On the third and fourth week of the On My Plate challenge, we explore CLEAN food. Slow Food and the Slow Food Youth Network continue their journey through the tables of over 3,000 young people around the world.
I have always known, thought and felt that I have to take care of the land, to respect the Pacha Mama, to welcome with gratitude its fruits. I am lucky enough to have grown up in a multiculural (intercultural) family: my mother is a Bolivian farmer, raised in a small village in a rural area eight kilometers north of La Paz. My father is Belgian, and he’s an agronomist. My name is Teresa Gilles and I am proud to work together with 180 families from Achocalla, a municipality in la Paz district.
Together with them and with my family I started “Flor de Leche”, a social and ecological enterprise, which produces income and strengthens the local community, taking care to respect the nature that hosts us.
Attention and care for the environment have always been fundamental for my family. My mother grew up in the land and always cultivated her food. Even my father, as an agronomist, is always attentive to the theme of environmental sustainability. From them, I learned the rejection of any monoculture (our fields grow corn, beans, chickpeas or other legumes, vegetables and cereals), the alternation of crops and the rest of the land (up to seven years). And from them I learned the peasant rites to invoke the first rains after planting, or to thank the land at the first blooms. To this strong peasant wisdom, my father added his entrepreneurial attitude. Flor de leche was born in 1998 from his own initiative. The idea was to start a business project involving the local community, which could be sustainable from all points of view: economic (and therefore free from foreign or local aid, funds and subsidies), social and environmental.
Achocalla, where Flor de Leche was born, is a rural area, mainly dedicated to dairy production. Our company came as a result: my father simply wanted to enhance an already existing reality. To do so, however, he learned to make cheese, hosted by producers in Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. We made the first cheeses in the home kitchen: me, my sister and my parents worked a few liters of milk a day. From 20 we have gone to 60, then 500 and now we can work up to 4000 liters per day together with a team of 35 stable employees, all from the area and 70% women. Together with us, of course, the number of families that give milk has increased: today there are 180. From the numbers you will understand that it is really, family farming: there are breeders who produce just 5 or 10 liters a day and bring up only one cow. And you have to remember that these are all local breeds, not at all selected for the production of industrial milk.
For us, it has never been a matter of production: the social aspect is fundamental, involving and respecting local communities is essential. We know all the breeders and work with them to improve livestock and conditions, as well as help them with paperwork. In this way we want to give value to peasant work, to the land, to manual work in the field, with the desire to stop the fleeing of young people towards the city. This is accompanied by an attempt to be as low-impact as possible with our company. That as well as social, there is a strong ecological aspect. For example, in order to purify and not disperse the water that we inevitably contaminate with our work, we have developed a biological system of regeneration. And we use regenerated water to irrigate the vegetable gardens (grown following agroecological models) with which we feed the employees’ kitchen and that of the restaurant, where we offer our cheeses during the weekend, that we make without additives, preservatives, or other altering substances. In a nutshell good, clean and fair.