San Marcos de Cutris is a rural town in the Northern Zone of Costa Rica. Located 30 kilometers down a long, winding dirt road, it is unmistakably an agricultural community; the majority of the estimated 400 people who live in San Marcos, and in the surrounding towns, work on family farms or at local pineapple plantations. Days are either long and hot or wet and rainy in this beautiful blend of abundant farms and rain forests. Statistically, the Northern Zone is one of the most marginalized and impoverished regions of Costa Rica. In this region, there are also very few opportunities for women to financially contribute or support their families.
BRICKS TO BREAD COSTA RICA PROJECTS
Perez matriarch, Cristina, creates beautiful artisanal woven crafts and plants an array of orchids on her property. At the time the bread oven was built she raised chickens and ducks in order to sell their eggs and meat. Unfortunately, since then a large industry moved in which can sell their animals and eggs at a lower price. Prior to 2012 her husband, Perez, took care of a large forest reserve that has since been purchased by another large corporation and closed. Two of their sons work long, hard hours in the local fields of nearby pineapple plantations. Their adult daughter, Laura, who had previously worked as a nanny in San Jose, now lives at home and helps with the family chores.
Cristina and Laura are two of the few lucky women who are able to provide something most women can’t. The Pérez family loves their oven. They bake on the weekends, heating the oven up to 600 degrees to bake sweet breads. They make over 800 empanadas, cinnamon & pineapple rolls, corn biscochos and other basic breads each time they fire up the oven. They take special orders for pizzas, cakes, doughnuts and specialty breads, selling to neighbors and nearby farms. They currently have a 50% profit margin, earning roughly $50-70 each time they bake. Their long-term goal is to have a food license with a local brand that will allow them to sell and distribute to more communities, local stores and cafeterias with demand high enough to bake at least three times a week ($7,700 annually). With the average income in San Marcos being $3.00 an hour, earning more than $6,500/year would be a considerable achievement for the Pérez women. Without this opportunity it is hard to say how the Pérez Family would make ends meet.
The oven has also become a directional marker and a community gathering point. Every Christmas Cristina and Laura host a Christmas party for the children in the community.