From rural farming in Tarija, Bolivia, to urban farming in Leith, Scotland.

Originally published 30th Jan 2020 by Roxana Romero

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.