The Caylena Podcast
The Caylena Podcast
Episode 1: Cabarete Sostenible
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Guests: Moraima & Papo, co-founders of Cabarete Sostenible

 

About Moraima

Moraima, co-founder of Cabarete SostenibleMoraima Capellán Pichardo is a Dominican-born, Brooklyn-raised, professional writer, visual creator, organizer, and yoga teacher. After completing her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Cinema and Screen Studies from the State University of New York at Oswego, Moraima worked in marketing and web management with communications companies such as the Bushwick Film Festival and American Telecommunications Inc. She has written for Oprah Daily, The Huffington Post, La Galeria Magazine, and Healthista, among others. Her published work often focuses on the cultural analysis of the immigrant experience and social justice on and off screen. After living in New York, Moraima returned home and is based in Cabarete, Dominican Republic.

 

 

About Papo

Papo, co-founder of Cabarete SostenibleTomas “Papo” Soñé is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, mixed martial arts instructor, former professional MMA fighter and gardening enthusiast. He is the co-founder of Academia de la Costa, a martial arts academy and community center based in Cabarete, Las Terrenas, Santo Domingo and Ottawa, Canada. Through Academia de la Costa, Papo has organized free Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, art and skateboard classes for local children, as well as cultural and folkloric events (Carnaval de Cabarete, art murals and music festivals) and yearly medical fairs providing dental and pediatric services to underserved communities. Originally from Santo Domingo, Papo has lived in Cabarete for almost 20 years. Cabarete Sostenible started with a brief conversation at the parking lot of Janet’s supermarket between Papo and Jonathan “Tomato” Kayes.

 

 

About Cabarete Sostenible

Based in and serving Cabarete, Dominican Republic, Cabarete Sostenible is a non-profit providing food relief to the neediest families and developing food sovereignty through civic regenerative agro-forestry and the creation of social enterprises. Furthermore, it is a platform for community-led sustainability and redistributes access to economic opportunities by bringing the power of the food systems back to local hands. Cabarete Sostenible started as an emergency response to the food crisis brought to light during the COVID-19 national and global emergency of early 2020.

In Cabarete, reliance on tourism has left the community especially vulnerable to the fluctuations of the global tourism sector. Over 70% of those who completed our local questionnaire reported a complete loss of income at the start of the COVID19 national quarantine. Even before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the average family of Cabarete was considered food insecure; they do not have more than 3 days’ worth of food at home. Facing the threat of potential food starvation in their community of Cabarete, an initial coalition of local organizations, community leaders and volunteers quickly got together in March 2020 with simple yet ambitious goals:

  • In the short term, to provide emergency food relief and avoid a humanitarian crisis.
  • In a second stage: create the conditions for food sovereignty for the residents of the Cabarete municipality as soon as possible.
  • Long term, create complete sustainability in Cabarete, from food sovereignty to economics to education, to entrepreneurship and wellness programs for the local population.

In response to these challenges, Cabarete Sostenible has responded with an ambitious hands-on entrepreneurial approach to community development.

Learn more at their website: Cabarete Sostenible

 

Topics we discussed:

  • Overview of Cabarete as a place – who live there, population, economy, etc.
  • Economy of DR overall
  • Tourism and it’s effects on the area and country
  • How/Why Cabarete Sostenible got started
  • What Cabarete Sostenible does now – programs and mission
  • Challenges they’ve faced in the process
  • How they fit into and engage the community
  • Food Insecurity, Food Sovereignty, Sustainable Agroforestry
  • Issues with mono-culture agriculture
  • Shifting cultures around growing your own food
  • Rebuilding the soil and ecosystem and the vision for the farm
  • Information about the food packages they provide for local families in need
  • Wellness industry in Cabarete and making it accessible to locals
  • How Cabarete Sostenible is contributing to entrepreneurial opportunities and social businesses in town

 

 

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AI Interview Transcript

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
All right, thanks for joining me today on the podcast. We’re here in Cabarete in the Dominican Republic and we’re sitting on a farm so everybody will be hearing some chickens, some roosters, some cows, some nature and that’s just going to be part of the overall experience today. So today I have Papo and Maraima joining me from Cabarete Sostenible.

