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Rosa's Mutualitos Bring Sustainable Urban Farming to the Hands of the Working People

Rosa Evelia Poveda Guerrero, known to her friends and acquaintances as Rosita, is an inspiring and tireless woman who believes in the power of urban agriculture solving the feeding needs of the urban poor. A native of Boyaca, one of Colombia’s 32 departments, and an agricultural hub to the north of Bogotá, Rosa Poveda is a farm laborer who, like many more in rural Colombia, was a victim of internal displacements and ended up living in one of Bogota’s shanty neighborhoods.

In 2003, Rosa found an 1,800-meter dumpsite in the Perseverancia neighborhood, in the Eastern hills of Bogotá, where homeless people squatted. This neighborhood is mostly populated by low-income people and is known for its crime rates, with frequent cases of robbery, burglary, homicide, and constant confrontations between gang groups. Having dreamt about the opportunity of having an urban farm, Rosa decided to look for the owner of this site and received it as a commodatum (gratuitous loan). Then, she set up a provisional camp and moved into the dumpsite, and, with the help of her two sons, started the process of cleaning the waste that had been piling up during the past 40 years. 

Mutualitos
Still from "Mutualitos" | Towards the Human City

Clearing up tons of garbage was not an easy task, especially for a single woman and two teenagers, all without access to financial resources, let alone machinery or equipment to speed up the process. This is why, in 2005, Rosa decided to organize the first minga (indigenous word referring to collective work to the benefit of the entire community) as a community gathering offering a lunch in exchange for a day of work cleaning the dumpsite. The call was a success, and about 250 people showed up at her doorstep, bringing tools and willingness to work. In the end, more than 2,500 bags of waste were removed from the dumpsite. Materials were categorized and whatever was useful was either sold to recyclers or reused as construction material for the improvement of the site.

More than a decade has gone by since that first minga took place, and those 1,800 meters now have become a green and ecological urban farm where more than 100 different crop varieties are grown, next to farm animals such as hens, rabbits and quail. The construction of the farm has been done entirely with recycled materials. Chemical fertilizers are completely avoided. Natural fertilizer is produced from organic waste from various sources, including waste that is collected and given by local families, excreta from the ecological toilet, horse dung obtained from a neighboring military base, sawdust discarded by carpenters, and grazing. With all these resources, six different types of manure are obtained and used on the farm.

Mutualitos
Still from "Mutualitos" | Towards the Human City
Mutualitos
Still from "Mutualitos" | Towards the Human City

Besides producing organic food for her own consumption and that of her relatives, Rosa participates at local farmers markets, where barter is the main medium of exchange, and provides catering services for socially conscious events that hire her. She is currently working on the creation of a collection center at her farm to receive organic products from urban farmers and set up a commercialization and distribution chain. 

But Rosa is convinced that through education and awareness-raising she can make a bigger change in respect to food security, particularly among younger generations. That is why she has opened the doors of her urban farm to children with an interest in what she does. She started by inviting children from the neighborhood to come and work at the farm after school hours. This proves them with an alternative for their free time and teaches them skills for the future, while moving them away from the environment of crime and gang groups that surround them. 

After some time, Rosa started receiving visitors from schools, universities, and community organizations from Bogota and peripheral towns. She teaches them how to grow organic food in urban settings, and shows them how to effectively cater to the nutritional needs of the poor in a natural, healthy, and sustainable way. If they are keen to grow their own crops, Rosa will go to the schools and universities and give them advice on setting up their plantations. Rosa has also taken her experience across borders and has been invited to share her views on organic urban agriculture in Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, France, and Italy, among others. Altogether, Rosa estimates she has reached out to more than 20,000 people with her message, and she is eager to speak to many more. 

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