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El Primer Encuentro de la Red de Canastas Comunitarias de Quito

ECUADOR | Tuesday, 4 December 2007 | Views [1857]

La Red de Canastas Comunitarias de Quito is part of a unique movement surging across urban settings in Ecuador.  "La Canasta" translates as basket, in this sense, a food basket.  The "Canastas" are groups of families, ranging from fifteen to two hundred families organized by region and barrios.  Founded in Riobamba nearly twenty years ago, the Canasta model was implemented as a means for families to buy food as a group, wholesale, and divide their purchases thereafter.  What began as economic incentive has now become a consumer-conscious demand regarding food quality and production.  Canasta members are interested in reclaiming food sovereignty, security, and health safety: "Coma Sana, Segura, y Soberana."  In this quest, canastas are increasingly sourcing from agro ecological, small-scale family farmers ranging from coffee producers in the selva to potato farmers in the high parámo.  This network spans from southern Ecuador in Loja, Cuenca, Machala, and small pueblos nestled among the bananaderos, to the central highlands in Riobamba, and north to Quito, Otavalo.  Furthermore, it functions autonomously, only seeking external support (whether through NGOs or government ministeries) for publicity related materials and events.  

As part of my participant research in Ecuador, I am studying the relationship between urban consumers and agro ecological farmers, in particular, how such unique producer-consumer relationships are formed, maintained, and amplified.  In addition, I am assisting a network of organic farmers, Los Granjeros Orgánicos, in documenting their history and establishing new direct market relationships with like-minded consumers.  I have become profoundly involved in my research by becoming a member of the Canasta Zapallo Verde (Green Pumpkin) which my two new roommates were formerly part of.  This enables me to eat like a queen and observe the canasta process from an endogenous perspective while establishing important relationships with other canastas, producers, and organizations.

Recently, I took part in organizing the Primer Encuentro de la Red de Canastas de Quito (The 1st encounter of the Canasta Network of Quito).  This event was a fair, meant to foster relationships and interchange ideas and products between canasta members and producers.  During this process, I volunteered to design a logo for the Red de Canastas.  The final product can be viewed at www.picasaweb.google.com/evkirwan (Album: Primer Encuentro de la Red de Canastas de Quito).  With the invaluable help of my friend Fabricio, I also sought out a seamstress in Mercado Santa Clara who produced 125 reusable shopping bags made with crude hemp and decorated with the logo, stamped in green, to sell at the fair.  Additionally, I organized for ten representatives of Los Granjeros Organicos to participate in the fair.  Unfortunately, and in a very Ecuadorian-manner, the group canceled at the last minute due to hesitations about having sufficient presentation in terms of flyers and brochures.  The preparation process involved a coordination group of about ten people who met twice a week for a month prior to the event…

The event was held on November 24, 2007, and was meant to last from 10:00 to 17:00.  A member of the Ministerio de Economia y Solidaria was involved in preparing the fair and funding the publication of promotional materials.  As a result, we agreed to kick-off the event with the national hymn as members of the ministry entered the event.  According to schedule, the local school's marching band clanked and horned their way onto the soccer field where the fair was at 10:00, still, being set up.  This grand, but musically challenged, entrance for the ministry was encircled by a string of half-constructed tents, empty stands, and loitering participants waiting for an extra pole or a table to set up their products.  Introductions were broadcasted from the microphone as I frantically darted between tents stringing garbage bags to the poles with signs indicating "paper," "organic garbage," "plastic," and so forth, all of which were disregarded.

At 11:00 the fair was entirely set up.  Typical food simmered at various stands, a marvelous mural (of a giant corncob with busy workers hacking away at kernels to carry back to the city) was assuming fantastic colors under the care of precious fingers, and a fair handful of visitors roamed between the stands sampling creative dishes such as quinua torta and chocho empanadas, and selecting product to take home.  The sun beamed forth, and though more visitors would have been welcome, the fair unraveled with a positive air.

Around 13:00, my friend Paola and I headed for the kitchen where a massive production of food was underway for fair participants: a plastic bag filled with melloco, arvejas, choclo, a generous helping of ahí with tomatoes and onions, and an accompanying beverage of morocho.  Meanwhile, few seemed affected by the light spattering of rain that had begun to fall through the sunrays, instead taking the opportunity to escape into the field house for lunch.  

Within minutes, the sprinkling became massive downpour of rain and hail pelting the tin roof of the building.  The crowds inside cowered from the penetrating rhythm, plugging their ears and seeking a second escape to one of the tents outside, though the biting hail offered little opportunity to dart between shelters.  From our noisy cove, we watched feet scurry beneath the tents, covered and recovering materials.  The visitors dashed to the overhung bleachers with a miserable pout at having traveled to south Quito for a hailstorm.  Contrarily, Zapallo Verde optimized the opportunity to tackle two cases of Pilsner.  Of course, as part of the coordination committee, my assistance in this valiant effort was delayed.  

The storm was unwilling to subside, and gradually, stand participants unhinged their signs and ran to and forth vehicles packing their goods for the day.  The subsequent artist line-up was canceled, and the remaining participants mulled under the tents, snacking on unsold delicacies, drinking chichi and cerveza, and waiting for steamy canelazos to brew in the kitchen.

When the canelazos were ready, San Isidro erected a giant rainbow in the sky, smirking at his day's work.  The remaining party, nonetheless impressed by this bold arc, began a game soccer with a rag tag group of children.  So we played on the waterlogged lawn, sliding in the mud under the skies setting hues, a backdrop of fiery shades and shadows on the hillsides.  

Despite climatic disasters and minimal promotion for the event, the Primer Encuentro was a good first shot.  After all, the only way to learn and improve is to experience.

Tags: Work

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