Angie Ferrazzini is transforming production and consumption habits in Argentina to build sustainable communities by leveraging key stakeholders in the farm to table pipeline.
The New Idea
In the urban areas of Latin America, daily life is increasingly disconnected from nature. Purchase and consumption of food is quickly moving to supermarkets, where making purchases is merely an act of supply, devoid of any context relating the food and products to the environment, farming, labor practices, and local economy. Given this situation, Angie Ferrazzini expands the concept of agricultural sustainability and conscious consumption by leveraging key stakeholders throughout society, changing cultures and building an ecosystem of support that can cover all citizens.
The first job Angie’s organization, Sabe la Tierra (The Earth Knows), undertakes is to identify local producers and micro entrepreneurs that will create systems and opportunities for agricultural development. Sabe la Tierra organizes sustainable markets and fairs by collaborating with municipalities and key economic actors. Initially, Angie organized her own three fairs that revolved around the issue of sustainability, engaged a growing and diverse audience that had never before heard the concept, and provided an outlet for micro-producers within the local economy that did not have access to customers. The success of these fairs generated demand in new municipalities, and Angie quickly understood the need for open markets outside Buenos Aires that could create a national network of Sabe la Tierra markets and convert other markets to the philosophy and practices of Sabe la Tierra.
To broaden the concept to mainstream audiences and strengthen the development of producers, Angie is now moving to other key outlets that can spread the tools for sustainable consumption. Sabe la Tierra started a catering service, featuring local producers, to share both their products and ideas around sustainability at large events with powerful reach. She is also working on collaborative kitchens and a Sabe la Tierra seal to indicate sustainable origin of a product. As more people take interest in the movement, local governments and other allies also see opportunity in these previously invisible producers and newly activated consumers, and can offer them resources and incentives to further fuel the movement.
Life in large cities is increasingly complex and dehumanizing. Urban residents live in ever accelerating rhythms of daily life, and this sense of urgency is detracting from quality of life in several ways. Human relationships are losing depth and quality as technology replaces in-person interaction, and confidence and trust are decreasing. A sense of responsibility for the environment is also deteriorating as people become more and more removed from nature and lose daily contact with their natural surroundings. There are only small groups of people who are aware of food sustainability, and this does not include the regular citizen.
As social fabric loosens and people move further from their sources of food and other daily necessities, consumer habits are becoming disconnected from ethics-based decision making. Acts of buying are merely transactions, and consumer choices are driven by a product’s price, instead of its origin, method, or producer. Because there is not a culture of looking for information about how and where products are made and because it is not readily available, consumers often do not know if the products they buy involve child labor or if environmental degradation occurs in the production process. Sometimes, the consumer may not even be aware of the compensation producers receive due to the number of intermediaries the products pass through before reaching the buyer. Even when information about the environmental and social degradation caused by current consumption patterns is available in Argentina, many have not yet internalized the relationship between their purchasing decisions and those negative social and environmental impacts.
Industrialization and scale are increasingly characteristic of the supplier scene in the region. With the growth of Argentina’s economy in the 1990’s came the entrance of larger supermarkets into the market. In 1995, Walmart entered the country with four stores and two supercenters. As of 2010, food and beverage sales in hypermarkets and superstores accounted for approximately 65 percent of total food and beverage sales in Argentina.
As these large and globalized vendors grow, small, local producers offer an alternative of transparency, accountability, and investment in local economies. However, there is no incentive for municipalities to encourage and support these local, small farmers and entrepreneurs. Because many of these producers function predominantly in economies of subsistence -- growing produce or making their goods at home on a very small scale -- they often lack formal structure and legal status. This prevents them from increasing their production or deepening their relationship with the city, and the city does not know to seek them out because they have not been identified as potential economic actors.
After experience working in responsible consumption, Angie saw that there were few very sources of this culture in Argentine society. This led her to found Sabe la Tierra (“The Earth Knows”) Market as a way to create a new community culture built around consumer choice and eco-conscious and sustainable living. She started with the first market in 2010 in a city-owned train station in the district of San Fernando, a city just outside of Buenos Aires. Sabe la Tierra now has three markets in three different towns and is in the process of expanding, both by opening more markets and by working in through other outlets to spread this culture.
The Sabe la Tierra markets feature local resources and products, making each one unique because of its distinct offerings. The first market was initially very focused on the type of products offered. Since then, Angie has reorganized to make human exchange the central aspect instead of the goods sold. By the time she established the third market, Angie had more clearly defined the roles and relationships within the community and ways to best boost local resources.