Welcome and thanks for taking the time out of your day to talk with me. Thank you for having us.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Thank you for having us here.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah, so just to start off with, why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about who you guys are.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Start Maraima. Okay.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Bueno, my name is Maraima Capellan. I am Dominican but I grew up in New York and I did all of my studies and my initial career in New York and about four years ago I decided to rematriate to come back to my birth land in the Dominican Republic and I ended up in Cabarete which is in the north coast of the island.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Yes, and my name is Papo. I’m from Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic and I moved to Cabarete around 17 years ago, a little more and I’ve been working since then in organizations and collaborating with different NGOs. I run a program that teaches martial arts in town that is called Academia de la Costa and I’m co-director and founder, co-founder of Cabarete Sostenible as well.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yeah, my background, I forgot to mention, I have a background in journalism and communication and I’m also the co-founder and co-director of Cabarete Sostenible.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Great, thanks so much. So just to get started a little bit, can you tell me about how Cabarete is? What is Cabarete like?

Who lives here? Anything that you want to share?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yeah, so Cabarete, like I mentioned, is a town in the north coast of the Dominican Republic. It’s unique in that it has grown and developed through water sports. So it’s a tourist attraction known mostly for its water sports because we have a variety of beaches where you can practice anything from surfing, kitesurfing, sailing, windsailing, everything that you want to do in the water.

So the population has grown as that industry has grown. The beaches, what you normally see is different tourist hotels or hospitality destinations and then large, I mean, I call them kind of shanty-like towns that have been built with the people that have constructed the tourist attractions and that’s where you get the different barrios. So we see a population that’s often called diverse in that there’s a lot of expats, there’s a lot of visitors that come year-round, and then there’s the native Dominican population as well as the Haitian immigrant population that lives in the low-income neighborhoods that live not beachfront but sort of across from the beach.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So if you had to guess, what would you say like the ratio of the different populations is?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Well, I think if I remember correctly, the last census, the last official census put the population of Cabarete and I believe that this is just accounting for Dominican population. I’m not sure if the foreign population is counted but I may be wrong. This was in around 2010 and it put it just over 10,000 people.

Now we’re in 2023, during the pandemic, I believe the census wasn’t done. It was put on hold and I’m not sure if it was then redone but we believe that the population is over 20,000 of just Dominican natives and possibly Haitian immigrants. When it comes to visitors, it’s very difficult to get accurate numbers for the area because the way that tourism industry works in the country, a lot of emphasis is put on the Punta Cana region.

So we are under Puerto Plata and oftentimes we are just kind of lumped into the whole province of Puerto Plata. So it’s been challenging to find accurate numbers for specifically Cabarete.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Yes, also Cabarete, when we say tourists that comes to Cabarete, there are those tourists or those people that visit can be from the same country, from Dominican Republic. A lot of people from Santo Domingo visit here during the weekends or they stay for months. So the populations of visitors change a lot through the year.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve even noticed a lot of change while I’ve been here for a couple of months. Yeah, it’s very transient here.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
And now we are going into what they call low season for the summer. And what we’ll see more is more of the expats that stay for the summer or that like to come for the summer season because some of the winds and water sports are more stable. I mean, year round, you can practice any of the water sports.

And then definitely in the summer, more of the local tourism from different parts of the country will come during the weekend.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
That’s low season. So you can see the impact in the economy, for example, because this movement and this town rely fully on tourism, fully on tourism. There are not many other ways of generating income.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
How would you characterize the economy in this town?

