Sunday, September 29, 2013

Casapueblo - the art of Carlos Paez Vilaro - simply WOW

I love art. I love how it makes me feel.  Yes, when I look at art, it really makes me "feel." Some makes me smile. Some brings about feelings of saddness. Some makes my stomach turn. That's ok. It is the artist's job to create images that speak. 

In Uruguay, we were lucky to visit Casapueblo. Casapueblo is the home, studio, museum and hotel built over 70 years by the Uruguan/Argentinian artist Carlos OPaez Vilaro.

Now, I have to admit that I didn't know this man's name.  I am sure there is lots of information on the internet given that he is now about 90, but I hadn't a clue.

It was such a lovely surprise to hear about his life, which is facinating and inspiring.  From studying with Picasso to going to Africa and showcasing local people through his art, before it was "cool"to go to Africa, to his self-constucted home on the side of the hill which has no square corners, this man had/has a vision and being in his space was moving.

And, even better, as we were pulling into the gallery, and our guide is telling us about his life, there he is standing outside by his car. We got a brief glimpse of this legendary artist. Now, that's what I call a celebrity sighting. Not to mention the wonderful body of his life's work.  Here are some photos.

Canola in Uruguay - a surprise

During the pre-IFAJ trip to Uruguay, when our tour guide found out that we were interested in agriculture, she shared as much as she could tell us about that country's agriculture. We saw wind turbines and large equipment...and even some fields of this lovely yellow, discovered in Canada, crop - Canola.  I can tell you that it looked a bit out of place thousands of miles from home on the prairies, and it also inspired a source of pride in being Canadian. Over the years, Canadians have invented, discovered or enhance so many things to do with agriculture. These have been shared across the globe. I only wish that more Canadians knew about it or cared.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Times change in art and ag

I visited the modern art museum in Buenos Aires. After hearing so much about soy at the IFAJ congress, it was moving and gave me moment to pause when I saw this piece of art from years ago, but certainly not out of my lifetime. Art provides a great view of the world as it is. This Warhol was a moment in time. Corn is certainly no longer king in Agentina. Artists - keep making art please even if the pay is lousy and we don't really appreciate your work until you are gone!

“aha” moments of perspective

One of the most memorable moments of the congress was when one of the speakers showed a slide of the world as if the Southpole was the top. In that view, the bottom of Argentina actually becomes the top of the world. The speaker was making a point about the potential in his nation. What it also did was put Canada and the U.S. much closer to the bottom. It was a good reminder that while we North Americans live a very nice life and like to think of ourselves as the top of the pile, the rest of the world may have a very different perspective.

  • Latin America has years and years of history compared to Canada and particularly the prairies. We should push schools to teach less about US and more about this part of the world. I recall having to memorize the 50 States – not sure why.
  • There are people who are poor and people who have limited options everywhere. In both Argentina and Uruguay, it is more prominent because the climate is warmer. This could be a person sleeping under a city tree in the park to whole neighbourhoods. And we have the same in Canada, it’s just that they are more easily compartmentalized.  Regina’s inner city is no on the Transcanada highway for all to see. This isn’t a good thing. In Canada, out of sight, out of mind.
  • People from Latin America, in general, are warm. Their greeting is a kiss on the cheek, even in the morning for work colleagues and at night when they leave the office. This was a common sight.  I like it. Human beings were meant to connect. I will be taking this into my own life and way of being and asking people if I can hug them. Our aloofness protects us we think but it also stops us from really connecting with others. That’s my theory.

Uruguay, a wonderful surprise and worth a visit

The first taste of IFAJ proper began Sept. 1, 2013, not in Argentina, rather in the ferry terminal in Colonia, Uruguay. After a couple hour bus ride up the coast to catch the quick ferry to Beunos Airies, the first stop was – with no surprise – the banos, or washroom. As we wait in line, Lilian says, “Hey, our people must be here – she has an IFAJ tag.” She is looking at the woman at the sink washing her hands.

Sure enough, we walk out into the waiting area, and there are the pre-congress Uruguay tour delegates.  Like us, they have spent three days in Uruguay.  They visited a large dairy and a large beef farm, while we visited historical towns and the beaches, with a bit of ag colour added in by our guide, Maria. 

Maria, is mid-forties, married, Uruguayan, and a wonderful tour guide. She is a translator by profession but does tours like ours from time to time. She grew up in Colonia and lives in Montevideo now so she added just a ton of colour and stories to our tour.

