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Negotiating local food production in the Monteverde Zone: from farmer to market


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Negotiating local food production in the Monteverde Zone: from farmer to market
Translated Title:
La negociación de la producción local de alimentos en la zona de Monteverde: del agricultor al mercado ( )
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Helmy, Hannah
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normalized irregular


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Local foods--Costa Rica--Puntarenas--Monteverde Zone
Food production and natural resources--Costa Rica--Puntarenas--Monteverde Zone
Agricultural laborers--Costa Rica--Puntarenas--Monteverde Zone
Community Health 2006


This paper examines cultivation and distribution experiences of food producers within the Monteverde Zone.
Este artículo examina las experiencias de cultivo y distribución de los agricultores dentro de la zona de Monteverde.

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usfldc doi - M38-00068
usfldc handle - m38.68
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Negotiating Local Food Production in the Monteverde Zone: From Farmer to Market Globalization and Health Field School 2006 USF Monteverde Institute Hannah Helmy Shana Hughes Douglas Reeser Amy Shepherd


2 T eam members: Hannah Hel my, University of South Florida, second year MA student, MA (Anthropology) and MPH in progress, BA, Psychology, Miami University, 2004, Spanish proficiency: beginner. Shana Hughes, University of South Florida, second year doctoral student, PhD (Anth r opo logy) and MPH in progress, MA, Latin American Studies, University of Kansas 2005, Spanish proficiency: advanced. Douglas Reeser, University of South Florida, second year MA student, MA (Anthropology) and MPH in progress, BA, Anthropology, West Chester U niversity, 2005, Spanish proficiency: intermediate. Amy Shepherd, University of South Florida, senior undergrad uate Honors Program, anthropology major, public health minor, Spanish proficiency: beginner. Introduction The University of South Florida, in collaboration with the Monteverde Institute, conducts a summer field school in Monteverde, Costa Rica in which student groups carry out community based research. This project has its basis in themes identified by the Monteverde community in 2001 and b uilds on previous research done by past groups enrolled in t he field school. Specifically, the 2004 study sought to determine factors influencing food choice, modes of food procurement, barriers to access, quality and availability, underlying factors in f ood pricing, and community solutions. It also identified the desire for a feria del agricultor (farmer s market). The 2003 research team researched the prevalence of obesity in Ca itas and Cerro Plano through examining food security, characteristics of diets, parent vs. child perception of diets, and obstacles to food access. In 2002, an assessment of food insecurity and perceptions of nutrition and food resources in the Monteverde Zone was done through various anthropological methods. Research showed a high degree of nutritional knowle dge in the communities, but a lack of quality nutrition due to economic limitations. After reading the se studies, and talking to an individual with experience in the field, designated as our community advisor, we decided s


3 with planting and selling their crops. We also wanted to investigate the perceptions and needs of the community with respect to access to locally grown produce. These were deemed key domains of inquiry, prerequisi tes for any future project intending to improve food distribution and nutrition in the Monteverde Zone. Goals of the study The project aimed to examine cultivation and distribution experiences of food producers within the Monteverde Zone in the context of globalization, with the intention of identifying potential markets and strategies for the continuation of sustainable agriculture, as well as improving the nutrition and well being of the community. Our specific objectives were t o investigate the exper iences of local agricultural producers with the sale of their products, the access to and the desire for, local agricultural products on the part of the consumers, and the practices and needs of those who buy food for local restaurants. In addition, we ai med to identify strategies to increase the access, both of producers to the market, and of consumers to their desired products. Methods Study population Our study population consisted of individuals involved in agriculture restaurant owners, and touris ts in and around the Monteverde Zone. This was an exploratory study utilizing a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. We conducted observational studies, sixteen semi structured interviews and sixty six survey questionnaires Methods used f or recruitment of participants Eleven of the semi structured interviews were with individuals involved in agriculture, and five interviews were with food buyers in the restaurant business. We obtained twenty one of our su rveys from restaurants through conv enience sampling. Twenty


