A day at work…

I wrote the following over a week ago but this entry was superseded by my 1st experience using the medical system in Peru.  I actually do know more or less what the research project I am to do entails so this has been reassuring.  However, the following applied over a week ago now and some comments still apply today…

Work is progressing I guess…I don’t know if I would say well since I don’t feel like I am able to get much done.  I guess I am gaging this at the speed at which I would normally work.  Several times a week there is no internet for usually many hours (this has definitely improved as of late, now more so just intermittent slow internet throughout the day).  At this point I am needing the internet to search for material pertaining to the topic of urban farmers markets and what are called bioferias (organic farmers markets) in Lima and other South American cities and countries.  I have found plenty of material although of course the bulk of it is in Spanish.  Some stuff I have found is from the UN so this is usually in English.  I really do appreciate this latter info since it can be quite the slog getting through the other stuff, and with the heat – sheesh!! I struggle to focus especially later in the afternoon.  As I have said before the Limenos are finding the heat difficult to tolerate.  I just don’t know how one can spend 7+ hours in front of a computer in an office environment with no air conditioning, only a fan to cool oneself.  I don’t know if it is because of having done much more labour work with the farming that I just don’t have the stamina for doing computer/sit down work for more than 4 hours per day.

Of course it takes me time to read through documents but it helps enormously if I can access the internet to look up words I do not know of which there are plenty at this time, more so terms pertaining to this sector.  And as I have discovered Peru like other Latin American countries has their own words and expressions which are unique to the country.  Before I had left to come here, I had already found a few websites which help tremendously in this, an online Spanish dictionary and a site that clearly must draw its material from the UN since it has a dozen or more examples for words and phrases which clearly come from government/official documents.  This is just another way I appreciate the web for the speed at which I can look up words or information.  I just can’t flip through a printed dictionary as fast as I can look up a word online, even though I was pretty good at the latter.

I have a fan in the office I work in so the heat doesn’t bother me at times.  I am sharing an office with a woman who is a consultant from her job title to the partner organization I am working with, la Red de la Agricultura Ecologica (RAE sort of pronounced raaie).  She only works Tuesdays & Thursdays and occasional afternoons the other days of the week, so it works well for me to have some time on my own and also with her around should I have any questions.

I am gaining some insight into the research I am to do.  Essentially I am going to be doing a study on the existing organic farmers markets to see what works well and what doesn’t. I gather there have been other markets that have popped up but then disappear so they are wondering what are the challenges and opportunities.  Also I will be developing criteria and standards for the markets in terms of quality, marketing messages, finances, supports needed from municipality, etc…, which can then be used to help set up other markets.  There are what are called biohuertos which are more family & community gardens, not necessarily set up for being small businesses.  I am actually thinking this is where some of my work should be targeted but I am sensing that RAE is really wanting to focus more on the organic farmers that do it for a business.  I think that if a key focus is food security then it shouldn’t matter if folks do it as a small business or not since the small business piece can always come later and folks here I’m sure can always benefit from some side income.  (I know now these biohuertos will not be my focus).

Starting in a few weeks I will begin visiting the dozen or so existing markets but I will need to wait to do any actual interviews with folks involved in them, until my Spanish is a bit better so hopefully some time in April.  I have learned that there already exists a large number of organizations that represent various aspects of the sector from the rural/peasant producers to urban producers to the consumers to the chefs (often connected to slow food movement) to umbrella groups representing some of these sectors (of which RAE is one) to organic and ecological farming groups to environment groups concerned with climate change to local to national to international development organizations to human rights NGOs to academics and universities.  Quite the maze and network.  As if often the case, some groups talk to each other, others don’t, not so much for the lack of common issues but I would think rather lack of resources, human and otherwise.  There is now a consortium of these groups, a network of networks.  And in the past decade, the Peruvian and municipal governments have instituted laws pertaining to various aspects of the organic farming sector.

There exists a university of agriculture but as is found in Canada not much of the work focuses on organic or ecological.  The difference between these two terms is useful.  As we see in North America, one can call themselves an organic producer even if they are a multinational corporation but that in effect do monoculture cropping. Ecological refers to holistic farming where ecological, social and economic considerations are all included, and this usually refers to small scale agricultural production.  As I had discovered in my experiences with small scale farming and farmers markets and interest in all things food, the term organic has been coopted by the large corporations with the piece of local missing.

