Canastas Verdes is a cross-cultural, organic farming organization and produce delivery service based in Urubamba, Peru. Comprised of and created by five local, indigenous, organic farmers who support their families, run and work the farms, sell at the central market and local fairs—and are mothers. Our mission is to support and empower such farmers in Peru by creating fully sustainable, independent and scalable organic farming practices that result in amazing vegetables. We want to bring this farming wisdom to the Sacred Valley and to a global community
About 15-20 years ago, big Western, agrochemical companies did a huge, on-the-ground campaign in the Sacred Valley and other agricultural centers in Peru by giving out free pesticides. They showed everyone the “magic” spray that would make their lives “easier.” Most people were wowed that their veggies could grow twice as big and that it could save them time and effort by not having to weed. Agrochemical shops started popping up all over the place with the promise to make people’s lives better.
Over ten years ago, the women of Canastas Verdes—Lucia, Marilu, Magda, Liz, and Maria—participated in a workshop with a Peruvian engineer who communicated the long-term dangers to the environment and health that were unknown to most locals. The ladies had somehow known in their hearts that pesticides and weed killers weren’t healthy and their suspicions were confirmed.
The women started with tiny garden plots in order to provide their families with healthy food. Little by little their farms grew. The original 30 farmers dropped down to only five in the Sacred Valley. And yet, despite the incredible difficulty of restoring their land, learning independent business and working with the municipality to share and educate the community on the importance of healthy land and healthy people, they remained. But just barely.
Their passion, perseverance and desire to grow healthy food have kept them unified as they continue to grow their farms, their families and their community. They were driven by the desire to make sure to practice and preserve time-tested, natural farming methods from the Inca culture. This despite the fact that indigenous methods mean more work and less money than modern methods.
We do it because it’s the right way to farm. We do it because the plants are like our family. You can taste and feel the difference, so it seemed obvious—these are quotes from some of the women. Their deep connection with Pachamama (Mother Earth) and their action in living the Quechua concept of Ayni (a healthy, balanced reciprocity with all living things) are what powered them through over a decade of struggle. They banded together in working with the land in a changing climate while balancing the responsibilities of household chores such as cleaning, cooking and childcare.
The women struggled economically to support their families’ needs and were even challenged by watching others in the farming community begin to import corporate vegetables and spray their fields using petrochemicals. These women were turned against by their own group and were pushed to a low-traffic stand in the local market, next to the open air meat stands.
My husband, Eric, and I met the ladies at a cross-cultural permaculture certification workshop held by a dear friend of mine who runs Reviveolution. We found that local Peruvians wouldn’t buy their veggies because they were smaller. However, expats and international tourists who had been aware for some time of the health/environmental ramifications of chemicals were looking for organic options in the Sacred Valley.
We partnered to create a community-supported agriculture model for locals, travelers and foreigners living in Peru by offering produce delivery in the form of freshly harvested baskets once a week to six locations: Huaran, Ollantaytambo, Calca, Pisac, Urubamba and Cusco. In these locations, organic veggies are very difficult to find but the demand is there. Our volunteer role is helping them with technology, planning, sales, customer service, logistics, administration, translation, communication to help the woman become economically stable using social media, flyering and relationship building.
In a year we were able to double their income, sell over 3500 kilos of vegetables in weekly bags, vastly increase traffic to their Urubamba market stand, and work on environmental education programs. We supported them with over 20 international volunteers from programs like Linguistics Horizons and Where there be Dragons in the fields. We also delivered warm clothes and gifts to highland communities to connect and introduce organic methods of farming.
With support of Professor Devin Berg from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, we are working on water harvesting/storage projects to help them be resilient in times of climate change as the planting season and rain patterns are shifting. In the future, Canastas Verdes plans to collect organic food waste from restaurants and homes in order to create community compost, hopefully making organic farming more economically viable than chemical-based farming. Another bonus is that it can reduce landfill needs for the Sacred Valley by up to 70%.
We started receiving donation money out of the blue in our first year and partnered with four non-profits that are the most in-need of the community. From orphanages (Kiya Survivors and Niños del Sol) to a special needs school (Yanapasun) and a Community Service Organization (Amistad Sagrada), baskets are given to families that show severe health issues because of hunger or lack of nutritional deprivation. This has been an incredible win-win model because the giving supports the women and their families economically and the bags are able to feed an entire family for a week. In the Sacred Valley, for example, an 11-pound sack of organic vegetables costs S/30; 18 lbs costs S/50 (delivery included). In 2019, we were able to deliver over 40 donation bags of organic vegetables to families with nutritional needs.
We will continue to work to educate and share the joy of growing real, nutritious food with the local Andean community, travelers, as well as the international group of foreigners living here in the Sacred Valley and all of Peru. We believe that working hand-in-hand, learning from each other to give back to the earth and ourselves is a project greater than just vegetables. Absolutely every cent goes directly to the hardworking farmers. There are no administration costs because of volunteer service.
People traveling or living in the Sacred Valley and Cusco can order bags by sending a message to the FB Messenger every week to get deliveries on Saturdays to their town.
To make a donation please contact Megan at [email protected]