It's been awhile since I've posted anything, and for once I have a good excuse: I've been travelling through Bolivia and Peru for the past six weeks or so, and keeping my eyes open for anything I can glean about the agriculture there. It's been an interesting journey through the land of Quinoa and Potatoes, but I am doubly excited to return home and get back to my beloved seed collection!
It seems that most of the agricultural energy in the Bolivian highlands goes to potatoes, quinoa, favas, and corn. I did see a bit of lupines and oca as well, but just a bit. I have not, in any of my wanderings, run across a single vegetable garden! I have learned through chatting with the ladies at the local markets, that most of the fruit and vegetables are imported from other parts of the country, and from places like Argentina and coastal areas, and probably Brazil. The climate here seems quite fine for most vegetables that we grow back home. One lady commented to me that her people "don't know how to grow vegetables", except maybe some onions, carrots, and chard. Strange. In Peru, at least in Cusco, it seems that more of the food is actually from Peru as opposed to other countries. But Peru is lucky to have a coastline. Bolivia is landlocked, and limited in some ways, but still has jungle and tropical areas in the east. However, the roads are long and windy from the east over the mountains to the western altiplano towns...it's closer for most to get food transported up from Argentina and such.
It seems fruitless to try and collect quinoa seeds here...so many varieties, so many variables in climate. The sad thing about quinoa is that since the US and other "western" countries have taken such a liking to this gluten-free superfood, prices here have skyrocketed. Most Bolivians (and Peruvians, although I see more of it in this affluent town of Cusco) can't afford to eat their indigenous Andean grain anymore. There is a whole lot of vitamin-deficient white rice going around these parts. I read in a local Bolivian paper that the cost of meat is cheaper than quinoa now. It's good for the farmers, but bad for everyone else who is buying their food.
I've had some good conversations with local folks about the importance of eating local foods. There are many similarities to back home: folks in the cities aren't eating nearly as many local foods as they could, peasant farmers in the countryside are probably eating mostly what they grow, although selling extra staples in order to have cash to buy those veggies at the market. Perhaps that is why there aren't many veggies served with meals. It is usually a piece of meat with rice and potatoes. A true gut bomb if you ask me: the old starch/protein combo. There are some tasty soups to be had, though!
And of course, every area has a different specialty, and that is why I love to travel. Something new around every bend. And for me, it usually has something to do with food. Ok, it Always has something to do with food.
I have a friend who is in Peru for a year, studying such agricultural topics as the Brazil Nut industry, and, hopefully, Cacao. She writes a great blog at: plantasquecomemos.blogspot.com.
Krista is a life-long resident of Whatcom County, Washington State. She has been gardening and farming in the area for over 15 years.