Bringing Slow Food to the Galapagos: The Luxury of Sustainable Farming

20 Apr 2019

I see it as a luxury. Not the kind you wear, nor the kind you ride. A Pico Iyer kind of luxury:[1] that of going slow in an age of acceleration. Of bringing stillness to our “wheel-always-spinning” kind of life.

And along with the indulgence of calm, is the delight, and anyone who has ever gardened knows the pleasure, the enchantment, of picking that first tomato of the season, straight from the plant that has been tended to and loved. Oh, the sweetness!  And while it is not always possible for us to farm ourselves, it is possible to experience a similar gratification by supporting local organic farmers.

Yet, only 4 years ago, in my home, this wasn’t an option. On Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos Archipelago, of the 400 producers registered only 2 were organic. And of these, one was focused on coffee. These islands are home to about 30,000 locals and a growing tourist population of about 270,000+ visitors per year. Our single, solitary organic farmer was not enough.

About 90% of food in Galapagos is imported, and with almost 1000km of ocean in between continental Ecuador and the islands, this means our food’s journey causes lots of emissions with very little of where exactly it comes from. Being a conscious consumer was not about choice, it was virtually impossible. width=

This is how the Slow Food Galapagos Convivium, Sulachelone Galapagos,[2] started. A group of conscious citizens looking to have the option to choose good, clean and fair local food. We began creating fairs and markets where we could meet producers, but also, to learn and to educate the community about what local means. See, Galapagos is a relatively new human settlement, and its identity is still in construction. Local gastronomy has been largely built on the cultures brought across by migrants to the archipelago rather than what is abundant locally, and the reliance on imported goods makes it possible. While fresh, local seafood is easy to find in many dishes, beyond the richness of the ocean, the side dishes are almost always foreign.

I have never seen myself as a farmer. While promoting local food and asking farmers to farm more sustainably, I never saw myself on the producer side of the equation. But as I started to learn more about it, I began to understand why farmers saw what we were proposing as too great a risk. I was asking them to farm in ways that had never been learnt in Galapagos, with no ancestral cultures to follow, with the absence of the flowers and insects seen in common organic farming guidelines, with dramatically different conditions whenever an invasive or potentially invasive species enters the archipelago, and no local seeds ever saved or available to them. I was asking to put their livelihoods at risk. Galapagos Agriculture was completely reliant on imports, from seeds to chemical inputs to change meant to risk that living. width=

My husband and I had just moved to live on a piece of land that he had inherited, and so we decided to take the risk ourselves. At worst, we would be able to provide ourselves with healthy local food. So we started Huerta Luna, assuming that it would be a simple process, following the principles of permaculture. Find a model to base ourselves on, adapt it to our needs, put it into action and teach other farmers. I thought to myself, I am a fast learner, so despite being a new challenge, it would come together with enough dedication and critical thinking, right? Oh…how wrong I was. Remarkably wrong.

Without going into details, suffice it to say that going into permaculture in the Galapagos Islands was not something that I could simply tackle with my “wheel always spinning” lifestyle and attitude. We started from scratch, there was not even sufficient information on soil available.[3] The journey, though academic in nature,  was as much an issue of  training ourselves to let go into the calm and silence of observation of agricultural research, of accepting losses and seeing them instead as leads to the positive information one needed, of alliances and teamwork, thanks to the efforts of the most wonderful team of local female farmers, responsible and open-minded chefs, the nationwide Seed Guardian Network, and eco-conscious tourists.

Yes. Tourists. I have always seen tourism as a damaging machine, and yet they were to become our saviors. Despite raising a lot of money before starting, and taking into consideration an initial period of loss, the financial challenge grew as the need to fund our learning curve was greater than anticipated. Much greater.  So, the miracle came about when we started to receive inquiries from people who wanted to see the farm and were willing to pay for the privilege. These were not just any old visitors though, they were not looking for last minute cheap deals or luxury getaways. These were people who wanted an off-the-beaten-path immersion to the Galapagos, seeking to contribute to efforts that could potentially have a positive impact on the islands. Many of them were part of the global Slow Food Network. They saved our project.

It is an absolute joy that today, after almost three years of major losses and mistakes, to hold the first community seed bank in the Galapagos Islands, and to be holding the first local seed-saving and to be holding permaculture workshops for the community by the end of April 2019. We are no longer counting the local efforts to farm sustainably on just one hand. We hope to make Galapagos a Slow Food Travel Destination, exploring how travel can not only mitigate any risks they may pose, but to actually have a positive impact, and raise the bar of what “good tourism” really means. The kind of tourism that we want, that saved our farm. The kind that seeks to leave a place better after its visit, and remain conscious of its impact. Where visits contribute to local efforts to realize sustainability and not the contrary. width=

As we start to count more victories than defeats, we are carving many paths through which we can convert more, and someday maybe, realize the dream of having enough local sustainable production to feed us all in the Galapagos. This accessible luxury, we believe  to be essential to keeping our community healthy, and to keeping the Galapagos’ unique wildlife and biodiversity thriving.

Please consider donating to Huerta Luna in the Galapagos Islands at www.huertaluna.com.

 

[1] “One of the beauties of travel is that it allows to bring stillness to the commotion and movement of the world” and “In an age of acceleration nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow.” Pico Iyer. “The Art of Stillness.” TED Salon NY, August, 2014.

[2] Soon to become the “Slow Food Galapagos Community”

[3] Stoops Georges. Soils and Paleosoils of the Galápagos Islands: What We Know and What We Don’t Know, A Meta-Analysis. Pacific Science 68 (1):1-17. January 2014.

 

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