Monday, March 23, 2015

Green is the New Black

Written by Lucy Holland

A simple search of the word “Agriculture” on Google demonstrates its importance:

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet” – Aristotle
“The grass is greener where you water it” – Neil Barringham
“To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves” – Ghandi

The discovery of agriculture changed the world, and its significance continues to be paramount. Especially, I have come to discover here in Bolivia, in its most basic form.
With much trepidation, I discovered on my training weekend in York that I would be a part of the Urban Agriculture team. My Mum and Grandfather had always been the green-fingered ones of the family, and although I’d watched their garden flourish from a young age I’d never really given much thought to putting what I’d seen into practice. Once I got stuck into the project, my views completely changed.

The project is simple, yet it astounded me in its efficiency. As part of APU (La Asosciacion de Producturas Urbanas/ The Association of Urban Producers) a group of women were growing their own produce to both feed their families and, if possible, source income by selling it. For many of these families this produce provides their staple diet. Many of the people of El Alto seem to value their agricultural roots, and Focopaci helps these traditions to continue to bear fruit. The simple concept of growing to consume is often lost on us in the UK with our culture of supermarket shopping, microwave meals and food wastage; myself included in this bracket, having been the stereotypical university student who ate pasta with ketchup as a regular evening meal.

A nutrition workshop with the producers of APU

Another thing I’ve observed is the informal market culture; setting up on the side of the street to sell your wares. It’s certainly an effective way to cut out the middle man. This type of thing is entirely commonplace, my Spanish professor in La Paz having professed to us that he had never entered a supermarket until the previous year, over the age of 50. Although informal, the system seems to function, you have your regular Casera with whom you’re on familiar terms, and they take money directly for whatever you buy. Whatever the system may lack in structure is made up for in community spirit. The entire system is, in essence, tradition and community. While for some this may seem 'behind the times', I find it refreshing to see communities operate in this close-knit way, to appreciate the producers and the produce they are buying. I think we could learn a lot in the UK from these types of practices, a renewed appreciation for where our food comes from.

With regard to the work we’ve accomplished here, I feel proud to have helped in what little way I could. I hope it aids bringing about some kind of greater change. Although we’ve perhaps been in the field less than some previous cohorts, all the office work we’ve compiled over the past weeks will go toward making the producers more self-sufficient; nutrition charts, binders, agricultural calendars - they’re all made with the idea of a future in which volunteers like us are no longer needed. 

Personally, I’ll also take home with me invaluable skills and memories which will always stay with me, be it the satisfaction of finishing greenhouse repairs to sharing a laugh with my Host-Mum and Sister. I’ll return to the UK with a different perspective, abilities I never thought I had and ten times more self-confidence.

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