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
The country? In Cabareté? Yeah.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Well, I think it’s overly reliant on the tourism industry, so it makes it really vulnerable to the fluctuations, not only in the country, but worldwide. And that’s what we saw happen during the pandemic, where when everything shut down in March of 2020, everything else shut down here as well. So we saw a lot of hotels, hotel chains just had to lay off all of their workers and everything was put on hold.

During the pandemic, we had a national curfew as well and different very strict guidelines for to avoid the disasters of the pandemic. So it meant a lot of people were at home with no source of income.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
So even the bakery here, for example, opens and part of the sales, big part of their sales, it goes to the hotels or foreigners that are in town. But I mean, compared to the rest of the country, this is like what we consider a gift because the rest of the country has a different economical situation that follows more the system of the country, I would say. But here through the year, you have a few months where you have tourists and people can generate, I would say, an extra income or a bigger income than in other parts where you don’t have that, like for example, Sabaneta, for example, that is next to Cabarete.

That’s not such a tourist town. It hasn’t been promoted as that. It doesn’t have the same vibe.

It’s different. And they have more like the national situation there. So in other hands, it’s good that we have tourists, the tourists working here, but it’s a challenge that we just have that.

We just rely on that.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So I have two follow up questions for that. You mentioned this phrase, like the national way or the way that it is in other places versus Cabarete. So I’m curious what exactly that means.

How is the economy and and like work and income and stuff in other places compared to Cabarete? And then the other question. It’ll come back to me in a minute while you answer that.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
So like if you leave, let’s say like we need to choose like one specific place, Santiago or even Santo Domingo, the capital. So you have a regular job that like a normal job depend on your degree or you can have a good position in a bank or you can have a very basic job like working in a banca or in a small store. So the minimum wage in DR is around fourteen thousand pesos, which is three hundred dollars a month, just under three hundred dollars.

So you go you go to work from eight to four, eight to five, and you can make twenty thousand pesos, maybe four hundred dollars, five hundred dollars. But even if you work in a good position compared to the rest of the world, you will make less. If you are a manager in a bank and you’re going to you’re going to make less than the rest of the world because we we run this country runs pesos.

Pesos is under dollars. And it’s always this country has a lot of challenges in terms of the economy, even that it looks amazing in the international numbers. The actual country, the people that live here, wake up every day this struggle.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
And what the difference in Cabaret would be that the majority of jobs are in tourism. So when the visits don’t arrive, that means that they they lose that access. Or if a hotel is not doing well, they have to close.

All of those workers are put out basically. And I mean, I would say just from observation, maybe 90 percent of the jobs available in Cabaret are directly in the tourism industry or some form of of link to it.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So they’re supporting the tourism industry?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Exactly. So it’s completely dependent on the visitors that arrive. So it means there’s less diverse options for youth that are graduating in schools as either you go directly into working hospitality or there just aren’t many offerings unless you get out of Cabaret.

And that makes us really vulnerable. We’re not we’re not diverse economic wise or job wise. And there isn’t a lot of room for innovation as well, for creating new business or even social business ideas, because the culture around Cabaret is tailored towards that industry.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So you mentioned the national minimum wage of around a little under 300 a month and then other other people making a little bit more, a little bit less or so forth. Would you say that making that amount is enough to survive? Or is that like a real struggle to survive?

And would is that what the majority of people make the minimum? Or would you say that that’s just the minimum and the majority of people make maybe a little bit more or something like that?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Majority of people make the minimum if they are working in a formal job, because what we see, and this is in the whole country, is there’s a lot of informal jobs, a lot of hustling, doing different tasks. I’m sure in your time you’ve been here, you know, someone that has a million different skills and you’re like, how? But somehow they make it work.

But no, actually, there’s studies that have shown in the Banco Central, I believe of the country, even though the minimum wage is roughly 14,000 pesos a month, the canasta basica, which is like, well, how do I translate that? The basic food basket that you need in a month is at over 30,000 pesos. So the government is aware that minimum wage is not enough.

