Organic Food Finds Niche In Megalopolis Bogota

A Bogota-based NGO is helping some 30 farmers to sell organic produce directly to consumers. An oasis of clean food in the face of rising agrobusiness dominance.

Market stalls in Bogota
Market stalls in Bogota
Laura Dulce Romero
BOGOTA — There may be hope for organic farming in Colombia — a country that otherwise appears to be increasingly in the grip of big agrobusiness and vast food imports from the European Union.

Jairo Leal, a 58-year-old cultivator living outside the capital, is one of the faces of this newfound hope. "I have been a peasant all my life. I know how to farm," he says. And by that, he means "without pesticides".

When they tell him insects could harm his vegetables unless he sprays them with chemicals, he says: "so let them die."

He expands on his philosophy: "Crops are like life, at the end of the day: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But I know one thing: you can even win something from your losses." He notes that he uses spoiled crops to feed his animals, which then produce manure to allow him to replant his organic crops.

Leal has been an organic farmer for almost 12 years, cultivating 50 types of produces on five hectares he owns in the district of Fusagasugá. It may seem a lot for a small plot, but Leal uses "crop rotation" and effectively uses every inch of his land.

Leal and his wife, Judith Pineda, are now part of an initiative called La Canasta (The Basket), which helps some 30 families produce organic — pesticides and chemicals-free — food to sell in Bogota and the surrounding department of Cundinamarca.

La Canasta's approach is to help create a direct link between producers and customers, and more respectful relationships with the land.

Daniel Jiménez, a spokesman for the network, says it makes weekly deliveries of organic food on Wednesday to the homes of clients, who can register by phone or through its website. The baskets distributed to clients range in prices depending on the plots they come from (the most expensive is roughly 20 euros), and include "surprise" and seasonal products. The price you pay includes the cost of transport and training for producers.

More than money

Jairo Leal says there are two ways of keeping his plants free from pests or fungus, when he finds them. One is by hand and the other by spraying the juice of other plants onto them, including horse's tail, a natural pesticide.

Still, the reality is that a relatively small minority will farm this way in Colombia: "The mentality has changed," says Leal. "Now farmers just want money and to be sure their crops come out well and in abundance, with or without chemicals."

Sitting outside their small green cottage, he declares that the Leal-Pineda family doesn't want to become "millionaires," but to live a dignified life, respecting consumers who deserve to eat healthy food.

Judith tells me the couple used to farm with pesticides, but changed when they got tired of having to scrub everything thoroughly to cleanse it of chemicals. "It is also a question of honesty. There has to be a stricter control of what we eat. People eating fruits and salads in Bogota are often ingesting poison," she says.

The precarious conditions for farmers in Colombia are no secret, particularly after a massive rural strike in 2013 that brought to light their difficult conditions, not to mention the rock bottom prices wholesalers pay for their produce.

Adriana Chaparro, an expert in the rural economy and organic food market, says that there remains no government support for organic farming. We contacted the governor's offices in the Cundinamarca department, and were told by its agriculture department that there were "no specific projects in this area."

Another problem is the absence of a healthy eating culture among Colombian consumers, who think organic food is just pricey food. Jairo Leal accuses the government of focusing its resources on the expansion of big mining rather than organic farming. The earth, he says, is "the essence of this country, which is degraded by its own greed."

Still, despite broad support, the couple takes comfort in knowing they are doing the right thing, as La Canasta takes their produce from their basket straight into people's kitchens. This is a chain, they tell us, that is now unbreakable.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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