It’s hard to believe that this time last year, Living Roots’ three founding members were just beginning their field research in the sierras of Baja California Sur. One year later, there is much to be said for good news travelling fast, as word of Living Roots’ success is quickly spreading throughout the state of Baja California Sur. Enjoy this update with a few significant highlights that have put Living Roots “on the map.”
Events demonstrate financial viability. For nine days during the holiday of Semana Santa, Living Roots initiated an inaugural sierra cultural festival in San Javier, featuring a trial marketplace of regional products and traditional skills demonstrations, which drew impressive crowds of both local American residents and Mexican nationals. Living Roots’ regional representatives from area ranches learned how to handle money, keep track of inventory, and “pitch” their products.
Marketing Association (Raices Vivas) gains structure. Following the Semana Santa event, Living Roots hosted a meeting attended by the 9 representatives of each Rancheria (cluster of ranches) and other interested artisan producers; the meeting allowed for the following accomplishments:
Exchange of key learning. Participants shared with each other strategies for improving customer service and evaluated customer preferences to collectively manage price points (e.g. while roasted green coffee sold in bags embroidered with designs of local cacti were well received, it was decided that quilt prices should be lowered.
Elections. Present Marketing Association members elected a president, treasurer and secretary, assuring that each of the three geographic regions surrounding San Javier were represented (see Living Roots’ website for photos and bios of representatives.)
Bank Account. Due to the success of the Semana Santa festival, the newly elected Comité Raíces Vivas San Javier was able to open a bank account to be used for future events. This is the first bank account any of the individuals had ever opened; with the help of a very patient banker, the committee left the bank feeling empowered and proud.
Living Roots draws support from government officials. At a market held on May 11 during a celebration of the 312th Anniversary of San Javier, Living Roots presented itself to Jorge Aviles, the new municipal president of Loreto, to discuss our project and solicit help from the municipality in the construction of a San Javier Cultural and Tourist Information Center. Living Roots demonstrated to the President that its community-driven model for cultural protection and economic development model directly aligns with Aviles’ priorities for San Javier (i.e. recognizing the value of local assets and the importance of engaging young people to slow the rural/urban migration).
The municipal president facilitated the presentation of Living Roots to the state’s new governor, Marcos Covarrubias, and the Oasis Sustainable Development Team, opening the door for a follow-up meeting later next month.
Sierra Cultural Center becomes a reality. Further demonstrating the municipality’s commitment to the project, Aviles is overseeing the donation of a piece of property in the middle of the single cobblestone street in San Javier for the construction of a Sierra Cultural Center.
The Cultural Center is meant to be a regional marketplace and direct sales outlet for sierra products, an exposition of ranchero culture and history of San Javier, as well as a central informational hub for coordinating tourism services, product distribution, and other marketing association communication.
Support for the Cultural Center is wide reaching – Sierra families have offered construction materials (e.g. adobe, wood, and palm thatch); Ruben de Los Santos, a second year architecture student from rancho Santa Isabel is volunteering his services with the design of the center; and INAH, the federal Institute for Anthropology and History is helping to ensure the building is built in traditional ways. Construction is planned to begin in October, once the (knock on wood) seasonal rains subside and palm wood can be harvested – just in time for the onset of tourist season, which picks up in November.
Sierra Youth see value of their culture. As sierra families increase their income through the products sales and the community begins to recognize the value of the ranchero culture, sierra youth are also recognizing the potential of a cultural revival.
One such example of this is Sergio Antonio Martinez. Sergio is 22 years old and grew up on Rancho La Higuera, in the foothills of the high sierras. Sergio is gregarious, motivated, and always cheerful. Not being able to afford high school, Sergio studied until he was fifteen, when he began working with his cousins to build palapas (thatch roofs) from the palm that grows in the canon above his ranch. Until recently, Sergio had always planned to leave the ranch to find work in the coastal city of Loreto. After having attended several Living Roots events, Sergio is beginning to see the value of staying on he ranch, helping his family benefit from their centuries old huerta (orchard), as well as from developing local tourism opportunities. To see a video of Sergio, please visit Living Roots’ Facebook page.
“Powering Economic Opportunity” competition. The Living Roots team is currently entered in a competition held by Ashoka and eBay for innovative economic development solutions for resource-poor communities, and a similar competition called Iniciativa Mexico. To vote for us and/or provide comments and feedback please check out our Ashoka online profile.
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Many thanks to our growing number of followers and supporters. Together we can ensure the vibrant and sustainable transition of this unique and fragile culture into the modern world. There is a lot of momentum behind Living Roots, so stay tuned as this adventure continues to unfold this summer!