Letter from Galapagos: El Mercado

[This blog post was sent in by Beth Hopping, who is a PhD student in nutrition. Her co-investigator, Rachel Page, MPH, sent in the previous letter from Galapagos]

This morning, Rachel and I got an early start on the day. We wanted to see as much as we could of the local market, where vendors sell fresh produce from their farms in the highlands of San Cristóbal Island. Our purpose here is to investigate the health of the local population, especially with regard to nutrition and access to healthy foods.

A woman sitting by her produce at a local market in the Galapagos Islands

Due to restrictions on the use of synthetic chemicals in the Galapagos Islands, like fertilizers and pesticides, produce grown here is mostly organic. However, commercially produced food from mainland Ecuador is subsidized and is therefore often cheaper than buying local. Produce from local farms and from the mainland are sold side by side at the market, and we wondered how residents make decisions about what to buy. These are some of the intricacies of the food system we hope to learn more about.

At the market, we spoke with two women who were running stalls overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables. The first woman had much more variety, which we learned was because she sells produce imported from mainland Ecuador in addition to local products. The second woman proudly told us that she sells only produce grown locally on her farm in Cerro Verde; she had several types of bananas, plantains, oranges, parsley, and green beans, but no apples, yucca, or mangos from the mainland. It seems that just as in the US, people on San Cristóbal Island vary in their food purchasing preferences; while some feel it’s worth it to spend a little extra money to support local farmers, many prefer to save money while selecting the larger, chemically-enhanced cultivars from the mainland.

Our morning at the market was an enlightening experience. Sustainable approaches to increasing local food production and making it more competitive with produce shipped from the mainland could be an important step in improving the health of not only the people of the Galapagos, but of the natural environment as well. We left the market with new insights into the food system and a bag of fresh local oranges to enjoy on the beach!


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