4 more were obtained through convenience sampling with tourists. The remaining twenty five surveys were procured during a co mmunity health fair, held in Ca itas, on July 6, 2006. Initially we obtained our first few interviews, with i ndividuals involved in agriculture, through personal recommendations. After these initial interviews, we identified further participants via snowball sampling. Data C ollection For all interviews we visited each respondent once. Our interviews consisted of a questionnaire that we created with the help of our faculty advisor previous to the interview. All questions to respondents were given orally with one or more team members recording the response. Our surveys were also created prior to distribution with the help of our faculty advisors. Some of our surveys were given orally, some were dropped off and picked up at a later time, and the others were given and completed immediately. Protection of participant confidentiality Participants were assigned number s and no personally identifying information was collected. Consent was obtained from all project participants and they were asked to decide whether or not to participate upon hearing the project description and interview/survey process An informed conse nt form in Spanish or English was provided to each participant prior to interviews/surveys, allowing time for questions and the option of refusing to participate in the project. Willing participants were then asked to sign a consent form. All notes were left at the Monteverde Institute upon completion of the final presentation. Data Analysis All data from interviews was typed up as it was acquired. When data acquisition was finished all data was entered into a data base. After all gathered information wa s entered, data was analyzed and a presentation was prepared for the community.


5 Study limitations This study was conducted in an extremely abbreviated time frame, which translated into fewer opportunities to explore the meaning behind some of our survey responses, and recruit more participants. In addition, our respondents were not selected randomly, which may have introduced bias into our data None of the investigators were native speaker s of Spanish ; this made it more challenging to understand the r ural dialect of some of the respondents. Results Our data fell into three general categories: opinions and perceptions of local agricultural producers, those responsible for purchasing produce in local restaurants, and tourists in the Monteverde Zone. I n our conversations with local producers, some important recurring themes emerged, including the overarching theme of the challenges they confront. The three most commonly mentioned challenges were: economics, changes in lifestyle, and natural obstacles t o cultivation. The economic challenges emerged in the responses to several of our research questions, and encompassed the higher costs of living and production, and assertions like, and Another am working part time as a day laborer. A second important trend that surfaced in our interviews involved lifestyle and changes therein. The lifestyle of a farmer is not necessarily appealing to everyone. Many mentioned that most people prefer other opportunities, especially involving tourism. For the and


6 prefer instead to produce solely to satisfy family needs. Still others don't have the time for growing and working full time. Various people also commented that the new generation is not interested in being farmers. There was a high degree of consensus that natural obstacles to cultivation, including topography, rain, wind, and blight, were prevalent. Taken together, these characteristics of the region contribu te to difficult circumstances for growing and unstable production. The following three challenges were cited less frequently by the producers, but remain important considerations nonetheless. In this era of increasing tourism, some uses of the land, espec ially those related with tourism, are much more profitable than others. This leads some community members to reconsider dedicating their land to cultivation. As a member of ng to build redistributive force ; development and growth of the communities of the Zone also potentially contribute to a loss of cultivated lands. An additional challenge that local producers experience stems from a global level: trade agreements, like CAFTA, for example. Some of the small scale producers have express ed the conviction that they can no t compete with transnational companies, and that they do n o t think that this type of production will benefit Co sta Rica. One producer gave as an example about the banana plantations that use many chemicals in the Atlantic Zone. Being foreign companies, they produce, take the earnings and go, leaving Costa Rica with A nother effect of the increasing exchange of people, ideas, and goods manifests in a different challenge for the producers of fruits and vegetables of the Zone. Even though the e demand because of seasonal variations in tourism. On the other hand, provisioning the big hotels of the Z one can be too much for small scale producers, which describes the majority of local growers