In three words, Uruguay is a wonderful mosaic of styles and cultures – a melting pot of Italian, Spanish (Maria was half and half), Portuguese, French, British and even a bit of Russian.  When asked where people in Uruguay originate from, Maria says the favourite answer is “the boat.” Sounds a lot like Canada.

I have never been to a second world country so had no real expectations.  I didn’t realize until last night where I had heard the only stories of Uruguay until my travel companion’s father mentioned on Facebook the Uruguay round of ag trade talks some years back. I still know nothing about the place, but at least, I’d heard of it before.

Best advice now, don’t leave Uruguay to the end of the tourist destination list, or start your world-wide list and work from z to a so that you get to see this interesting place.

Highlights:  Leg, public artworks, green space, architecture from every one of the above mentioned cultures, and now modern too, beaches, world heritage sites, feeling safe, shopping for leather and jewellery as the country has many semi-precious stones, …and of course, good food.  Not so much salad but delicious sea food, meat, and crème de leche – a carmel cream that they are famous for.  Oh, and mate – their non-alcoholic, cultural drink.

Social media in ag

At one of the IFAJ dinners, people were seated according to themed table topics. My table focused on social media.

There was plenty of good conversation from the group – a couple of Australians, an American, someone from Denmark, a freelance PR person and conference organiser from Latin America, myself and a table leader who is a freelance journalist in BA and teachs marketing at the University. 

Half of Argentina is on Facebook – about 20 of the 40 million population which is about the same as Canada.  About 75% are Internet users and 1 in 3 has a cell phone. Of the 20 million, stats say half go to FB every day.  There are 7 companies with more that 2 million fans and 43 ag companies are on the site. 21 companies directly related to ag are on Twitter.

  • There is room for ag companies to grow their social media presence.
  • Social media enables farmers and agri-food companies to tell their own story of production and practices to defend their work and stop misinformation.
  • People will listen to individual farmers more than to lobby groups perhaps. This could be a great advantage for the industry.
  • Social media is still for younger people, but the for the young it is normal. It is like the cell phone has become to the general population, or the television.
  • Social media allows people across the country, many who may be in more rural areas, access to colleagues and information from across the world very quickly.
  • Traditional media sets the news agenda but social helps with interpretation and keeps info alive and active as people use it to share. Half of people also use SM to seek more info on a topic.
  • What’s up is growing rapidly.
  • Uses:  Q&A, Advocacy, networking, learning, take action, sharing information
  • Growth in utube as well for farmers to show what they do.

  • Will individual farmers have time to take up this channel?
  • How will traditional media continue to use the comments/posts on social media to drive the media coverage and agenda?
  • Would individual producers be heard better if they shared a common key message, but posted individually – yes, but how will his happen.
  • Social media has a very strong advocacy component that is hard for politicians and companies to ignore. It’s easy to brush off a constituent letter or complaint call, but not so easy when the complaint comes via social media. These tend to result in speedier replies, if not actions.
  • The anti group on social media is more well-organized and this could be a great problem. They already have a fan base and a following.

Organic production and the European market

Europe is still considered a major market for Argentina, but given the presentations that we heard about the focus on China, the following question was put forward to one of the speakers.

“Europe continues to import soy as feed for livestock, but with all the focus on China, will Europe still be considered as an important destination for Argentine exports?”

The answer was telling.

Meal will still go to Europe but Argintina is not going to stop using GM crops. They don’t believe that there is science to prove that GM crops are dangerous. Europe’s continued focus on GM free may make them lack behind the rest of the world when it comes to food production.

On the other hand, a writer and delegate from Europe who promotes non GM crops put forward the argument that Europe made a mistake and that the rest of the world should learn and not use GM products.

Even in the farm writing community, there is debate.

Argentine ag facts

50% of the soy grown in Argentina is grown around Rosario.

China buys 60% of the world soy market. They import 65 million tons on top of what they produce domestically.

China is only currently using half of it’s crush capacity. China is modernizing their crushers, but the limitation, from the Argintinean perspective, is that China doesn’t have the raw material. They believe that this is a more economical solution.

In China, soy is used to feed pork and chicken.

Lack of water is limiting China’s production of more food. As middle class grows, they will want more meat. And as people urbanize, they eat differently.

Wheat is viewed only as a balance for oilseeds, but the experts would like more Argentine producers to care about the sustainability of the land and rotate soy and wheat and corn.

Brazil and Argentina were complimentary before but today they are more competitive.

There were canola crops in the fields.