August 2-9, 2009, Via Organica (the “Organic Way”), OCA’s sister organization in Mexico, organized our first Agro-EcoTour to Mexico, bringing US organic consumers down to the beautiful San Miguel de Allende region of Guanajuato, for a first-hand look at the budding organic movement south of the border. Tour leaders included Ronnie Cummins, OCA Director, Alexis Baden-Mayer, head of OCA’s Washington, DC office, Luc Monzies, organic farming expert, and Ana Maria Quispe, Via Organica’s staff dietician and translator.
Trip highlights included an all-day Organic Agriculture workshop at the Via Organica farm and conference center, attended by 250 small farmers from the area who are working with our staff to make the transition to organic agriculture; visits to regional organic farms and permaculture sites; a rural community organizing center; as well as organic retail stores, restaurants, and farmers markets.
OCA’s guests stayed at the Rancho Via Organica, a lush, green organic farm and resort just a few miles outside of San Miguel de Allende. Spread over 20 acres of land, this picturesque riverside property and conference center has several adobe and rock buildings, most sporting extra-thick Huasteca-style palapa roofs. The main salon is one such building, enclosed above by a vast ceiling of awe-inspiring tree trunk beams. The property was given over to Via Organica for caretaking after the owners could no longer keep up the dream of an organic farm and conference center on their own.
The August 2-9 tour began with a visit to the Center for Global Justice, a local non-profit with close ties to Via Organica, and who, through an initial small loan for a greenhouse and continued guidance, has been helping an organic tomato cooperative called Penon de los Banos a short distance outside of town.
Cliff Durand, one of the Center’s three directors, gave a short but informative background on globalization in general and NAFTA’s effect on Mexico specifically. It was followed by a trip to the Penon de los Banos community, where a delicious organic lunch was served on folding tables, in front of the greenhouses and stacked bales of hay. After lunch, the bilingual Via Organica staff facilitated a lively cross-cultural discussion between the farmers and guests.
Another highlight of the tour was a trip to the Center for Economic Development and Sustainable Agriculture (CEDESA) in Delores Hidalgo. CEDESA has been working with poor farmers for over 40 years to help them become self-sufficient using traditional organic farming and “off the grid” permaculture techniques. CEDESA farms include water-free composting toilets, a rainwater catchment system cistern and low-input outdoor cook stoves as well as organic gardens, beehives and larger fields of corn, beans, and squash.
After long but typically inspirational days, guests returned to the tranquil beauty of the Via Organica Ranch. Along with Ronnie Cummins, national director of the OCA and other Via Organica staff members, they enjoyed beautiful, homemade organic meals and lively topical conversations around the large, outdoor dinner table in the green fields of the ranch. Via Organica tour participants also enjoyed swimming in our natural thermal pool, bike rides, hikes, and, last but not least, nightly parties with staff and Mexico organic farmers and activists.
On days when relaxation preempted schooling, guests were free to roam the charming nearby colonial town of San Miguel de Allende. Rich with Mexican history, established in 1542 by the Franciscan monk Fray Juan de San Miguel and being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, a hero of the Mexican Revolution it has since become a mecca for artist and travelers from all over the world. San Miguel de Allende was recently awarded United Nations status as a World Heritage Site.
The August tour group was fortunate to be able to participate in the first Via Organica farm school and organic farmers conference. Nearly 300 people assembled on the rolling green lawn, including 250 campesinos, or small family farmers, who attended for free and traveled from as far away as Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast.
The energy at the conference and throughout the week was exciting and inspirational. It became clear to the San Miguel area community, and those on the tour, that something new and exciting is happening in the rapidly growing Organic Movement in Mexico. OCA’s August 2-9 Agro-EcoTour was a fantastic start for what promises to be an ongoing process of solidarity and information-sharing between local Mexican organic farmers and consumers, Via Organica, and OCA’s guests from the United States. OCA’s Via Organica tours are a unique opportunity to learn more about organic agriculture and commerce and to draw inspiration from the fact that the Organic Revolution is now a global phenomena. Please consider joining us on the next Via Organica tour to Mexico October 4-11.
If you would like to take part in the upcoming October 4-11 tour or other fall/winter trips, please call our Minnesota office and leave a message (218-226-4164) or else visit the tour website http://www.organicconsumers.org/tours/index.cfm for more information.