7 Producers also mentioned a perceived lack of training and support which may be compounded by the fact that many of them have little experience growing in the Zone, as historically this was a dairy producing region. More specifically, a t least one producer noted the lack of government al support. A possible result of this neglect could be the misuse of agricultural chemicals, such as pestici ne must be realistic, but in C osta R ica they first, to train those who sell them, and a fter, those who use them. However, this remains a contested issue, as demonstrated by the comments made by one community member at a presentation of our results in Caitas. Despite these many challenges the prod u c ers have developed ideas and strategies t o confront the challenges they face First, the majority stressed the importance of greenhouses which mitigate the severity of environmental obstacles that make farming difficult in the Zone Of their the idea l ; if I could afford to cover all of this, [speaking of his land] I would do i In addition they intend to sell more produce utilize more social networks to facilitate this process, and incorporate new produce to satisfy the tastes of the tourists for example, bas il and rhubarb To counteract the lack of support that was previously discussed, some have petitioned for support from governmental institutions such as I nstituto N acional de A prendizaje or I nstituto M ixto de A yuda S ocial and participate in occupational training programs Some have even take n courses in marketing and organic cultivation. Finally, to increase the profit ability of agriculture, some have combined th eir production with tourism. One resource producers in the Zone do lack is an administrat ive platform that would facilitate the sale of their products. This kind of organization would be useful in other venues as well; it would provide them with a way of coordinating among themselves to achieve greater market penetration, and greater bargaini ng power vis a vi s the government. In the


8 opinio n of someone heavily involved with agriculture in the Zone, iative has to come can tend to impede this process, and it seems that the p erception of weak community support is discouraging to them In this vein several farmers emphasized various challenges related to the possibility of having a farmers market. For this reason, we evaluate d the perceptions and attitudes of the community toward locally grown produce. As previously stated, a study conducted in 2004 reported on the limited availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in the Zone. Hence, we sought to discover whether this was still a concern on the part of the community. S ince one of the recommendations of that earlier report was to establish a farmers market, we sought to confirm this in our investigation Our study also encompassed the interest of the community in obtaining locally grown produce through other sources. The information gathered through our surveys provided insights into both community and local restaurant needs, and has been represented in graphs in the Appendix. The first graph demonstrates where peop le of one of the communities in the Zone buy produce for their homes. N early 50% of the sa mple buys their produce from the Supermarket. Additionally, more than a quarter obtain produce from their own garde ns/crops. The second graph demonstrates that restaurants in our sample also obtain most of their prod uce from the Supermarket. Although the majority of those surveyed bought produce in the Supermarket, we discovered that the desire for locally grown produce was generalized 90% of restaurants and 100% of families in our sample expressed this interest. T he owner of one of the Nevertheless, we saw a mark ed contrast


9 between community members and restaurants w hen we asked whether they knew of a place to buy locally grown produce. Mor e than 90% of the families were aware of a place to buy them, while less than half of the restaur ants possess that knowledge (See third graph). Given the interest in local produce, we thought it important to know where people in the community would prefer to buy it The most common response was a farmer s market, followed by a special section in the supermarket information wh ich could be interesting for anyon e interested in starting a feria Conclusions and recommendations for future research An interesting topic that came up during the research was the strong preoccupation with the use of agroc hemicals and the damaging effect they can have on health, specifically in regards to the high rate of cancer in Costa Rica. This led ma ny people to comment on the importance d tremendously. Many times organic seemed to be conflated with freshness, and locally grown production Others defined it as the result of a process of formal certification, something in which local producers have not engaged In spite of this ambiguity many people declared themsel ves in favor of organic produce (see graph 5 ) In our surveys we asked participants how much they would be willing to pay for organics in comparison with what they pay for their regular produce. Over 70% of community members stated they would be willing to spend more for organics. In contrast, slightly less than 30% of the restaurants surveyed reported that they would be willing to pay more for organic produce, and 42% reported that they did not know how much they would pay. This discrepancy may be explained by the fact that those surveyed at the restaurants may be thinking in terms of profits as opposed to feeding their own families. They also expressed concern about the lack of organic


