimes couldn’t make it either. So there were sometimes stuck there as well. And so it was those, those parts were really challenging.
Oh I can imagine. But the pen pandemic, by and large has been, I hate to say good to you, but it hasn’t been so harsh on you in other regards, because the demand stayed up. So that’s really nice. But I’m sure that you were thinking in your head that this could be a serious problem, you know, how can I prepare, just based on your both science and life experiences, which is really cool, that you were able to do that. I really wanted to ask you, without eating too big of a chunk of the rest of your morning. Something we haven’t even touched on which I thought would be really important for people to hear who care about these things, was for you to describe a couple of things. And I know there are a lot of different facets of why your farm is what it is and why it has a focus that it touts very openly on being organic. But can you describe for people what the the in both the environment is for your chickens, and also what you alluded to about the feed, what they’re being fed? And you know, how you’re involved in that?
Jacqueline Bedke 53:07
Yeah, of course. So, um, we have, the business has for has, we have certain focus on what’s important for us, what we always try to make sure, what guides my decision making always. And one of the things is the environmental aspect, which we’ve already discussed, it’s very important that whatever I do, is we’ll never damage the environment in on the contrary, I tried to everything I do on the farm, that it has a positive impact on the environment. So that’s number one. Number two is we always try to have also a positive impact on our community. That is something that guides my decision making as well. That goes anywhere from I’m just adding that in, because it’s kind of part of what your question is, I make sure that the people I hire are propery paid that, you know, I don’t I don’t discriminate against anybody. And I actually try to hire more women actively, because I find that a lot of women do need jobs in this area, rural women, that don’t have many options. So actually, we’re I think we’re now probably at almost 80% women on the farm, which sounds weird because you’d never think of farmers being women but but I don’t know how it turned. It turned out better for me this way. I don’t know why. It just happened one day, I had a hard time hiring men and you know, there’s a lot of unfortunate part of the culture is that drinking on the weekends, not arriving on Monday, and it was it was I went through you know, some that didn’t work out for me. And then one day I just said, you know I had women that were looking for jobs, and I never even thought of hiring them, and then I decided to hire women, and then boom, it worked out really well. So now I have both, I have both and I have very, very, very good team, I’m very happy with both. But I have as I said, predominantly women everything from the quality control to even even tending the hens and working on the, on the farm and in the packaging plant as well. So um, and then the other part is for me to make sure that whatever product I produce is healthy for our consumer. That’s very important to me. So I make sure I use my biochemistry knowledge for that. I make sure that, I don’t want to have any product that could be traced, laced with heavy metals, so I don’t use, let’s say, things Oh, heavy metals, viruses, whatever, from my experiences, and from my knowledge, so I never use anything in their feed that could be what they call here, it would be flour. Yeah, it would be bone flour. A lot of people here most actually, almost all producers use a lot of bone flour, chicken flour, fish flour. In their feed.
Meal basically is the word right, like,
Jacqueline Bedke 56:21
Meal, I guess it’s that. Yeah, sorry. Harina de pescado. So it’s, okay flour. Yeah, it’s meal. yeah, bone meal. Yeah, you’re right. Um, so what they do is they essentially, you know, I assume the bone meal comes from cows, they grind up the cows, they make a bone meal out of the bones from the cow. And that’s what they add to chicken meal, to chicken feed and pig feed and all the feeds. And then for the, and they make chicken meal as well, which is a grind up and they burn whatever residues from the chicken from the poultry production. And they make chicken meal out of it, and they feed them back to the chickens. So I remember from my days, my generation went through mad cow disease in England, when it started in England, because they were doing the same thing to cows, they were grinding up cows and feeding it back to cows. And I was very interested in that. And I remember researching it, you know, extensively. And I thought, first of all, it’s insane, morally. Second of all, we obviously found that there was a component, which I believe were preons that were infectious and reinfected the cow. So at some point that can happen with chickens as well, maybe it hasn’t happened yet, but it will at some point, I firmly believe that, so it’s I make sure that I don’t add any of those kind of additives, we do not ever add prophylactic, prophylactic antibiotics or any kind of medicines actually, at all. What we do add is phytochemicals which are you know, plant based chemicals such as oregano extract, we use that as a if you want to call it a prophylactic antibiotic oregano extract. It’s essentially just to help a little bit more with immunity, especially with the meat chickens. And you know, other components, for example, with our hens we add some more a xanthophylls. So we do add some phytochemicals phytonutrients if you want to call it, to our feed, that we’re lucky to have here in Panama. Xanthophylls are a type of pigments that that are present in marigolds and plants and very, very beneficial for for health and new teens as well. lutein, which is good for the eyes. So it that works really well for egg production, none of the meals and no no chemicals whatsoever. No antibiotics, I’m very, very against antibiotics. So what we actually do is we try to work with probiotics, and not the kind of probiotics you necessarily ingest. Something I learned from my times of growing vegetables is that the bacteria that are in the environment is essentially helped to determine whether something is going to rot or something is going to decompose. They’re very different like essentially, you know what I mean? Like the bad odor or whatever, or the good odors. So we I like to fumigate with spray with… Sorry, my Spanish words coming every now and then, with probiotics to make sure that the chickens are surrounded by beneficial organisms rather than some organisms that could cause disease. So I actually start with the environment to make sure that the environment has probiotics in it. You know lacto, fermented fermented bacteria and so on, that help with with my production. And then talking about the micronutrients of the feed the corn and the soy. Yes, we do use corn and soy. But we make sure that the corn is not GMO. And how do I do that? Well, we know or at least I know that here in Panama, GMO corn is not permitted yet. Actually, I was in a discussion panel at one point when Melo wanted to bring in GMO corn to Panama, and they wanted to do trials. And I was on that discussion panel was televised and everything about why they shouldn’t and then there was a panel of why they should. So as far