To resolve the world’s agricultural problems, we will all need to work together – consumers just as much as producers.  Fortunately, there already exist lots of solutions!

One of these solutions is the concept of the CSA.  There are a variety of types, changing in function of the realities of each region or country – the one we’re talking about here is one we saw in Riobamba, a city tucked in the mountains of the Sierra Centrale of Ecuador.

The project of “Canasta Comunitaria” (community baskets) was born in 1987 when 25 urban families wanted to do something to guarantee their food sovereignty – basically the idea that every one has the right to secure and permanent access to clean, healthy food in sufficient quantities – and ideally products produced locally in accord with local traditions.  In Ecuador, as a first for the whole world, this right is guaranteed by the constitution!

For 12 years, the project worked within this small group of 25 families.  But then in 2000, with the dollarization of the Ecuadorian economy and the social turmoil which resulted, the concept was taken over once more by a larger group of consumers.  This group then created the Utopia Foundation to direct the project.

Here is how it works: a family pays $1 as a registration fee and sends a delegate to participate in the community work each time it’s required.  Each family can ask for up to two baskets.  If a family wants more baskets, they have to work more often.  Each family has a right to vote in the assembly that takes place each trimester, where most important decisions are taken. In each assembly, a group of 9 people is elected to ensure that the project will keep functioning.  This group of 9 organizes meetings and evaluations and the days of community work, in addition to representing the foundation at any local or national meetings or gatherings.

Next, every 15 days, families pay in advance the price of the basket.  This price is fixed by the assembly.  These community funds, managed by a delegate from the families and a member of the foundation, are used to buy the products and cover administrative costs.  Each family receives a detail of the organization’s expenses every 15 days.

Every other Saturday is the communal work day.  With a strict rotation system, a group of families comes to meet at the office of the foundation at 6:30 am to welcome the products brought directly by the producers, to weigh them, wrap them, and organize them into piles for each family.

At around 10:30, the other families arrive with their baskets, bags, or even wheel-barrows to come pick up their food.  Each waits in line and the distribution is handled quickly and with laughter and enjoyment.

What struck us most when we visited the group one Saturday morning was the diversity of the families involved.  As opposed to what we usually see with CSA’s, every social class and group seemed to be present and part of the community.

Obviously the situation of organic farming in Ecuador is different from that of the USA and Europe (where, for instance, the states pay huge subsidies to conventional farmers, making it impossible for there to be a fair economic competition between non-organic and organic farming), but the key to the success of the Community Baskets is that when a hundred families get together to buy organic products, important economies of scale are created. This gives the families a certain power to determine the price they pay – a power that is balanced by the fundamental principle of support for local producers by always paying a fair price.

The other success of the project resides in the degree of engagement on the part of the families.  They are an integral part of the administration and management of the project.  Workshops and visits to farms are regularly organized so that each family can be informed on the vast subject of diet and nutrition and that they can have a direct relationship with the people producing their food.

For our part, we think this project represents the future of urban eating.  It’s clear that cities must recreate strong links with the countryside if each of us is to have a healthy diet that allows producers to receive a decent salary in exchange for their caring for the earth.

It’s win-win!

For more information, you can e-mail:
Fundación Utopía: utopiariobamba@gmail.com,
Address: orozco 40-50 y Cipreses, Riobamba, Ecuador. T: 032-963-620

3 Responses to Utopía

  1. Pingback: Bolivia | permacyclists

  2. Gordon Magill says:

    An excellent report! Once again, bravo for your informative reporting! Gorgeous photos of Bolivia, you fortunate travelers!
    I’m struck by the vast gulf between the consciousness represented by such socially concerned endeavors, such as Canasta Comunitaria, and the consciousness represented by the recent huge popularity here of a series of books called “The Hunger Games” which have been best-sellers, and are being made into a Hollywood film, to be released this summer, also called The Hunger Games. It is set in a future world of abject poverty and hunger, where a tiny majority of the super-rich control everyone else. Each year a series of “hunger games” is held, where teenagers from each province of the “nation” are picked to compete in lethal games, in which they have to kill each other by whatever means possible. It sounds ghastly, and is predicted to gross $100 million at its first release. American kids are ecstatic about this coming film, and everyone is reading the books. Whether this is some sort of socially redeeming message, or just another voyeuristic fantasy to stimulate the popular imagination of youth here remains to be seen, I guess.
    Our best wishes for continued great adventures!
    Gordon and Linda Marie

  3. Thanks for your comments guys – we had never heard of the Hunger Games, frankly it sounds awful! I think we’ll have to skip that one. It’s sad to see sometimes how we can joke in the north about things that are dead serious in the south. We are often impressed by the social awareness of people we meet here in Latin America, there is a real culture of struggle and “la lucha” that seems to permeate everything people do. No matter where we are, “Government” is a 4-letter word and sometimes it feels like Che is still alive and off in the hills somewhere waiting to make a comeback. Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, I’ll admit, but generally it’s inspiring to see so many people who really value solidarity and really believe in building a better future. Something we can learn from folks down here maybe. Hope you guys are well!

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