10 certification of the local producers Taken together, these data illustrate the potential feasibility of organic production something that should be given more in depth study. Another significant finding of our study was that m any agreed with the need for an administrative platform in orde r to better the conditions of the local producers. One person who was interviewed expressed this sentiment as: a strong opic in the depth it warrants, the results of the investigation indicate that the form such an organization would eventually take should respond to and refle ct the needs of the community. An add itional means of adapting to the changes occurring in the Monte Verde zone that interested many of the producers was agrotourism I n order to find out more about the feasibility of such efforts, we gave survey s to 20 tourist s who were visiting the Z one. We discovered that, of the tourists of varying ages and nationalities that we surveyed, 90% had either already participated in agrotourism or expressed an interest in doing so. In general, they preferred to take tours that included several products and ac tivities environment which is to say, not one belonging to a big company This also appeared to in the country where the tourists can come and In summary, it was widely recognized that tourism brings both challenges and opportunities for those living and farming in the Zone. Knowing how to take advantage of those opportunities may result in some beneficial secondary effects, such as: g reater financial stability, greater variety and higher quality of fruits and vegetables for the community and especially fo r the families of the producers. This could then translate into improved nutrition in the entire Monteverde zone.


11 Acknowledgements ed on our project: agriculturalists, restaurant owners and managers, those who took our surveys, and the community in general. Thanks also to those at the Instituto Monteverde, for all of their support and goodwi ll. Drs. Himmel gree n y Romero Daza, Federico Cintr n, and Scot t Mitchell were of great help to us; we learned so much from you. don Humberto Brenes Cambronero, a man of tremend ous heart and human solidarity.


12 References cited Chase, Reeve: Mitchell, Scott; Neubauer; Chris, Barrientos Patricia; Blythe, Rose 2004 An Examination of Food Procurement Strategies and Access in Canitas: An Exploratory Study Monteverde Institute. Cranfill, Tamara; Bowler, Kate; Kossler, Kimberly; Rappaport, Lynley; Reusser, Meghan; Feddersen, Garrett; Himmelgreen, David 2003 An Exploratory Study on Food Security, Diet, and Perceptions of Nutritional Health in Monteverde Zone. Monteverde Institute. Davis, Emile; Andia, Jennifer; Klien, Rebecca; Wirsing, Elisabeth 2002 Assessing Food Security in the Monteverde Zone: A Multi Method Approach Monteverde Institute. Himmel green, David; Deborah L. Crook 2006 Nutritiona Applied Anthropology Domains of Application, J Van Willigan and S. Kedia (eds), Westport, CT. pp 150 188 Himmelgreen, David; Nancy Romero Daza, Maribel Vega, Humberto Brenes Cambron ero, Edgar Amador 2006 The Tourist Season Goes Down But Not The Prices Tourism and Food Insecurity In Rural Costa Rica Eco logy of Food and Nutrition, 45: 1 27 Muoz Carlos and Nevin S. Scrimshaw. Eds. 1995 The Nutrition a nd Health Transition of Democratic Costa Rica International Foundation for Developing Countries (INFDC). Boston, MA USA. This project and its publication were supported by grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the United Nations University. Nygren, A. 1998 Environment as Discourse: Searching for Sustainable Development Environmental Values 7 ( 2 ): 201 222. Schwartz, Norman B. 1981 Anthropological Views of Community and Community Dev elopment Human Organization 40 ( 4 ). Y ach Derek 1992 The Use and Value of Qualitative Methods in Health Research in Developing Countries Sci. M ed. 35(4):603 612


13 Appendi x Copy of IRB Copy of Informed Consent Form (in English and Spani sh) Farmer Interview Instrument Restaurant Interview Instrument Restaurant Survey Tourist Survey Graphs 1 5

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La negociacin de la produccin local de alimentos en la zona de Monteverde: del agricultor al mercado.
Negotiating local food production in the Monteverde Zone: from farmer to market.
c 2006
This paper examines cultivation and distribution experiences of food producers within the Monteverde Zone.
Este artculo examina las experiencias de cultivo y distribucin de los agricultores dentro de la zona de Monteverde.
Local foods--Costa Rica--Puntarenas--Monteverde Zone
Food production and natural resources--Costa Rica--Puntarenas--Monteverde Zone
Agricultural laborers--Costa Rica--Puntarenas--Monteverde Zone
Community Health 2006
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Reeser, Douglas
Shepherd, Amy
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