Most people have no idea who sewed the clothes they wear or even in which country they were stitched together. Unaware of what materials were used or of how much the workers were paid, most of us simply go about our lives, concerned with matters deemed more necessary of immediate attention.
The San José-based Colectivo por un Desarrollo Sonreíble (literally translated, Collective for ‘Smileable’ Development) recognizes the consumer-producer disconnect in our busy, capitalist world. Perpetually short on time, shoppers don’t have the luxury of developing any sort of personal relationship with the people responsible for making everything they buy and use.
The Colectivo por un Desarrollo Sonreíble exists to end this standard while creating an eco-friendly, sustainable marketplace. Yasy Morales, a founding member of the collective, works to bridge the divide.
“I understand that the consumer is accustomed to having everything immediately within their reach,” she says. “It’s part of the whole system. Nobody has time; everyone has to run around.”
Last year, she and six other similarly dedicated people decided they were tired of participating in what they considered to be irrational and unfair trade. They organized an open market at which local organic farmers and artisans had a free space to sell their wares. Anyone could participate, and there was only one rule: no reselling. Every vendor had to be directly involved in the production of his or her merchandise.
Participants came to the eastern suburb of San Pedro from the farthest reaches of Costa Rica to sell a diverse array of products: honey, fruit and biodegradable cleaning supplies, among other things. The market’s great success among vendors and buyers created a demand for repeat events, and before long the collective started contemplating how to accomplish its goals without requiring vendors to make the financial and time commitment of traveling to the capital for weekly or even monthly fairs.
After some searching, the group found a temporary camp in the restaurant La Hoja de Aire, a San Pedro establishment that showed its support of the project by not requiring rent payments from the developing collective.
Soon, as the project began to grow and shelves began to fill with an increasing number of locally made products, the collective, whose ranks had now swelled from seven to 12, decided it needed a more permanent home. Aug. 2 saw the opening of a new locale, the Rinconcito Sonreíble, just a block away from San Pedro’s heavily trafficked Calle de la Amargura.
Two rooms make up the corner store. One room is lined with shelves full of merchandise ranging from rice, coffee and shampoo to traditional indigenous herbal remedies. The other is a café that serves drinks and simple foods made from ingredients available for purchase in the store.
Interested shoppers can flip through a book at the store called “Meet the Producers.” Inside are details about each product, a biography of the person or organization that made it, and a description of the item’s production process (see sidebar).
An entry on the collective’s blog, desarrollosonreible.blogspot.com, reads like a manifesto, laying out the organization’s ideals and noting the hard work that goes into keeping the shop stocked and running.
It reads, “It has been hard work that has required a lot dedication, but … it’s a job done with much love, commitment and solidarity. More than anything it has required work as a collective team. We have acted with our hearts, with a clean conscience and with hope that things will get better. We have the pure intention to create an autonomous market, set apart from the commercialism of the inhumane, corporate market that has boxed in our most basic subsistence.”
Rinconcito Sonreíble is 100 meters north and 100 meters east of the train tracks intersecting Calle de la Amargura in San Pedro. Those interested in the project may visit the collective’s blog or e-mail email@example.com.
Meet the Producers
The following groups are among those selling their products at Rinconcito Sonreíble:
The Bean Producers Association (Asprofrijol) is a group of 80 men and 60 women who work together in the southern suburb of Desamparados to grow red and black beans. They do this under a low covering that allows them to protect the plants and soil without using harsh chemicals. The beans are sold at Rinconcito Sonreíble in bags of 900 grams. Asprofrijol also produces natural honey sold in 700-milliliter bottles.
The Women’s Association for Ecological and Social Development is a group of 17 women and two men in La Cruz, Guanacaste, who produce La Virgen brand rice. They harvest the grain and thresh it by hand as a group. The association is presently training to make the whole growing process organic. So far, it has managed to avoid the use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, but has been using a chemical fertilizer.
The Rural Women’s Network works to organize and train rural Ticas in marketable skills. Two hundred farmers, artisans and other enterprising women produce spices and oils, peanut butter and pickled vegetables, among other products sold at Rinconcito Sonreíble.