Women of the Cayrillo Community and the Market in Salcedo

The energy and bustle of the Thursday market in Salcedo makes you feel as if you are in a much larger town. Blocks surrounding the main marketplace are full of people hawking wares of all sorts – shoes, fútbols, toys, clothes, popcorn, grilled meat, and chawarminski (a Kichwa juice made of agave). A few blocks away you can buy seeds, calves or grown cows and bulls, pigs, chickens, or sheep. You can even bring clothes to be sewn or repaired, the whirring of the Singer sewing machines competing with vendors’ voices for space in the umbrella of echoes under the main produce market awning.

It was a long struggle for the women farmers of the Cayrillo Community in Cotopaxi, some members of the community-based organization Association of Compañía Baja, to gain a place to sell their produce at the market in Salcedo. In February, I went with Guadalupe and Elenita to the market to see how the women of this community sell their agroecological produce. We spoke with Doña Clarita and Doña Concha, two leaders within the group, to learn how they got here. In the midst of selling their agroecological produce, they told me their story.

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In the past, Doña Clarita and Doña Concha tell me that they were only subsistence farmers – growing enough produce to feed their families and using the money their husbands earned to buy other necessities. After working with EkoRural they realized that they were capable of growing their own agroecological food – and of selling the rest. Securing a space within the market in which to sell their goods, however, was more difficult than they had anticipated. After long days working in the fields, members of the Association met for hours to figure out how to get a space. When the women first came to sell their produce in Salcedo, they were forced to sell in the local coliseum, which was inconvenient (no spaces for parking for example) and lacked shoppers. They also endured mistreatment from other vendors who accused them of coming to the feria, buying produce, and then reselling it, instead of farming themselves and bringing their produce to market. Vendors from within their canton discriminated against them and insulted them, calling them dirty and lazy.

This situation was unsustainable, and the Association, with support from EkoRural’s team, arranged meetings with the mayor to garner support for their presence in the market proper. He was supportive of their efforts, and guaranteed a space for them in the produce market. Once settled there, they still had to deal with other vendors claiming that they were not the farmers, or that their produce was not agroecologically produced. But over time those lies have dissipated, as the women have defended themselves and their products.

Every week the women travel via bus or truck, bringing their produce with them, from Cayrillo to their spot in the market in Salcedo. Other days they go to other markets in the area. Now the issues they face are not harassment from other vendors, but negotiating with consumers on prices. Many shoppers are not aware of the value of agroecologically-produced vegetables, preferring cheaper, industrial produce grown with chemicals, or produce being resold by intermediaries instead of farmers themselves. Vegetables grown agroecologically take more effort and thus are being sold at prices slightly higher than monocultivated crops. However, more and more consumers are beginning to realize the value in buying healthier, organic produce sold by farmers. The efforts of the women of Cayrillo have been successful. They are generating incomes that go towards clothing and school supplies, and returning to their chakras with less produce. In addition to supporting their families, they have also learned negotiating skills, which has given them the confidence to bargain and educate their consumers.

Interview: Keely McCaskie, EkoRural Coordinator

Keely McCaskie has been working for EkoRural as the coordinator of EkoRural´s Northern Highlands Program, and is currently working on EkoRural’s Central Highlands Program. In this interview, Keely elaborates on the role she has within the organisation.

Q: How did you come to be involved in the work of EkoRural?

Keely: “I came to Ecuador in January 2014 on a U.S. Student Fulbright Grant having graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 with a BPhil in International Area Studies, BA Environmental Studies, BA Sociology, and Certificate in Women´s Studies.

I had long been involved in community organizing, education, and advocacy surrounding various social and environmental causes, for example: organizing around gender and reproductive justice, service workers´ rights, and regulations for gas-drilling in Pittsburgh; facilitating education around climate justice with native communities in the Navajo Nation and across the US; and conducting action-research in Ecuador in 2011 around sustainable development and a large-scale hydroelectric dam.

I came to love Ecuador and wanted to return on a Fulbright Grant to continue learning from the many extraordinary community leaders in this diverse landscape of cultures, issues, and locally-based solutions. I was fortunate to gain an affiliation with Fundación EkoRural, and ever since, I´ve only continued to fall more and more in love with the work and the people here.”

Q: What has been your role with EkoRural?

Keely: “My work began in the northern provinces of Imbabura and Carchi, where I served as Coordinator of EkoRural´s Northern Highlands Program. There I worked in collaboration with two promotores comunitarios to plan, implement and evaluate EkoRural´s programming in various farming communities, mainly focusing on a 5-month workshop series to highlight and promote traditional practices in healthy, locally-based consumption. In collaboration with community partners, I edited a book of local recipes that utilize healthy, disappearing crop varieties, and a facilitation manual, “Nutrition in the Northern Sierra: A guide for community facilitators,” in order to equip community leaders with tools to continue facilitating this learning and change in their own communities. I also worked to propose a new long-term strategy for the Northern Highlands Program, by gaining a comprehensive view of the current landscape of actors, challenges, and opportunities moving forward in the region.”

Most recently I have worked with the Central Highlands Program in the provinces of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, where I support in strengthening the internal capacities of the team and strategic planning of the program, and in coordinating and facilitating a week-long service-learning trip for North American donors.

Q: What have you learned and gained from the experience?

Keely: “This experience has only strengthened my conviction that sustainable, positive change is best achieved by just processes built on the knowledges, visions, and leadership of women, youth, elders, and others at the local level. It has been a true gift to learn and contribute as an integral part of an organization that successfully embodies this approach.

I´ve also affirmed that this work—and, for me, social justice in general —is simply about human relationships, and according people and environments the value they deserve. As part of EkoRural, I have been able to form truly satisfying and enriching human relationships across all of Ecuador. Without a doubt, my greatest sense of accomplishment comes from this—the day-to-day conversations, interactions, laughter, and bonds that I´ve shared this year. And so, to EkoRural, I am forever grateful.”keely_collage

Women’s Farming Organization of Chitacaspi

About a month ago, I visited the community of ‘Chitacaspi’ in the province of Carchi, Northern Highlands of Ecuador, as part of my internship at EkoRural. I went with Priscilla Prado, who is the Program Coordinator in the area, to interview two woman who are part of the Women’s Farming Organization of Chitacaspi.

Chitacaspi is a rural community of about 40 families, centered around a community center and primary school.  The majority of these families spend most of their time cultivating potatoes and caring for their livestock on their own farmland.  Most of these families have to travel between thirty minutes and one hour to get to their plots, and, since not all of them own cars, they may have to travel by horse, donkey or foot. Members of the Chitacaspi community who do not tend their own farms often work for the owners of local haciendas (large farms).

The two woman filmed in the video below explain what their daily lives look like and what benefits they receive from being part of the Women’s Farming Organization of Chitacaspi.  At EkoRural we think it is very important to support  these pioneers who are making a difference in their communities – and want to spread the word about the kind of development that respects and utilizes locally-based knowledge and solutions.  If you would like to get more information about these initiatives, please contact us.