First, gorgeous sunrise picture. The sun comes up early here – 5:15 AM or so. Much too early for my taste.
I’ve seen banana plants growing in all sorts of places, but today was the first time we toured a banana plantation. After seeing all the work that goes into producing a bunch of bananas for sale, I am SHOCKED that they sell so cheap.
Our tour today was at Bunches of Fun Banana Tours, which is a working banana farm that exports to the UK. Along with every other banana farm in Belize, they have an exclusive contract with a company called Fyffes.
I am SO thankful we did the 8 AM tour. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but it is HOT here this time of year. Even early in the morning, we were some sweaty folks.
On arrival, Rosemary, our tour guide, gave us “pretty hands” bananas to try. The baby was all about it.
Then, a stop for a quick TV presentation on the history of bananas in Belize, and after that – off to the plants!
(Asa playing peekaboo with a banana leaf.)
(A very warm Logan and Ami.)
Each banana plant produces one bunch of bananas, puts out several little baby plants around its roots, and then dies. Farm workers select which of these baby plants they’ll help grow into a new plant, which will produce a bunch of bananas, put out several little baby plants, and then die… the circle of banana life.
Workers demonstrated how they cut the spent plant away as it gives its nutrients to the new plant.
(Old banana plant cross-section, newly cut.)
(Inside of new banana plant, showing the bright green leaves unfurling.)
When the banana plant flowers, workers begin monitoring for fruiting. After only a few days, the flower forms a large bunch of bananas comprised of multiple “hands”. In banana lingo, each banana is called a finger. These bunches are tied off with a strip of pest-repellant blue ribbon, each hand is individually bagged to create a favorable microclimate, and then the whole shebang is bagged in a large sack. The flower, having outgrown its usefulness, is sliced off of the bottom of the bunch.
Rosemary peeled back the petals of a banana flower, showing us the miniature immature bananas within that would never ripen into edibility. Ami was enthralled.
(Banana flower splayed open to show rows of immature bananas within.)
(Ami holding the banana flower and marveling at the teeniest of teeny immature bananas.)
The bagged bunches on the plants take about 8 weeks or so to ripen, at which point they are further swaddled with soft cushions — after all, only the best fruit can be sold to overseas markets — sliced from the tree, and sent on a man-powered banana zip line to the packaging plant.
(Us posing with the banana zip line.)
(Video of the banana joyride.)
In the packaging plant, the “hands” are sliced from the bunches and are then further broken down into “clusters” of 5-6 bananas each, depending on the purchaser’s specifications. Any bananas with major imperfections are jettisoned for compost, while bananas with minor imperfections are designated “second-class.” I guess that makes the compost bananas steerage bananas?
We weren’t allowed to take pics in the packaging plant, though Ami did get to put stickers on some of the bananas waiting to be packaged.
Then, back to the visitor’s center, where I ate my weight in freshly fried banana chips.
Fascinating tour, and really makes me think about banana prices and what they say about the value we place on labor.