I had picked up the small book, ‘Manifesto of the Poor: Solutions come from below’, written by Francisco van der Hoff Boersma, co-founder of the fair trade movement, a few years ago at some event in Tatamagouche (check out http://www.justuscoffee.com/node/437).  As is usual books sit on my shelf to be read one day.  I decided to take this book with me for this year in Peru.  It really is a good easy read.  Not necessarily anything new for me. It just encapsulates the way I see how the world works.  It is written after the 2008 financial crisis so very pertinent to what is going on today as we are in a slow economic collapse right now, a continuation of the 2008 crisis because governments failed to take the necessary action to what could have seen a potential fundamental restructuring of the global economic system.  Yes I know a pipe dream but one can always hope…or not.

Anyhow I digress…back to a day at the office and time for lunch….(this I wrote these past few days)

As I have previously discussed, lunches are often had out at the many eateries around work serving menus.  I have now experienced more than a ½ dozen different places and am now at the stage where I really don’t care for them.  I love of this has to do with the fact that my tolerance for meat has been reached.  I want to eat vegetarian – I like vegetarian food.  Since I will try to only eat chicken if I am out, I have few other options.  How many ways can you prepare chicken?  Lots I guess with variations of rice as an accompaniment but chicken is still chicken.  I have to say by getting sick the previous week, I have been somewhat turned off by menus offerings – I just don’t know what really led me to getting so ill but I now have a bit of a psychological association of my illness with the menu restaurants.  I think one would agree that the food isn’t the best or great, but simply decent, sort of like a North American homecooked meal – the stuff I don’t care for being the food snob I am.

I am not sure what I am going to do for the rest of my time for lunches since the issue is I get to eat out with three of my colleagues, two Quebecois women, Amelie & Laura, who are volunteering with Suco, the Quebec equivalent to Cuso, and another young man, Abel, who is Peruvian and working for RAE.  Amelie is new like me, working on creating materials to do with nutrition, also experiencing gut issues so we commiserate about our health issues, Laura having been here already for several months, working on revamping an online organic shopping website.  Abel is working with Laura, and he is the one who has the agronomy educational background.

Abel & I have discovered we are both very political, he being the neo-marxist, me the anarchist, and so it has been very interesting to chat with him with my limited Spanish. He is also very knowledgeable about all things agriculture so this has been great to learn about as well.  We just bought our 1st free range eggs, here called huevos de korral (yes like corral at a ranch), not really that expensive, and they are available at the big supermercados.  All the eggs available at the grocery stores (which include quail eggs) and markets are not refrigerated which is awesome.  What is it with North America and their obsession with washing/disinfecting everything!! Even things which have a natural protection, e.g. with eggs the bloom coating which inhibits bacteria from penetrating into the egg.

On the topic of chickens, I have to say that the chicken we have purchased from the local markets, not having purchased any from the grocery store, which are not organic by any means, are absolutely fantastic – so unbelievably tender and tasty.  I am sorry, but all of the chickens I had had from folks I know who raise the meat kings humanely and charge accordingly for this, the chicken here is far superior. I have been trying to figure this out, and can only conclude that it must be what they are feeding the chickens.  I am assuming that the chickens for sale at the mercados are not battery hens since they are small operators, so they do get to root around as well.  They aren’t of course as big as the meat kings, but not tiny either, and their body parts are what would have been considered normal a few decades ago, proportional in size not with these ridiculously large breasts.  A contributing factor could be the breed of chicken as well.  I hope to visit in the coming months a chicken farm, a beef farm and a pig farm so see how they do things here.  We recently had the opportunity to visit a bioagricultura farm called Casa Blanca (yup that’s right the white house).  I will discuss this excursion in a separate blog, hopefully the next one.

I will end this entry here.  Pictures will be coming soon.  Ross has been taking loads of them mainly on two topics, security and transportation.  Now the job begins of editing photos for upload to the website.  Ross is now to be referred to as a freelance photojournalist and essayist.  Stay tuned for his amazing story writing and images he captures quite well I must say for being an amateur photographer.

Happy reading.

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