Sabe la Tierra identifies small producers that were previously invisible in the local economy and connects them to training and other resources available through both the municipality and Sabe la Tierra. The network currently has 130 organic and natural producers. The producers that Angie works with are small-scale, informal enterprises. Many of them are new to the scene, and the opportunities provided through Sabe la Tierra enable them to get up and running. Generally, their administrative structure is informal, so as a first step, Sabe la Tierra accompanies them through the process of formalizing their status. This involves activities such as working on a brand, registering as taxable entity, and creating formal invoices to document their sales, purchases, and payroll. This formalization allows them to not only participate in the market, but also to access other development opportunities and to participate officially in the economy.
Once the producers have achieved formal status, they are able to start selling products in the Sabe la Tierra markets and other outlets. In addition to receiving the space to sell their products, the producers have access to ongoing workshops to develop and refine skills in packaging, marketing, fair trade, and network building. To further strengthen the capabilities of producers, Sabe la Tierra has a partnership with Inicia (“Start”), an organization that helps accelerate and promote the work of entrepreneurs. Through another partnership with Ionkos, an ethically managed bank focused on investments in sustainable development, producers can access loans to develop new products.
The first fairs made such a great impact that Sabe la Tierra quickly positioned itself as a resource for organizing around sustainable agriculture. They began to receive requests for advice from the neighboring markets, which desired to be self-sustaining, improve supply points, and develop local economies. Angie began advising two markets outside of her town, one in the town of Tandil and one in the province of Córdoba, where she is transmitting her know-how as part of a pilot project. To do so, she establishes a working arrangement with the advisory markets, along with a timeline to carry out their inclusion in the Sabe la Tierra network. The markets must align with Sabe la Tierra’s ten principles, carry items from certain producers (whose products meet meet quality criteria), and must be self-sustainable. Sabe la Tierra has operating manuals for market share, protocols, and rules of conduct that can be adapted to each particular case. It does not impose its way of working, but identifies the needs of each market and adapts to those. It passes on its experience on how to order equipment and how to make the market generate income to sustain itself. After the initial stage consultation services, Sabe la Tierra offers a monthly meeting via video call to evaluate processes and how things are going. The new market is now part of the Sabe la Tierra network and will pay a fee according to its income for continued support services. In this way, Sabe la Tierra can scale to other cities in a sustainable way. From this experience, there are plans to build a network of Sabe la Tierra fairs, with their own markets and advisors. Angie is training others to identify local producers, call customers, curate space, develop the production line, and improve marketing, communication, and packaging.
The producers that Angie works with are not seen simply as suppliers -- the producer is instead one of the key pillars of the ecosystem. The other pillars are: organization, community, consumers, and municipality. To participate in the markets, Sabe la Tierra evaluates production processes, but above all, the values held by producers. Angie developed a Manual of Principles and a Welcome Booklet that emphasize these aspects. Transparency and trust are foundational values of the model and are cultivated through the management model of the markets. For example, the sale of products is unaudited but growers verbally report sales each market day, and this reported amount is used to calculate what producers pay to Sabe la Tierra. The producers are charged this minimal, sliding scale rate in exchange for access to trainings, help with marketing of their products, and a space in the market.
The markets themselves are set up to facilitate interaction between producers and customers. First, Angie ensures that the marketplace itself is attractive and welcoming. The space is clean and orderly, with simple decorations and neat tables for each vendor. To reinforce adherence to the Sabe la Tierra criteria and values, a Curating Committee coordinates admissions and other weekly cultural and educational offerings for both customers and potential vendors. For example, the market hosts workshops in themes such as recycling, gardening, art, and product presentation. About 20,000 people visit the three markets each month, and the annual revenue is U.S. $700,000. 15 percent of this revenue goes towards expanding to new locations. Producers also commit to bringing new visitors to the markets, reinforcing the vision of “if we add, we multiply.”
The educational work also expands beyond the market to area schools. Through a sustainability tours program, children and their families learn to care for the environment, know the quality of the food they eat every day, use resources in a more conscious way, and discover the possibilities of waste as a resource for the production of recreational and commercial objects. Workshops for children are run by a team of volunteers consisting of architects, sustainability designers, sociologists, musicians, and artists.
