Last week, school age SITAG kids went on an amazing field trip to Kokonut Pacific. Because all of these kids usually live in a village, they are all familiar with coconuts, how they grow, and how you get to the good stuff inside. This company empowers local growers so that almost the entire process of making coconut oil happens in the village, on their own schedule.
We watched as one of the women used an electric coconut scraper to extract the flesh from the coconut in about 30 seconds. Even Sarah, our fastest coconut scraper, takes several minutes to finish one coconut when she scrapes it the old-fashioned way.
After the coconut is scraped in small batches of about 15-17 coconuts, the meat is weighed and recorded before it goes over to the drying table.
If the coconut isn't dried, when it is squeezed a delicious milky substance comes out. That's what we use to make cassava pudding or to cook rice. The kind employees let us take turns moving the coconut around on what looked like a huge griddle fired by coconut shells and husks.
One of the themes throughout the whole field was "no waste". No fuel but the leftover parts of the coconuts themselves is needed to keep the surface nice and toasty. In about thirty minutes, the coconut meat is dry enough to be scraped into a cylinder.
The cylinder of dried coconut meat is transferred over to the squeezing machine. The oil runs down into the measuring cup, where it is again weighed.
And the leftover coconut meat can be reused in stock feed or baked goods.
It's toasted coconut, and that's exactly what it tastes like! Again, no waste.
After the oil is pressed out of the coconut meat, it is poured through cheesecloth and allowed to settle.
All of this work takes place under a pavilion with open sides where the breeze flows through. Many of us decided we wouldn't mind working here! After the coconut oil extraction demonstration, our group moved over to the enclosed building and met even more employees.
We learned about the small barrels of oil that come in from the villages and how they are numbered and checked for quality.
We watched one of the men as he vacuumed the oil from the small barrels and moved it into the mixing tanks.
And we marveled at the ingenuity of it all.
People living in the village who can take the coconut, one of God's most perfect creations, and turn it into beautiful, pure oil and make some money in the process.
We moved on to the "value added" department where ladies were filling small bottles of oil and making soap that caused the whole room to smell delicious.
We met Queenie who told us about the high quality and purity of the soaps - the coloring and scents are natural.
Like this beautiful batch that was drying (and made every single one of us want to touch it!). It is colored with paprika!
Cutting the soap is also done by hand with this nifty gadget.
After refilling our big 1.5 liter oil bottles for the village and a visit to the gift shop, we were hungry and ready for the lunch the tour provided.
Before the teaching session began, the kids had the opportunity to try squeezing the oil.
Frank not only gave a great tour, but his lectures were fascinating to all of us. I was curious what kind of educational background would be needed for this line of work, so I asked!
A bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Community Development have equipped him to lead this fine operation.
He showed the kids dirt, let them run their hands through it, and talked about what makes "healthy" dirt.
He talked about the history of organic agriculture and the fair trade movement and why they are both so important, especially with the history of blackbirding in the Solomon Islands.
He finished up discussing quality assurance, trust, and good stewardship...
...lessons that apply not only to making coconut oil, but to living life.
When the classroom session concluded,
we refreshed ourselves with green coconuts to drink.
We're so grateful for the opportunity to learn about and support an organization like this, one that "brings the factory to the villagers instead of taking the villagers to the factory".