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ARGENTINA
Healthy and supportive food
Juan Nicastro
5/6/2016
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More than 500 families have created a network that supplies of agro-ecological products.

About 10 years ago, in the small town of Anisacate in the central province of Cordoba, two families came to an agreement to share their food purchases. Gradually, more families joined them, and a community purchase cooperative began to gain strength and was simply called “La Compra” (the shopping).

They organized joint orders paying a special interest in agro-ecological products free from agricultural chemicals or artificial additives. In addition, with the intention of finding better prices and to gain knowledge on the crops and processes, they visited farming families which were at the time slowly growing in number and facing the industrial agricultural model established in Argentina that is focused on transgenic soy monoculture plantations, which according to the Rosario Stock Exchange, currently covers more than 20 million hectares.

“La Compra” continued adding families and gradually was renamed “Orgánicos Sí o Sí” (Absolutely Organic). Groups from other towns in the province began to join, then also from other provinces, and now 2016 finds the network making biannual big purchases, one in the autumn and one in the spring, making it possible for about 500 families in 44 towns and cities to be fed healthily and in a direct connection with more than 80 organic producers in Córdoba, Mendoza, Santa Fe, San Luis and other provinces.

One month before each purchase, each producer receives the details of the order for each village, assembles the orders, prices are frozen in the days before delivery, all goods are brought to a large warehouse chosen for the occasion, each organized town goes to the location, and the distribution is organized in a collaborative, self-controlled and supportive manner. A ceremony also takes place at the site to give thanks and an open fair is set where techniques, latest developments, hugs, rejoicing, and future projects are exchanged.

“They have to be products that are organic, good for the health, safe, and produced in a way that respects nature is the basis, but we also highlight the importance of working in the social and human aspects. The same as agro-ecology is not only about not fumigating so is this network not only about food; it is for a change in lifestyle, group work, self-assessment and personal growth. This is why we are interested in commitment and sharing. Here the idea is not only to come and pick up what one buys. One has to do work for the rest, taking roles on the day of the distribution, also working in each ones hometown organizing the travel, and one has to work to gain the trust and to prove the value of one’s word,” tells Andrea to Latinamerica Press. She is a promoter of this network, who preferred to keep her last name out considering that this is a collective experience, not an individual experience.

In the early days of the network, it was more difficult to obtain organic products in variety and quantity. “There are many things that were not available before, or we had very little of; for example organic lentils,” tells Virginia Leopardi, from San Rafael, Mendoza, to Latinamerica Press. She is also one of those responsible for the La Rosendo Farm, an establishment that produces organic wines from grapes kept unsprayed. In their case they lead a double role within the network, producers and consumers. “On the farm we try to have everything, produce the wines and also maintain the vegetable garden, even producing vegetables for sale, and anything we cannot produce we get from others who are also agro-ecological producers.”

Solutions for producers
The network is not only economical, it is also about support. There are cases of products that are not 100 percent organic throughout the process, yet this is exactly one of its tasks, to help and accompany the producers on the road to improvement. “We give them contact information from other producers who have ideas or solutions, or give them information, and we take the time with them. For example, people who elaborated noodles sometimes used plain flour because a few years ago it was not easy to get organic flour. Now there are several parts of the country where agro-ecological wheat is grown and there are dedicated mills for that,” Andrea points out.

Of the 85 current producers, some are great historical examples, such as Campo Claro (Buenos Aires province) or Naturaleza Viva (Santa Fe province); and others consolidated in recent years such as El Peregrino, Germen de Vida, Familia Cecchin, and others that are just getting started. “Everyone contributes to make a change towards food sovereignty of the towns. The idea that we can all be producers of something and in this way integrate even more and contribute directly more is always present in the meetings,” said Andrea.

This is confirmed by Gabriel Quintana, arriving from Romang, Santa Fe, a town which lies about 700 km from the setting of the autumn meeting, where in a conversation with Latinamerica Press he tells that “it is the third year that we have come each semester to place an order and collect the provisions. We started uniting; first we were two or three families, and now we are already 25 families. We rotate as coordinator so that all the families participate in this role. Of all these families there are several now who make use of their provisions in a responsible fashion, they plan ahead for six months, that’s the idea, to be provided for six months.”

“Other families buy more specific things. We want to ensure that there are people in the group who also have products there and can bring them to sell here. And then we can make an exchange at all levels, to buy and sell. We now bring avocados, Spanish lime, papayas, mangoes, nuts, persimmons, avocado tree seedlings, passion fruit, things we’re growing there, semi-tropical fruits, and we are happy here because these fruits are barely visible here and they snatch these fruits right out of your hands,” Quintana says.

“Other towns from Santa Fe are also coming now; there is a visible growth. This autumn’s delivery is very large, also because, you see, when you make your purchases, with inflation as it is now, in two months you realize that what you bought was at a great price, so many people are also joining because of that. Contrary to popular belief, we can see here that organic is not expensive,” he adds.

“It changes your life. From going to the supermarket every day to recover the sense of stocking up, of grouping together, organizing for a healthy life,” Andrea says happily.

“The objective is a total change in paradigm, where the center of it all is not the money but the complementarities, the care of the environment, fair trade,” Leopardi adds.

Participatory process
José Luis Lois, from Cañada Larga, Traslasierra (Córdoba), points out: “We offer olives, olive paste, olive oil, and a complete line of smoked condiments such as paprika, sea salt, chili pepper, a Mapuche condiment called merkén, turmeric, curry, and mustard seeds. It is not a chemical smoking process; it is a natural cold smoking process, a technique borrowed from the Mapuche indigenous people, with carob and quebracho sawdust, and herbs such as rosemary and bay leaf. Smoking is the oldest food conservation technique. This network is growing year after year, and it helps us a lot in our economy, not only because of the volume of the two annual purchases, but by the network of contacts generated with other producers, to help us with everything, and the consumer families in the region who become stable customers. This purchase has generated a lot more of other networks.”

“It is basically being in charge of what you eat, being responsible for more than just nutrition. I choose healthy food, I can enroll in a group or I can start one, I check the list, place my order, and join with other families communally to buy, for example, a 25 kg bag of organic rice, and get quality and savings. Producers are also organized, as in the case of yerba mate Las Tunas [produced by a cooperative in Misiones province], where 30 families each produce a little and then come together to package and ship it,” said Juan Vanadia, who has joined the organizing group to collaborate with the list of products.

“I see a great effort and a lot of dedication coming from the producers who often face very formidable obstacles. I am extremely touched by an example of a family in the area of Pampa de Pocho [Córdoba] that recovered a land that had been devastated and planted with soybeans; they are planting trees, cleaning the land, letting the forest return, taking care of the watersheds. The case of the Naturaleza Viva agro-ecological farm, in the province of Santa Fe, has also been prominent in recent days; it suffered a spraying of agrochemicals caused by soy producing farmers bordering its fields,” adds Juan.

The opening ceremony of the autumn meeting that held on Apr. 8 and 9, besides drums and dancing, delivered a special message about the value of one’s word, trust and the shared responsibility to sustain the network. The program makes it clear that it is not the capital rules which govern it, but rules that are communitarian, supportive and self-generated. —Latinamerica Press.


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“Orgánicos Sí o Sí” network of more than 80 producers from Cordoba and other provinces seek safeguards for the environment and fair trade. / Juan Nicastro
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