I’m not sure what the delay is in raising it, but I’m also not an economics expert. But we know that people, homes need a lot more. They’re basically doing magic with the 14,000 that they, if they get that in a month.

And recently I read an article in a local newspaper that economics have actually analyzed and with inflation happening worldwide, they believe that the minimum wage should actually be at 54,000 pesos a month. So we’re like, people are living in low poverty. Yeah.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Significantly.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Yes. These numbers, we are not creating these numbers. These numbers, as Mariana said, the government is aware of that.

And yeah, so.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Okay. Yeah. No, it’s good to know, be aware of the overall situation that we’re in here.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Yeah. It explained a lot. Like when you go to a business and you are wondering like, oh, why the fans are not on or why the bulbs are not, why this bulb is not working or why there is not always water.

Yeah. So maybe they are making enough to have actually the food good prepared and there is no budget to paint the walls now or to fix those things at the moment. So you can tell in a lot of little business that people are kind of behind.

They would like to be ahead. Of course.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah. I remembered my other question. So it was about the social dynamics and relationship between locals and tourists and expats.

How do you find that locals feel about the tourists and the transient nature of this place and how a lot of the economy is based on tourism and things like that? How do you think the public thinks about that?

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Public, you mean? Like the locals.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
The locals.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Well, no, I think there’s a lot of conditioning in Cabarette. And this is a personal critique of mine, that the culture here, because there are so many visitors, because it’s so transient and the natives are dependent on the industry, I think that we have been taught to in a way worship. I haven’t seen a lot of critique from the natives and there’s plenty to critique about how the industry is abusive and exploitative, because I think the messaging from everywhere, not only from the tourism industry, from the government and from those with power, is that we need to tailor to the visitor, make sure that their experience is total paradise, even if that means that we lose access to our own birthright in a way, which we are losing when you see that the majority of beaches in Cabarette are private and are limiting access to native people.

But there isn’t a backlash yet. And I think it’s because we’ve been doing a good job at keeping people just satisfied or just barely surviving so that they’re not thinking of the ways that this industry is doing wrong by us.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
And in that sense, like as an example, the beaches, they’ve been quietly turning privately since the business opened where they are. They have a kind of open access to everyone through the years. They’ve been becoming more and more like shut private, where you have to pay this amount to go through to have access to the beach.

So when the town turns against these places that are trying to charge the entry, then the excuse is like, well, they need to make money. Yes, but not from the entry because the entry is blocking the public entry to the access to the beach. So it’s been like because of that reason that people are not like the critique of that system, how that system should be working better for this community is not in place.

I mean, nobody’s criticizing that or if they are, they get diluted. It’s very fragile. Every like every couple of months you hear the community fighting from another spot that is trying, they are trying to make it private.

And then the next, OK, they fix that problem. But then the other corner is trying to privatize. And then they at some point the community gets tired and they privatize.

And yeah, yeah. So, so yeah, it’s her, it’s Maraima’s opinion, but it’s actually a very valid opinion. And you won’t hear this from people in this town because they’re accommodating to the system.

Like people will struggle to fix something at their houses, but they want to keep it nice because of the tourists and the government tells them that they that that that got to be nice. They should not be garbage in the street. Yeah.

OK. Yeah.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So I mean, not just for the tourists.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Exactly. Exactly. So in the last two years, I participate myself and I don’t know, I lost the amount of time that I’ve in the last two years in beach cleaning, street cleaning, community cleaning, like all kinds of cleaning in the community.

Still, the system is still not not helping to that.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Right. Right. And so you fix the original problem of like the culture of littering and not having the proper resources and infrastructure, like cleaning up.

I mean, where it goes, where it goes. What are you doing with the garbage that you clean up and then you’re going to just have to clean up again?

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Again, again, again.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah. I mean, when I first even got to the DR and I was in Puerto Plata, I was walking along some of the beaches. It was just like a disaster.