as I know, that project was scrapped. So I make sure that we only buy local corn, which is non GMO, we want to get to the point where we produce our own corn and I already started planting that we’re we’re right now at the point where we’re creating our own variety of corn. So I’ve been breeding my own corn this last year. And hopefully by next year, we will be able to use only our own corn. Yeah, the only component that I haven’t been able to replace, unfortunately, is the soy. So that is still in the feed. But you know, it’s a minor, essentially a minor component, it’s it’s the protein component. But so that is the, the feed is there for them. And as I said, I create the formula with the macro micronutrients. And it’s produced for us, it’s not produced for anybody else. But what we also do the part that a lot of people, we do that and we need to have some of those, we need to have a basis feed because it also has a calcium for the hens and so on. But we have then the environmental feeding, if you want to call it, which is the pasture, which is that our shrubs are edible shrubs, forages and so on. So we do that in conjunction, so we have both, so I focused that our feed is pure. And then on top of that we plant specific things for them, which they graze. So with the with the pastures, we do improve pastures, but we also have native pastures, they seem to prefer native pastures, actually. So which is a little bit difficult, because every, every place they go is different. So today, they might find this, and they will forage on this. And then when we switch them because we rotate them all the time, then they find something else. And then there’s some things that we plant that they eat like a marigold, they eat the marigolds, which are extremely high in very beneficial omega three fats and xanthophylls and lutein and so on as well. And we have moringa trees as well, which they like to forage on, but they decide what they want to forage on at the time, depending I guess, on how they feel. So that part of the of our system is very much based on another biochemist, actually, his last name is was on and he he was a French biochemist and he I very much believe in what he would say he says that our health is dependent on our soil where our food comes from. If our soil is not, you know, 100%, we won’t receive those nutrients. So he focused mostly on cattle on rotational grazing and cattle. And he believed that you need to rotate all the time, you need to have a large amount of animals in a small amount of space for a very short period of time. That was one of his philosophies. And he said you do not want to remove weeds because he said in the case of cattle, the cattle self medicates itself. If the if the cows not feeling well at the time, or whatever it feels it needs or needs to, you know, have some parasites or something that feels unwell with will find the right plant that could be maybe slightly toxic or whatever. But you know, toxins is you know, it’s just like medicines dependent, depending on the dose, so it will self medicate. And I find the same with chickens as well. I start I use that philosophy, philosophy and I use it on my hands. And I find that sometimes it will eat up an herb for instance, we have one that that is very powerful odor. It smells a little bit like they call it inaho which I’m trying to remember the English word for it. It has a very strong odor actually use it as a bug repellent. They don’t eat very much of it, but they will pick at it a little bit. It seems like it helps with their health. Yeah. So that’s kind of the global picture of how we tried to maintain the health of our hens and how we try to make sure that we follow our own, you know, guidelines.
How about this spacing that you have available for them, I thought that was something people might like to know about. And we can close up there. But so you’re rotating them around. You mentioned small spaces, but they’re really not not so small. They’ve got these, from what I saw these really large pens that they get to hang out when they’re in them, then they’ve got these sort of like, large backyards that they come out in and hang out, and I guess the majority of the day, and then they might move to another another little area. How does that work? And what does it look like?
Jacqueline Bedke 1:05:25
Yeah, I think that part is a little bit unique in our production, because I haven’t seen this before. Normally, when they do free range hens, what they do is they let them out. Well, there’s two types of free range hens I should say. One is permanent structures, which is what we we’ve done. I’ve decided on permanent structures, rather than movable structures. Movable structures, they move them around, and they move the structure to a new place, right. And then they let them out and they graze. And that’s very similar to what we’re doing. But the reason why i don’t use movable structures is because of the security, we have so many animals that feast on our on our hens, it’s just we really need to have fencing around to secure them. And I have a whole bunch of big dogs that you know, protect them as well and keep the large animals a bay, but there’s always a weasel that comes in and creates havoc in my hen houses or you know, steals them from when they’re outside as well. So security was very important because we live literally in the wilderness. We’re at the edge of town. There’s nothing for miles after this. So yeah, in the spacing, as you mentioned, so we don’t do, people that have permanent structures for their hens, as I said, they open the doors and they go into one big space. Now, we have a system set up with fencing so they can rotate spaces. So they’re in one space for very short period of a period of time. And we focus very much as i as i mentioned, on the forage and on the pasture. It’s a huge focus of mine. We always focus on the pasture, make sure they have pasture, because a lot of those free range essentially means they’re free, but they may not have a blade of grass, because they’re always in the same space. And hens are very good at cleaning up a space. They eliminate it. You leave them for a week, and there’s not a blade of grass left in there anymore. So that’s why you have to rotate and give each area enough space. And yes. They’re not huge spaces. So they, but they’re big. They’re very, very big. I think they’re pretty big. But they’re not as big as let’s say for a person that has hens in permanent structure and doesn’t have sections. So we have them all sectioned off. So they go from one section, they’re there for a day, sometimes two, depending if you know depends. And then they go to next section. So they’re always essentially on fresh grass and bugs, whatever they find.
Yeah, that’s really cool. It’s a pretty expense. I don’t think I saw the majority of it, but it’s pretty expensive operation just for the chickens, and you’re doing a lot of wonderful things out there with land, the soil, and the environment and the products that you’re bringing to people. So I really love it. I think people will enjoy hearing hearing the story too. And I’m very grateful to have gotten acquainted with you and to have you um speaking with me today like this so that we can put it on the podcast. So thank you again for your time.
Jacqueline Bedke 1:08:22
Oh, you’re very welcome. And thank you so much for having me.
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