When I was growing up, my mom started selling vegetables in my hometown. Each year, the garden and thus the corresponding chores grew a little bigger. I speak for all of my siblings when I say that we hated it. After too many complaints, the s-word was banned from our vocabulary but that did not stop us from muttering under our breath as we planted potatoes or thinned beets “who does she think we are anyways, slaves?”
I vowed the day would never come when I would be grateful for my childhood on the vegetable ranch, but today is a day of sack clothes and ashes, a day where I declare my gratitude for a childhood of pea-picking and turnip-culling. However, I express my gratitude neither for my resulting physical wellbeing nor for my failure to never again enjoy a store-bought carrot but because I know from the ground up where food comes from.
Food* comes from farms, from soil, and is fertilized by the sweat of farmers. From the Yukon to Colombia, growing food is a life giving act. Simply, without food, we die. The farmers of the world feed us all, whether we know where our food comes from or not.
However, food is more than the act of simply eating. To know where food comes from it to participate more fully in the complicatedly beautiful cycle of land, seeds, labour, transport, purchase, preparation, and consumption. It is rising in the morning at 5:00 to pick fruit in the backyard, it is an afternoon spent plucking chickens to prepare soup, it is a bicycle ride of seven kilometers to plant ñame, it is days and day spent in a combine threshing wheat, it is a rushed trip to the grocery story after work for something quick, it is the laughter and the joy of Christmas dinner. Food is the rhythm of our days and the cycle of our lives.
There are many problems with the way we currently engage in this cycle, including trade deals, unfair labour practices, factory farming, transportation contamination and the ridiculous fact that in the north we don’t even blink at the availability of bananas (paramilitary connections or not). Many people cannot afford to eat vegetables and instead subsist on high calorie fast food. Colombian farmers go on strike because they can no longer afford to feed the nation. Increasingly food security is at risk world-wide.
Despite all of this, there is so much beauty to be found in food and in the act of coaxing life from soil. Maybe if we had more of a connection with where our food comes from, we would work on solving some of those problems. Eating locally and sustainably is a healthy choice that encourages us to think about the food cycle and demand quality over quantity, fairness over unrealistically low prices. Part of that may involve going back to our roots, remembering that we were all part of an agrarian society at one time. Soy agro-descendiente!
I have been honoured to have first-hand experience with the pride and knowledge in which farmers, both in Canada and Colombia approach their work. They are not ashamed to be sustaining all of us. Get a farmer started talking about their crops and they will not stop. I quickly learnt that despite my childhood, I know nothing about the expertise required to live from farming. I can read academic articles, but I do not know how to read the soil.
In the city, I miss interacting with farmers. However, one of my favourite places in Bogota is the country´s largest market Paloquemao. Almost all of the products are grown in the country and sold in the early morning to grocery stores and individuals. The array of potatoes, fruits and other vegetables is stunning. There are even Colombian blueberries! It is a wonderful thing to interact with the people who know where all of this abundance comes from and then to go home and cook something delicious and join in the celebration of food.
Watch this video celebrating local Colombian produce and then go out and learn a bit about where your food comes from. Cook something delicious and share the story with somebody.
*When I say food, I mean real food, not processed things like gummy bears and lollipops.
(You win Mom.)