I mean, it was so sad just to see all the garbage washing up on the beach. And then even just when you walk through and you pass a little like empty spot where there’s like trees and like, you know, undeveloped land area or plot, there’s just so much garbage and it’s just so sad.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Yes, yes.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
I mean, do you think that the main issue there is like the culture and the lack of infrastructure, would you say?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
At this point, it’s not the culture. At this point, it’s the lack of infrastructure, because I think, well, speaking for Cabaretes specifically, there have been so many organizations, so many initiatives to educate the masses, let’s say, on the importance of recycling, of waste management. But if there isn’t a system in place that comes down from the local ayuntamiento, the local government, it’s like you said, it all ends up in the same landfill.

It doesn’t matter how much I separate or manage in my home. It’s all going to end up in the rivers because the government is not managing, it’s not doing the proper waste management. So, sometimes the complaints that we see in Cabaretes from natives and also from visitors that are correct, like this is ugly to look at, but it’s also, it’s not healthy.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
You better finish before he comes back cool, because he’s coming back cool.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
So, sometimes the complaints that we get from natives and from visitors that are correct, if we shift from saying we need to do this thing, adjust this because of the visitors that come, to this needs to work for the natives here first, and then it will work for everyone, then it will solve all of the problems. But we continue, and I think this is largely fueled by the industry itself, we continue to just try to put a band-aid on things. Oh, we’re going to gather a bunch of visitors and tourists, and we’re going to clean the beach after, I don’t know, a night of partying.

That doesn’t solve anything, and it never will. It’s just like a feel-good-in-the-moment project.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Yes, there have been so many projects to clean the beach. They come all the time. They do great advertise, amazing, and I don’t want to say brands, but the problem is still there.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
It’s like you said, it’s a band-aid.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yes, and we see this with everything. All of the systemic issues are in Cagarete, and then that ultimately, I think, going back to your question, it does affect then the culture of Cagarete, because we do see that there are some negative aspects to having so many transient visitors, and the visitors complain themselves. Sometimes they are hustled.

Sometimes they are…

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
All the time.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yeah, they are taken advantage of, and there’s a culture of that, but it’s created by the cycle of poverty.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Exactly. If these people that are selling this necklace know that these tourists won’t be here next month, and it’s going to be low season, and it’s the only income, they’re going to try to come and rub it in your face to try to sell something, and it reflects on that. Why do these people approach it like that so aggressively, that hustling?

Why? And that hustling is actually like a side effect of how the system is being implemented here. And we think it can be so much better, because the original idea was that people from all over the world come to the art, because they like the art.

They like the people in the art. They like how the art is. Now, instead, we are making pizzas, burgers, and everything that people have back home to try to emulate it here, and then we are losing the point, because people were coming here because they like it.

They like the art already, and now we are making things so they like it more.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah, I had that kind of experience when I first got to Cabaret too. I was walking along and trying to find something to eat, and on the beach, all of the food is it’s just expensive tourist food, like pizzas and pastas and expensive seafood. And when I say expensive, I’ll tell people you could go for a nice Italian dinner on the beach, and you’ll pay maybe 1500 pesos for your meal and two drinks, and that’s like $25, which maybe to someone in Manhattan, that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but in the DR, $25 for a meal, when people make $300 a month, like it’s crazy, and you could get a meal on the Calle Juan de la Loma for like 200 pesos. But there is a huge difference too between the ambiance of eating a meal in a nice restaurant on the beach versus eating a 200-peso meal in a buffet restaurant on the Calle Juan de la Loma. So, yes, of course, you’re paying for the ambiance, but…

