(Caracas) :- Hundreds gathered in Los Caobos park in downtown Caracas on Saturday morning for an ecological farmers’ market organized by grassroots organizations and cooperatives.
Founded by half a dozen agro-ecological collectives last autumn, the market is held the first Saturday of every month and features organic, locally-grown fruits and vegetables as well as a plethora of handmade products from artisanal jams to homemade deodorant- all at highly affordable prices.
In the face of soaring inflation and a widespread tendency of private retailers to unload essential products on the black market rather than sell them at regulated prices, Venezuelans view the market as an opportunity to not only satisfy their necessities but also to begin laying the foundations for a new democratic economy.
Maira Mendoza runs a cooperative together with six other women producing coconut and almond oil as well as dishwashing detergent and other cleaning products, which have become extremely scarce and expensive over the last year.
A chemist by training, the 62 year-old Caracas native began her cooperative with loans from the government, dedicating her free time to giving home chemistry courses to other working class mothers as part of the Mothers of the Barrio Mission.
“The idea is that we can cover our needs without depending on other countries [for imports],” she says, alluding to the plight of Venezuela’s rentier economy which obliges the South American country to import the vast majority of its basic consumer items.
However, today’s struggle is not solely about economic self-sufficiency. Venezuela, she notes, needs a new culture of production and consumption.
“We are all descended from the indigenous people, who didn’t need a lot of things, creams, perfumes, everything was natural. We are trying to recover these types of values which have largely been forgotten.”
Luz de Luna, 26, has taught herself to make coconut-based deodorant, natural creams and perfumes, cloth sanitary pads for women, among other personal care items.
Her colleague, Luz Pimienta, makes her own soap, a prized commodity in contemporary Venezuela for which people wait in long lines. Doing her own research online, the 26 year-old engineering student uses recycled cooking oil for ecological efficiency.
For both women, however, their nascent businesses are more about exchanging knowledge than selling products.
“What we want is for people to learn how to make their own products,” says Luna.
And particularly in the case of women’s personal care items, the idea is to “reclaim sovereignty over the body, so women don’t depend on doctors or other external individuals to heal themselves,” she added.
Education is a crucial part of the Los Caobos market with a variety of different hands-on workshops organized month to month.
On Saturday, Juan Rodriguez of the Merida-based cacao growers cooperative Agro-Dignidad led a workshop teaching market goers how to harvest, dry, and thresh the coffee found growing in the downtown park.
“We wait in line all day for coffee when we have it right here growing in the park. The idea is to teach children and young people how to grow and harvest coffee, so we can be independent.”
Far from an anomaly, the Los Caobos farmers’ market is one of a growing number of new initiatives that sees Venezuela’s grassroots organize new spaces for production, exchange, and consumption based on solidarity and democratic planning.