SASKATOON — On Thursday, Jan. 7, a steak night fundraiser was held at the Sutherland Bar in Saskatoon by a new solidarity-based social justice group made up primarily of students and recent alumni of St. Thomas More College and the University of Saskatchewan. They were raising money to facilitate a grassroots co-operative farming organization in the mountains surrounding the city of Bonao in the Dominican Republic.
The Saskatoon group, called Canadian Amigos of the Federation (CAFE), work with La Federación de Campesinos Hacía el Progreso (FCHP). Cooper Muirhead, Anson Liski and Kassia Krawchuk — all founding members of CAFE — spoke at the fundraiser about La Federación, a group formed in the 1990s to address adversity in their community. At that time, Hurricane David had recently devastated the area, and Canadian mining companies were threatening the farmland and living environment of the people. La Federación organized and developed a network of resources and labour to form a coffee-growing co-operative, among other initiatives, to support themselves, their families and their community.
CAFE’s current project is collecting the necessary funds to help La Federación build a Solidarity Market in a location central to the communities, colloquially known as “the bridge.” CAFE also promoted their Internet-based fundraising campaign for the proposed marketplace (or Colmado) on the Go Fund Me website.
The 25 small communities that make up La Federación are geographically isolated, and a marketplace of this type would mean that the farmers in the area would have a place to bring their goods and sell them directly to buyers, as well as purchase goods they need.
Esteban Polanco, La Federación’s founder and current executive director, has called the market an “alternative economy” that supports producers and consumers through direct action. The proposed market place is an initiative of La Federación and some work has already been done.
Funds raised by CAFE will be used to facilitate local planning and building. Founding CAFE member Irena Smith is currently residing at La Federación, conducting demographic research for the organization under the supervision of Caitlin Ward, principle investigator and Engaged Learning Co-ordinator at St. Thomas More College.
Though CAFE is not officially affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan or St. Thomas More College, most of CAFE’s members are alumni of STM’s Intercordia Program, and first encountered La Federación and its community through their participation in the program.
Intercordia, a Canada-wide organization, is co-ordinated at STM by Ward. It facilitates a solidarity-based variety of experiential learning, in which students live with and learn from host communities in the Global South. Students apply to the program and complete a course during the school year, before travelling to their host communities. They complete further coursework for STM while they are there and on their return to Canada. In the past, communities in Nicaragua, Bosnia, Ukraine, Mexico, Ghana, Honduras, and Ecuador have also hosted Intercordia students.