Food Voices: The Interviews
by Andrianna Natsoulas
Sara Medina, Farmer
Sara Medina is an urban framer from Caracas, Venezuela. When she was 47 years old, the Revolutionary Venezuelan government made it possible for her to go back to school and study agro-ecology. Through support from a government agency, Capacity and Innovation for Support of Agrarian Reform (CIARA), she now farms and trains others in inner city communities how to feed themselves.
When I started the university, I was 47 years old. Many people didn’t believe I could do it. I studied agro-ecology and always, since I was young, I wanted to be a professional. I was learning to take care of life and the whole system of life. That touched me, because I grew up in the city, and I didn’t know anything about the countryside or agriculture.
I work with communities in developing the farms. We teach the communities about the agricultural benefits and the nutritional values from the products they grow. We advise what vegetables to grow and how. We teach them how to control the pests to avoid infestation. We also have help from Cuban advisors. They have a lot of experience in Cuba because of the blockade. We have only been urban farming for a short time, but the Cuban advisors have 20-25 years of experience, so they are teaching us a lot. We also learn from farmers who moved from the countryside to Caracas in the ‘60’s because of the oil business. A lot of people thought they would have more opportunities in the city, but it wasn’t like that. A lot of people from rural areas have farming knowledge and we must recover our ancestral traditions and knowledge.
I work with 30 or 40 communities. There are a lot of projects. There are the school farm projects and raised bed gardens for people who don’t have any space –only the roofs or a deck. The purpose of the school project is to teach the students about farming. The kids are like a sponge and when they learn about the earth, they absorb it. I believe that all of us come from the earth and I believe that is why the kids enjoy connecting with the earth. Before the kids go on vacation, they harvest the lettuce, cilantro, radish, cucumber, pepper, celery from their farm and take it home. When they come back they get inspired to do the same thing again.
With the urban family farming, the idea is that they get some autonomy and recover the urban spaces. They are trying to grow what the Venezuelans like to eat. The CIARA Foundation gave them all the technical advice and the seeds, so people can get started and interested in farming. The first thing is for self-consumption. At the same, they give extra products to the food pantry. And then, if there is excess, they can sell that at the market for a good price and the money earned goes back into the community for transportation, papers, anything that the community needs.
There are two objectives. One is the economic part and the other is health. These are the advantages that people need to understand about urban farming and food sovereignty. To not depend on the food chains and the people grow their own food. The biggest challenge is for people to make their own food and to be self-sufficient. The problem is that it is hard to change people’s mentality about dependency on the supermarkets. We are making the future little by little. It is not easy, this struggle to make the people understand this process. The people in Caracas don’t believe they can farm in the city. Once the people understand, it is easier.
The support that I can give to this community is my profession and I am obligated to give them the information they need. But, the information is not easy to pass on. It is not easy to get that information to the people. Social struggle is not only in Venezuela, but also in the rest of the world. I think the rich countries have very serious problems – more serious than here. Through agro-ecology I can give the people my knowledge and my support for the rest of my life.