Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

01 May, 2007

Chachagua: GEMA Medicinal Plant Processing Facility

The Women of GEMA
Shown here are Milia on the left and Nydia on the right, two group members. Nydia is in charge of the office and coordinating student and tourist visits. Milia, as with our group, gave us a tour and talked about the history of the group and what they do. In the future, they would like to bring more student groups like ours as well as more tourists. They are presently working on building a garden in the back of the facility in order to show student groups as part of the tour. Ideally, the group would like to be selling their products nationally and eventually internationally. But for now, poco a poco.

The Story of GEMA
This is a picture of Miguel and Milia, one of the 11 members of GEMA, standing in front of their display table and the shelves full of their products. Milia is telling the story of the group, while Miguel translates for us. When the women were starting out, their husbands did not support them at all. They thought the women were crazy for wanting to try to grow organic, medicinal plants. Because they did not like the idea, and the women had to ask their husbands for land, the men gave the group poor land to work with. However, despite this potential set-back, the group educated themselves on organic gardening/agriculture, and after several trial and errors, they succeeded.

Herbs in Bulk
Pictured here are bags of bulk tea before they are either individually packaged and prepared with GEMA´s label, or sent to MANZATE as is. There are 11 farms amongst the group members, where all of the products are grown. Each household is responsible for growing, harvesting, and drying the products before they bring them to the production facility. Once at the facility, those products are either packaged in small plastic bags or put into one pint canisters. The natural condiments are mixed and then put into plastic salt-shaker type containers.

The Herb Packing Machine
This is a picture of the compressor that packs and seals the canisters of tea. The larger canisters are not being produced in as large quantities as the smaller plastic bags of tea. The women would like to be using those as their primary packaging, however, they don´t have enough demand just yet. Right now, they are selling their tea directly to the public at very few places. Aside from the on-site facility, they also sell it at a local Eco-lodge called La Catarata, which actually has worked in conjunction with GEMA. GEMA now operates the medicinal garden of the lodge and the mother of the cook there is a member of GEMA.

GEMA: The New Building
GEMA was founded around 1995, when a group of women in a community outside of La Fortuna, decided that they wanted to do something to improve their lives. A Peace Corps volunteer came in as a facilitator and provided them with some ideas as to how they would go about doing this. Growing and selling medicinal plants was one of the ideas, and it turned out to be the one chosen by the women. The building in this picture is the four year old processing facility. When the group started out, they were located in an older, run down facility.

Medicinal Herbs Display Table
Currently, GEMA has twenty-nine products available for purchase. This includes natural condiments, as well as different kinds of tea. They also offer teapots, bags, shirts, and various other GEMA or Costa Rican souvenirs. As of now, they are not able to sell directly to the public because they must obtain approval by the government, and it cost approximately $100 per product simply to submit an application for approval. At this point, this is not feasible for GEMA, and therefore, they must sell through the company of MANZATE. They sell one kilo of loose leaf tea for roughly $3. Not only is this less money than what they could sell to the public for, but they also don´t have their own label and their teas are being mixed with non-organics.

Author: Claire Wingerd