Last week marked the first time in three years that Pemberton farmer Alejandro Sucre had been to his native Venezuela. Needless to say, plenty has changed.
"I left Venezuela before the crisis," he said from his family home in Caracas. "I came after the crisis, and it's been quite an experience."
Sucre's reaction underplays the desperate situation currently facing the country. Since 2012, Venezuela has fallen into the depths of the worst socioeconomic crisis in its history, with President Nicolas Maduro continuing many of the crippling nationalist policies that were put in place by his predecessor, the late socialist demagogue Hugo Chavez.
It's a crisis that has touched virtually every element of Venezuelan society. Corruption is rampant. Soaring food prices have left grocery stores barren and three-quarters of the population without proper nutrition. Violent crime rates have escalated to the point of a full-on humanitarian crisis. Unemployment has hit historic highs as major corporations continue to flee the country, leaving Venezuela's economy in ruin. The list goes on.
And with the Maduro regime turning a blind eye, ex-pats like Sucre, the owner of Blue House Organics, have been compelled into action.
"People here are middle-class people, all the way down to the bottom of the pyramid, and they're really good, really hardworking people. You find their values and kindness that I haven't seen anywhere in the world, really," said Sucre. "So when you see that good people are suffering so much and the government doesn't want to change their policies ... you say, 'What can I do?'"
What Sucre has done is team up with the Fundació Barriga Llena Corazón Contento (Full Belly, Happy Heart), an organization led by renowned South American chefs that runs a soup kitchen out of a children's hospital in Caracas. Since August, Sucre has donated $1 to the initiative from every harvest vegetable box sold from his Pemberton farm, and is also working with Venezuelan-born chef Jefferson Alvarez of Vancouver's Cacao restaurant, which is sourcing organic produce from Blue House.
"When you have these institutions and you're working hard and making some money in the developed world, I think we all should try to smooth the impact of the terrible economic policies the government has implemented," Sucre explained.
And although his start-up farm has only been operating since the spring, Sucre plans to ramp up his fundraising efforts even further, committing to donate "at least" five per cent of the farm's future revenues
"Any kind of revenue the farm has, we think we should help the situation," he added.
Another way Sucre has helped from afar is through his role as a columnist for Venezuela's oldest newspaper, El Universal.
"I write about what should and shouldn't be done, and it's hard not to be confrontational," he said. "The two ways I try to help is by writing articles that aren't confrontational but at the same time talking about the importance of free enterprise."
As Maduro has tightened his grip over the poverty-stricken nation, charitable efforts have not been easy for international organizations. Emergency relief shipments from humanitarian groups such as the World Health Organization are not permitted, which has led Venezuelans both domestically and abroad to take matters into their own hands.
"We have all these beautiful vegetables growing on the farm and the people in my home country are starving," said Sucre in a recent release. "This is a small gesture, but it is important that we do something to help the children."
Blue House Organics harvest boxes are available for purchase online at bluehouseorganics.ca and can be picked up at the Pemberton Community Barn on Fridays from 3 to 6:30 p.m., and at the Whistler Farmers' Market on Sundays in the Upper Village from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The farm also delivers to workplaces with 10 orders or more.