“The second reason for the failure of industrial agriculture is its wastefulness. In natural or biological systems, waste does not occur … the living arc within the cycle remains within the cycle … there is really no such thing, then, as natural production; in nature, there is only reproduction”
– Wendell Berry (1978)
For a beautiful country, Chile is swimming in waste. I’m sorry to start off on such a negative note, particularly when there is no debating the incredible natural beauty of this diverse land. Howver, there is no denying that off-road adventures become an adventure in binbag avoiding, sleepy hamlets are spoilt by roadside garbage, and Santiago is up to its eyeballs in dog poop, litter and disgarded beer bottles. This waste extends beyond the obvious. Much of Santiago was constructed by the locals themselves (a process known as autoconstruccion) including the fragile drainage systems. An inch of rain is likely to create a lake while the heat of summer stirs up an odour of soggy carpets and doghair. Yards are filled to the brim with broken toys and furniture left out to rot and rust beneath the elements, while the youth grow up oblivious to the concept of recyling. A trip to the market equals a mountain of small yellow bags while a simple trip to supermarket or local almacen means you will probably return with double the weight of purchases just in plastic. Everything is in cartons. Declining a plastic bag equals disbelief and even outrage – “you must have a bag or your food will get dirty!” The world of industrial food production has its claws well and truly in the daily lives of modern Chile.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Wonderful initiatives such as Algramo are making their mark, particularly when they offer the basics in a way that is accesible to all. Algramo started off as a small idea that has now grown into local stores across Santiago – in Recoleta too – and removes the third party from the buying process. People fill up exactly how much they can afford into reusuable containers, which means that they do not have to cover packaging costs and are buying direct from producers.
Meanwhile, organic and sustainable food suppliers are growing in popularity. Agricola Tinajacura is a family-run project that offers free-range animals without chemicals, additives or hormones, including meat and wool. They have recently expanded to include (happy) chickens and deliver in Santiago. I love projects like this because it goes back to what farming originally was, and should have remained. A look at their Facebook page doesn’t show a farm working as a factory offering up natural resources as endless units of production. Instead, Tinajacura shows us smiling men and women getting their hands dirty and gives us working pictures of the farm. We can see the whole process, from egg to outside chicken coup, from shearing to transportation – images that are organic and raw.
Another venture worth getting excited about is being undertaken by fellow kiwi expat, Matt Saywell. Loncotoro Farm is located on the outskirts of Puerto Varas on the banks of Lake Llanquihue, an area famed for its natural beauty. Their vision is about as far away from that of industrial agriculture as you can get: it reads “inspire, connect, embrace, preserve and share.” Matt and his backers are motivated to keep the essence of northern Patagonia intact, planting and maintaining reserves whilst working the land in a sustainable manner. They are working alongside rather than removing nature, and the dedication shown by Matt is incredibly motivating. Follow their blog on Facebook to keep up with their adventures, particularly to see what it is like working in an area that interacts and competes with the two big name giants active in Chile, Fonterra and Nestle. The initiative is looking for investors and plots of land (in paradise, I might add) are selling now.
If you are interested in the food industry in Chile, then you may like to have a look at my two earlier blogs. The Milk Chain which is about the milk industry in Chile and Food and Identity in Santiago – both are anthropological essays writn for Massey University in New Zealand. While you are it take a look at the links I posted above and share below any other sustainable companies that deserve a mention. Finally, try get your hands on the work of Wendell Berry, an American scholar whose best essays can be found in the incredible “The Gift of Good Land.”
(Photos courtesy of Agricola Tinajacura)