Spending even five minutes reading world “news” these days can be soul crushing and make you feel like goodness in the world is gone. But then you meet people that move through the world in a way that gives you hope. One of the best parts of traveling is chance encounters with people you’d never have met if you stayed in your own city, country, and comfort zone. Since we began staying near Lake Chapala in Mexico, we have fallen in love with the most delicious chipotle goat cheese we have ever tasted! The flavor is undeniably impeccable; so much so that when I ran out of crackers I had to find something else to put it on. I tried it on tortilla chips. Amazing! When I ran out of them, I may have just licked it off the knife. Each week, I look forward to going to the market and renewing our supply. As I relayed my love of their product to the vendor, she mentioned that they gave tours of their farm. I knew I wanted to go. I have always adored goats. Back in my punk rock, volunteering on a reservation days, I even had a goat named Darby Crash! I wasn’t sure if my family would be as enthusiastic as I was, especially at the prospect of doing some milking! However, I am fortunate that my family is generally game to take any adventure with me that I can come up with. The next time we saw the vendors, Juan Diego and Laura, we told them we were in and that we couldn’t wait to visit their farm.
Juan Diego had told us that the tour of the farm also included treats! As it turned out, the best treat was getting to know them. We met Juan Diego and Laura in Ajijic and followed them out to the ranch. The drive from Ajijic to Mezcala is excitingly beautiful and bumpy. Mexico is notorious for its unmarked speed bumps, topes, and although we encountered some along the way, we mostly encountered what I called inverted topes, essentially huge potholes. It was impressive watching the cars in front of us navigate the potholes effortlessly by weaving from one side of the road to the other. The scenery along the roadside is unlike any I have seen, to the right the mountain has flowering trees all the way to the top, to the left a stunning view of Lake Chapala and the historic Mezcala Island. Much sooner than expected, we arrived at the ranch. Along with a few other tourists visiting the ranch that day, we were welcomed with fresh fruit, goat yogurt, and granola. After enjoying our delicious snack, Juan Diego instructed us to wash our hands before feeding the goats to protect them from our human germs. The goats’ favorite snacks were the leaves of the plum trees growing all around the ranch. They gently ate from our hands and some were super affectionate and loved being petted… others not so much.
After feeding, Laura freed the goats from the pens to wander among us as we climbed up the hillside. At the top, Juan Diego introduced us to their “office” – large rocks for sitting, a small fire pit, and a magnificent view. Juan Diego started sharing the story of how the Galo de Allende farm came to be. He found the property while hiking and knew it was the perfect place to raise goats. He was already a cheese maker and for many reasons the next logical step was to raise their own goats, which would offer them a fresh supply of milk. What struck me the most during the conversation was how intentional Juan Diego and Laura are about their place in the community and the natural environment. Buying land is generally not an option in Mezcala if you are an outsider. Juan Diego, along with his mother, had to meet with the village elders and convince them their intentions were good, they would not harm the land, and they would contribute in a positive way to the community. These are the very values that permeated endless conversations I had in the US Pacific Northwest in the 90s. Many of us had a shared vision of how things could be. But instead of sustainable community development, I watched corporate greed completely destroy the areas I loved.
When I went to the Galo de Allende ranch, I hadn’t expected to see a successful business model that was actively focused on giving the best care available to the animals, protecting the land, and providing jobs for a community that has an extremely high rate of poverty. As if that isn’t all amazing enough, it was also incredibly inspiring to meet people that had forsaken the traditional modern lifestyle to go back to small batch cheese making and ranching. A huge part of my work over the past fifteen plus years is coaching youth and young adults to find and follow their dreams. To the depths of my heart and soul, I believe that quality of life is more important than making a bunch of money, fitting into the status quo, or doing what is expected by the current measures of many societies. As Laura and Juan Diego talk about their plans for the future and how they got to where they are; their eyes sparkle and their smiles widen. Their gentleness, intentionality, happiness, and generosity are contagious. I wonder how much more peaceful the world would be if more people followed their dreams and lived their passion? I am not sure if they realize it yet, but Juan Diego and Laura are an inspiration to others. I am honored they shared their dream, ranch, and delicious food with my family! If you happen to find yourself near Lake Chapala, look them up (https://www.facebook.com/galodeallende) … you will be glad you did.