The program placed me in a small, historical town in the south of Brazil called Morretes that has population of about 16,500 people. I started working in an organic farming cooperative that consisted of about thirty different families. I participate in weekly Mutiraos (community work) at the sites of the various families. These consist of going to the sites and doing any type of work that the agriculturists needed. Anything from planting seeds, to pulling weeds, to watering the plants, to putting up fences made out of branches and wire.
Every Wednesday is the Mutirao de Mulheres, which is when only the women work on their plots of land. The women do all of the same work as the men, but during this time they have the choice to plant whatever they choose instead of their husbands or anyone else. After the work, the women sit together in a circle drinking mate and discussing what else they think they should plant and how they are asserting their roles in their households as well as the society. I found this to be one of the most important things I am involved with because in a country that still has a primarily macho culture, it can be very hard for women to find a role where they feel in control and have the choice to do what they think is right.
Every week there is also a reunion at one of the participating family’s homes to discuss movements that anyone wants to make. Sitting in the living room of a house built by its owners, or even outside on the porch, swatting bugs of all shapes and sizes, I realized that you didn’t need a fancy meeting room or business suits to come up with ideas for associations, new tools or techniques to improve the work you are doing. Everyone talks respectfully, listening to ideas that include more spiritual ways of working where after the community work is done everyone would sit in a circle and play the drums, each playing their own beat to add to the cacophony of sound and relax after a long day of work. Agriculturists suggest plants that they think will thrive in the soil and contribute to the prosperity of the cooperative.
Each idea is discussed, debated and finally voted on by all involved in the meeting. After that, the Presidents of the association, one of whom is Neltume (my supervisor), has to figure out whether or not the idea is feasible and within the classifications of organic farming. Since she is my supervisor, I get to work closely with her, seeing how she checks that a new fertilizer that one of the farmers wants to use doesn’t contain any pesticides or venom that would make the crops non-organic.
Although working with agriculture was nothing I ever expected to be doing, it is something I have grown fond of with this experience. I have learned about business organizations, community work and different methods of planting. On top of that, I have met people from all over Brazil as well as the world that are in Morretes doing something they are extremely passionate about doing, and that in itself is an inspiration.