Nelly Velandia’s plans this weekend include a visit to an Iowa farmers’ market.
That’s not unusual; many of us stop by a farmers’ market as part of our regular shopping routine. I go to my local market for translucent gold tomatoes, earthy carrots still sporting their crown of greens, even locally-made Mexican-style chocolate.
But for Velandia, a community leader from Colombia now visiting the US, farmers’ markets are more than just a place to shop.
“I grew up on a farm,” in rural Boyacá, Velandia told me when we met in Washington, DC. “My parents cultivated a love of the countryside in me, so after [college] I came back to work the land.” There was not enough land to grow new crops on her parents’ farm, but she was able to obtain her own small plot. (A recent UNDP report found that about 80 percent of Colombian farmers’ plots measure less than three acres.) She earned extra money selling her farm-fresh cheese, eggs, and vegetables.
Meanwhile, Velandia joined with others to advocate for the rights of her fellow women and indigenous people. “It was always my dream to go back and work with the communities where I was raised,” she explained. “What we work on is influence: we want to ensure that rural women can influence government policies to resolve the problems that affect them.” That mission eventually brought her to the capital, Bogotá, where she joined the Communal and Small-Scale Farmers’ Committee for Dialogue (known by its Spanish abbreviation CICC).
Things came full circle for Velandia when CICC came up with a plan to organize farmers’ markets in Bogotá. Supported by Oxfam, these markets would help rural farmers sell directly to city consumers and earn better prices for their crops. Velandia’s group even convinced the mayor’s office to help cover the cost of setting up markets in parks and public squares.