Returning Value to Local Farmers: A New Earth Market in Cali, Colombia

15 October 2020

With a mission to protect the soil and water of the Cauca Valley, and to provide a place for more than 70 rural families to offer a plethora of tropical fruits, vegetables, coffee, and a warm smile, the Ecological Farmers’ Market in Cali, Colombia, joins the global Slow Food Earth Market family.

For nineteen years local producers have gathered to protect their food sovereignty and offer the community local, organically-grown food, as a peaceful protest against the increasing quantities imported food inundating supermarkets.

Producers at the Cali Earth Market

The Cauca Valley

Wedged between two Cordilleras in the Andean Mountain Range, and a two-hour drive to the Pacific Ocean, Cali sits on the ample tropical forest of the Cauca Valley, surrounded by towns and provinces at different altitudes and with a variety of microclimates.

This offers Cali, the third most populous city in Colombia, a wide range of fruits and a multitude of vegetables, aromatic herbs, flowers, and coffee. However, the main agricultural activity in the valley continues to be sugarcane, a leftover legacy from colonial times which occupies vast swathes of fertile land.

Even though Cali has many long-established food markets, supermarkets now dominate the city’s food distribution. In the past couple of decades, Colombia has been flooded with imported food, due to multiple international trade agreements. This is a growing problem for farmers and for the food sovereignty of the population, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the government continues to encourage food imports by eliminating tariffs on staples like corn, rice, and potatoes.

Verde Tierra, a producer at the Cali Earth Market

The Ecological Farmers’ Market Project

“On October 17, 2001, we started with the conviction and commitment to provide Cali with a good, clean agriculture option at fair prices, both for buyers and for environmentally-friendly producers who sell local, fresh and seasonal products. Today, as a Slow Food Earth Market, many possibilities open up for our producers to establish links, exchange ideas and participate in campaigns with other markets. It will allow us to become a meeting point to articulate joint initiatives with the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance of Cali and make the philosophy of the Slow Food movement visible to the Cali community,” said Beatriz Cristina Navia Galvez, market organizer and spokesperson

Since its inception in 2001, the Ecological Farmers’ Market of Asoproorganicos (Asociación De Productores Orgánicos Del Valle Del Cauca Y Cauca) has aimed to promote the production and distribution of sustainable and organic local products sold at fair prices, for both farmers and consumers. Their goal has always been to create a community-driven space, encouraging a permanent exchange of knowledge where customers and visitors can share common interests in agroecology, environmental protection, fair trade, and ethical consumption.

Beatriz Navia, a producer at the Cali Earth Market

Building a community

“We have received with joy the official communication of the entry of the Cali Market to the Earth Markets International Network, it is a recognition of the work that this community of producers and food artisans have been carrying out in our region for nearly two decades. They have created a space in accordance with the Slow Food philosophy, where they offer high quality products and build community every week, ̈ said the leader of the Cali Convivium, Sonia Serna.

For the past 19 years, the alliance between the Ecological Farmers’ Market and consumers has generated a social fabric that transcends market exchanges, focusing on the importance of rescuing the value of farmers’ work as the foundation for ethical consumption and a culture of trust.

The market’s mission is to protect the soil and water of the Cauca Valley and to stimulate the growth of green markets. With this in mind, organizers and producers offer a calendar of educational activities and conferences on topics like soil health, the environmental impact of food production, bees and pollinators, seeds and seed-saving, and water conservation. They also promote a deeper relationship between rural and city life through farm visits and tours to producing areas for city dwellers.

Bernarda Guambia, a producer at the Cali Earth Market

The producers

Every Saturday from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m., 30 producers representing more than 70 peasant families and agroecological groups from various municipalities in the region gather in the Palmetto Plaza Shopping Center to showcase the biodiversity of the land and its microclimates. They fill stalls with colorful tropical fruits like arazá, jaboticaba, and uchuva; vegetables and tubers grown by indigenous farmers, beans, plantains, free-range chicken and eggs, and 100% organic coffee grown at 1700msl in the Farallones de Cali. Customers can enjoy local preparations like the beloved fresh juices so typical of Colombian food culture, classic pandebonos – a cheese puff-like baked good – arepas made with locally-grown corn, empanadas, and tamales de pipian wrapped in plantain leaves, with a cup of coffee or tinto.

The producers have worked to preserve and propagate seeds from harvest to harvest, and the market is part of a movement of native seed custodians that brings together the farmers who participate in the valley’s green market seed exchange network. The Ecological Farmers’ Market of Asoproorganicos is currently the only organic market in Cali, and a member of the Agroecological Network of Farmers’ Markets of the Cauca Valley (Red de mercados agroecológicos del Valle), promoted and sponsored by the Corporación Valle del Cauca (CVC).

Slow Food Cali

Over the years, the Ecological Farmers’ Market has maintained a close relationship with Slow Food Cali, and on several occasions has collaborated in the organization of events, such as Terra Madre Day, involving cooks and small producers.

Sonia Serna highlighted what it means for Cali to enter the map of the Earth Market network, “The Slow Food Earth Market in Cali will become an articulating axis and convergence of lifestyle together with the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance in Cali, with whom we will offer weekly programming.”

19th anniversary

On October 17, the market celebrates its 19th anniversary by joining the worldwide Terra Madre event as the latest addition to the Slow Food Earth Market family, becoming a new ambassador for the movement in Colombia, together with the group of producers of the Earth Market in Bogotá – Mercado Agroecológico Campesino.

This event is supported by Fundación Saboriarte, the blog La Bernardi, the Palmetto Shopping Center in its 15 years, Ringlete Restaurant, the Red de Mercados Verdes del Valle, SENA, Fundación Carvajal and Domingo de Vereda.

For more information:

The Cali Earth Market is held Saturday from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Parque Palmetto Plaza, Cali, Colombia. Facebook: slowfoodconviviumcali Instagram: slowfoodconviviumcali

by Paula Thomas,