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.
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.