What are we doing here?
March 23, 2023
5th Sunday of Lent (A)
March 23, 2023

Green Market Santa Cruz: all about food security and zero hunger

by Vicki Assevero

Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ encouraged believers “to care for our common home” and to view Mother Earth as a beloved sister “who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs”.

“If we take Pope Francis’ message into our hearts, we will not tolerate 8 per cent of our population suffering from hunger—meaning insufficient food intake to meet dietary energy and nutritional requirements. Extreme poverty explains less than 40 per cent of the cases of undernourishment. So, I ask myself what is really going on”, queried Vicki Assevero, founder of the Green Market Santa Cruz.

“My conclusion is that we have forgotten how to nourish ourselves and that stems from our alienation from the land that is our natural physical environment.”

The Green Market Santa Cruz (GMSC) was the first farmers’ market in Trinidad to combine commerce and community and to pair general public education on health and nutrition with farmer education about better agricultural practices and agroecology.

Intentionally designed as a market in a garden, GMSC has created a space for people to discover and rediscover the beauty of food crops, herbs, and flowers and to spontaneously gather and converse.

Inspired by her attendance at the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development and the global efforts to reconcile environmental protection and repair with inclusive economic well-being, the Market’s founder gathered a group of thoughtful neighbours and asked what a demonstration of sustainability in the rapidly urbanising Santa Cruz valley could be.

By focusing on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #12 – changing patterns of production and consumption— a framework for direct relations between growers and patrons emerged that cut out middlemen and retail costs.

“We need conscious consumers, who are thinking about the environment, about not wasting, and about nutrition and health,” explained Pat Ganase, an original advisory board member who supported the creation of the CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription programme.

Several of the original vendors have graduated and started their own small businesses or have expanded their reach through the marketing and promotional efforts of the Green Market staff and community.

Astrida Saunders, of Cocoa Café, and Crystal Maraj of Aviare both emphasise the important nurturing role that GMSC has played in their business’ expansion.

With support from Atlantic LNG, the Green Market pioneered an innovative ECO-Minds project to immerse secondary and primary school students in a natural environment where they learned botany and biology, grew their own food, and journalled their experiences supported by college interns from abroad and local volunteers.

Edible Talks, initially supported by RBC, provided another vehicle for experts to share their knowledge about food – as a business, as sustenance, as cuisine – with the public.

With food inflation running at 10 per cent, accessing fresh food becomes problematic for many and consequently food choices veer towards unhealthy, highly processed and packaged foods.

When you add the high energy costs related to importation and unseasonal weather patterns related to climate change, there is a perfect storm that is destroying both human and ecological health.

“The Green Market has taken a holistic approach combining farmers’ education with consumer education. They have been very successful in fostering direct relationships between consumers and people like me who grow food. Many of my customers are now friends who understand the challenges I face with organic practices,” explained Brian-Anthony Dickson, a longstanding farmer at the Market. Another farmer colleague, Narvin Ramroop said, “The Market has organised demonstrations on permaculture and syntropic agro-forestry. They have introduced us to experts that have improved our knowledge and saved us money by showing us substitutes for expensive imported inputs. We, as the Green Market community,  are really working hard to change the influence that commercial marketing has on our food choices.”

Cognisant of this reality, the GMSC invited FEEL (Foundation for the Enhancement and Enrichment of Life, founded by Clive Pantin  in 1992) to partner with it on a 5k walk/run, March 25, 7 a.m., that will benefit FEEL’s dedicated efforts at hunger alleviation.

This run is not a one-off event, which incidentally celebrates the Market’s 10th anniversary; it is also part of a decade long effort at public education about growing healthy food, the relationship of good clean food to healthy soil and flourishing biodiversity, and the importance of producing and buying locally to our national food security and resilience.

Assevero likes to quote Ron Finley, the ‘gangsta gardener’: “Growing your own food is like printing your own money!”

“If we commit to growing more and eating more of what we grow, we will reduce hunger and support our own health and economy. Come run or walk with us. It’s a good journey for us to take together.”

Photo taken from the Green Market Instagram.