Over the past few years I have moved back and forth between Bolivia and Scotland, witnessing social, economic and community work. It has been interesting to see how similar grassroots initiatives have been implemented in completely different settings and how people around the world are trying to come up with creative solutions. Poverty, lack of connection with nature and food sovereignty are problems that seem to be universal.
I worked for 4 years on economic development in Tarija-Bolivia. Much of it was related to supporting small scale farmers. Agriculture and processed products made with local ingredients were areas that had great potential. I visited rural areas and consulted farmers about their needs. Most of them were very poor. We supported 33 productive fairs all around the rural communities and each had its own identity. Farmers had the soil in their soul. Their hands reflected sacrifice and hours of hard work but their eyes reflected pride in what they did for a living. Local production from the countryside was reflected in most menus in homes and restaurants in urban areas. Food seasonality thrived and people waited keenly for “Humintas” (corn cake) in January, fresh grapes from Santa Ana in February, amaranth from Monte Cercado in July, etc….
The purpose of these rural fairs was to encourage people from the city to visit the countryside and connect with its production. They were about celebrating harvest, usually accompanied by traditional music, dancing and chicha (traditional alcoholic drink). Every fair was a vibrant experience and across the year we had 33 harvest festivals to look forward to in different locations. They were not only about economic development, but about sustainability, tradition and culture.
From organising fairs we then moved to organising workshops on pickle making as a way to tackle food poverty. This helped farmers preserve food for times when food supply was low. It added value to their own production of raw materials and it was seen as means for them to generate extra income.
I am now based in my second home, Scotland, working for Leith Community Crops in Pots which is an organisation that among other things is trying to reconnect people with nature and encourage them to grow their own food. I find this work fascinating! It’s about food, but instead of growing it in the countryside we do it right in the heart of the city. There are 120 local people growing their own food together and sharing the tasks of looking after the land. I call them urban farmers. Unlike Bolivia you don’t need to go to a rural area to see what food is being grown. How much closer can you get to nature? It’s a wonderful organisation that brings so much good to the community, especially in an area that is full of flats, has limited green space and like in many urban areas there are some disconnected and lonely souls.
Leith Community Crops in Pots has created a space to break barries and unite people. We have an allocation day every year for members to form groups and plan their growing year. We have plenty of community gatherings where we share food and have interesting conversations. We have a food-growing trainee programme for people who want to increase their knowledge in specific areas. We have a variety of green skills workshops, some of them are on fermentation and pickle making, a great way to avoid food waste. Exactly as in Bolivia!
We have activities for children to connect with nature and grow as environmental citizens. We have a Harvest Festival once a year to celebrate the hard work! I could go on forever naming all the wonderful opportunities this little but big hearted place brings to myself and the community! Sometimes people ask me whether it was a good decision to have moved to Scotland and I say… Och Aye! One day when I go back home to Bolivia I will make sure to take a little bit of Leith to Bolivia.
So believe it or not, there are obvious links between the work we carried out in Bolivia and the work we are carrying out in Scotland. Similar strategies are being used in different settings but to tackle different social issues. But what’s more important is to see that in this imperfect world, men and women are uniting to find creative alternatives for their communities to be more autonomous and free. We don’t have to try to change the world in one go. We can start making a difference from where we are. What would you like to offer to the world or your community? Let us know, we are always open to new ideas!