Food Voices: Recovering Urban Spaces and Ancestral Traditions

A profile of urban farmer Sara Medina of Venezuela in the “Food Voices” series.

WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. As she continues her journey, spanning from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond, we will feature highlights of the stories she gathers. 

Sara Medina is an urban farmer from Caracas, Venezuela. When she was 47 years old, Venezuela’s revolutionary government made it possible for her to go back to school and study agroecology. Through support from a government agency, CIARA (Capacity and Innovation for Support of Agrarian Reform), she now farms and trains others in inner-city communities how to feed themselves.

“One of the main objectives is to recover urban spaces. I work with communities to develop small community farms. We teach the communities about the benefits of agriculture and the nutritional value of the products they grow. Through these community farms, we advise what vegetables to grow and how. We teach them how to control pests to avoid infestation. We also have help from Cuban advisors. They have a lot of experience in Cuba because of the blockade.1 We have only been doing urban farming for a short time, but the Cuban advisors have 20-25 years of experience, so they are teaching us a lot. We also learn from the farmers who moved from the countryside to Caracas in the ’60’s because of the oil business.2 A lot of people thought they would have more opportunities in the city, but it wasn’t like that. A lot of people who have come from rural areas have farming knowledge and we must recover our ancestral traditions and knowledge.

“I work with about 30 or 40 communities. There are a lot of projects. There are the school farm projects and raised bed gardens for people who don’t have any space – only their roofs or a deck. The purpose of the school project is to teach the students about farming. The kids are like a sponge and when they learn about the earth, they absorb it. With the urban family farming, the idea is that they get some autonomy. The first priority is food self sufficiency, so the people farm for themselves. At the same time, they give extra products to the food pantry. And then if there is excess, they can sell that at the market for a good price and the money earned goes back into the community for transportation, supplies, or whatever the community needs.

“The biggest goal is for people to make their own food and be self-sufficient. The problem is that it is hard to change people’s mentality about dependency. They depend a lot on the supermarkets. It is hard to change this mentality. Economics and health are the advantages that people need to understand about urban farming and food sovereignty.

“The support that I can give to the community is my profession, because now I am a professional and I am obligated to give them the information they need. But the information is not easy to pass on. It is not easy to get that information to the people. Social struggle is not only happening in Venezuela, but also in the rest of the world. I think the rich countries have very serious problems – more serious than here. Through agroecology, I can give the people my knowledge and my support for the rest of my life.”

1 The US economic blockade against Cuba encouraged innovations in organic urban agriculture due to a sudden unavailability of petrochemicals.

2 The discovery of vast petroleum reserves in Venezuela focused national attention on developing an oil industry versus developing its agricultural sector, leading to an exodus from the countryside.