In the Sabe la Tierre strategy, communication plays a central role and is a key complement to the educational activities; as a result, they are now getting international exposure. In 2012, the International Slow Food Movement invited Angie to share her experiences and work with Sabe la Tierra at Terra Madre, an annual meeting of food communities (in Italy) to discuss topics such as climate change, population growth, and food waste. Sabe la Tierra is now applying to be a part of Slow Food’s Earth Markets, an international network of farmers’ markets that adhere to the Slow Food philosophy and guidelines. Sabe la Tierra was also invited to the two editions of the Buenos Aires City Camp to install booths showcasing both healthy food and the experience of the producers. There are also well established channels of communication with a broader community. The Sabe la Tierra Facebook page has 32,000 followers and hosts dialogue about the products, receives suggestions and proposals, and provides other sources of information and educational resources. Sabe la Tierra also distributes a weekly newsletter that reaches 35,000 contacts, and their website is visited by 9,000 people monthly. Angie is also participating in spaces in the social economy, such as the ENESS (National Space for the Social and Solidarity Economy), which brings together diverse organizations every two months to work on projects and activities to promote this type of economy. Finally, Angie participated in the First Latin American Forum on Sustainability held in 2013 in Rosario where she was able to share the San Fernando Market as a case study.
Angie is very open to exploring different structures in order to achieve the change she seeks, and she knows that the markets are one option, but not the only one. In Buenos Aires, she aspires to have a flagship market and develop the Sabe la Tierra brand in order to have a reference point that is not dependent on the latest consumer trends and other external factors. Angie is also looking into online sales as a platform to move products closer to networks of consumption. The team is also developing a Sabe la Tierra quality seal, which would indicate a certain set of fixed standards of the products and maintain those standards as the model grows. Once the number of customers increases and there is more openness and awareness about the importance of responsible consumption, Angie plans to go to high traffic areas such as schools, universities, and service stations, in order to expand beyond the more niche markets of sustainable consumption.
In the short term, Angie is also working on a collaborative kitchen and catering service. The kitchen would be a space where Sabe la Tierra producers can work on food products together, collaborating and innovating to help each other with production and sale. The collaborative kitchen space would have all the needed appliances and meet health regulation requirements, allowing the producers to increase the number of their products without needing to invest in costly industrial appliances on their own. Furthermore, the collaboration and culture sharing in the kitchen would help producers to reach new audiences. The Catering Service is already serving companies and organizations with a vision for healthy and responsible consumption. With the Sabe la Tierra service, companies can choose from a team of small producers who are affiliated with the organization, who make food from raw materials. At a recent lunch at the University of San Andres, Sabe la Tierra encouraged diners to take home the reusable food containers to raise awareness on the issue of recycling. The catering service brings the food in a cart made of disposable materials, which states: “For fairer trade and a healthier diet, consume responsibly!”
Angie was born and spent her childhood in the countryside near a port city southwest of Buenos Aires. From a young age, she was exposed to and lived in harmony with the cycles of nature. Her grandparents and parents instilled in her the importance of hard work to achieve any goal. Her paternal grandmother was a great inspiration to Angie, particularly in regards to her interest in social issues. When Angie was a teenager, her grandmother founded a counseling center to host and support teens moving to Buenos Aires from the countryside. Angie accompanied her grandmother in many of the center’s activities and spent time with the teens there.
After high school, Angie moved to Buenos Aires to attend college and study journalism. As she was finishing her degree, she landed a job at the leading Argentine publishing house, Editorial Atlántida, where she quickly began producing and editing a supplement on rural life. Through this, she connected with the experiences of entrepreneurs and farmers across the country. The life stories of these people and the teens at her grandmother’s center were very strong influences in that would later lead to Sabe la Tierra.
After working a few years in that project, Angie began her first independent venture: a communications consultancy. With this, she gained much experience, and even some awards, in working with top brand companies. From the consultancy, she began working on sustainability issues from a communications perspective.
In 2009, Angie began to shape the idea for Sabe la Tierra. First, she held an artisan market at her home that brought together independent designers. It was a complete success. Also at her home, she tested the first model of the market; she gathered 16 producers, set up activities and workshops, and invited neighbors to attend. Simultaneously, Angie developed a network of responsible consumers to serve as a purchasing community and worked for a year, until she realized she had to take a risk on a bigger project in order to expand her impact. In 2010, she opened the first market, and in a very short time managed to expand to two new locations and set in motion a plan to achieve more just local economies and citizens who are conscious of their power in affecting both environmental stewardship and human relationships. Angie is entirely convinced of the need to change consumer culture in Argentina, where an ethics-based approach to food does not exist. By giving new tools to producers and educating consumers, she is cultivating a market that prioritizes local, sustainable food and the individuals that grow it.