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Probably, probably, yeah.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
But the disparity is huge from what you see on the beach, and a lot of those businesses are foreign-owned, so we’re being kicked out of our beach fund in the name of the tourism industry that’s supposed to bring development for us, and we’re being paid low poverty wages. At this point, the tourism industry just isn’t sustainable, it’s not working, and this is, I mean, this is happening globally, where we’re seeing so much exploitation, and I think after the pandemic, we do see a boom in visitors coming even more, because, you know, everybody had the experience of being locked up at home, they wanted to live their life, and it’s a shame that the tourism industry hasn’t adapted or evolved so it could be more equitable to the region that it’s at.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
All right, well, that was a good introduction to, I think, Cabareté and how it is to be here, and some of the struggles in town. So, shifting gears a little bit to Cabareté Sostenible, and the work that you do, and how you help the community. So, you mentioned before the the pandemic, and how things kind of shut down, and overall the situation of poverty, and not making enough to be able to survive, and the cost of food versus how much you make, so all that long introduction to ask you about Cabareté Sostenible, how you got started, and what you’re trying to do, because I know a little bit from working with you guys for the last few weeks, and reading the website and all, but for the listeners who haven’t heard of you.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
So, before we jump to this, I would like to say that the ocean actually makes all what we say more handable, because people go to the ocean anytime when they stress, or when something like that happened, or they come here, and they go to the cave, and they swim a little bit. So, it’s easier to deal with those problems here, where you have ocean, you go swim, and then you go out, and you go with systematic problems. So, Cabareté Sostenible.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
So, we started at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020, and we started as a coalition of different organizations that are already working in Cabarete, coming together to address and as a response to all of the global shutdown and how that brought to the limelight the food insecurity in Cabarete and in the barrios that we work with in the different neighborhoods. Now we are a non-profit and we work with food sovereignty. We provide food relief to the neediest families and we’ve been doing this since April of 2020 with a focus on identifying and serving families that have elderly folks, disabled and single parents without employment.

So the first two being our two priority, elderly and disabled, those are homes that are, no matter the situation, pandemic or not, they need additional, they need supplements, food supplements, they need food aid. And then in parallel, we develop food sovereignty through civic agriculture or civic agroforestry. So we open the first and only community garden we have a community kitchen in the Callejón de la Loma, which is the second largest neighborhood in Cabarete and we are working on a community farm.

So all of our spaces are public, they’re designed to be educational, practical and like hands-on so that anyone, visitors or natives can come practice community gardening, agriculture, learn different ways of sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to grow food. And we do that with the understanding that whatever we harvest, whatever we grow is going to go to a family in need or will be used to create a social business to generate funds for the family that we’re working with or in the organization.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Even though we start as a response for the COVID situation, we develop to all what I just explained. We start as an answer for the COVID situation and the lack of food that people had at home. And by then I was running the Martial Arts Academy, Academia de la Costa, and because we shut down, I wasn’t able to work there.

And at some point with a group of the students from there, we start another group of people in the community, we start kind of looking for ways to help. And as we were putting those food packages together, we start realizing, wow, the streets has no name. Now it’s a problem.

We knew it before, but we were struggling because of that reason. And then we couldn’t find people at their streets. Then we couldn’t find the right streets.

And then we set up a Cabaret de Sostenible, set up a system to actually take care of that. So I would say that Cabaret de Sostenible actually achieved to create a system to support people right away, not just for those moments, but let’s say right now when there is a storm, for example, we reach people right away in vulnerable areas that we know who they are, where they are. So if there will be any issue about overflowing or whatever, like we can step and help before something bad happen.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Mm-hmm. That’s great. Yeah.

So just to step back a little bit, there’s a few terms that you use that are pretty specific that maybe the average person doesn’t necessarily know what they mean. So a couple of terms were food insecurity, food sovereignty, and what was the agro community? Agroforestry.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Agroforestry.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah. So can you just talk about what those things mean? Yeah.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Let’s talk about food sovereignty, food insecurity.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Yeah, I can say food insecurity. So we have created a questionnaire, which is how we identify the homes that are in need of food aid. And through the homes that we have done the survey, it’s voluntary, by the way, completely confidential.

And all of our teams receive training on how to manage sensitive information and all of that. So we have identified that in Cabarete, 30% of homes are suffering from severe food insecurity. And in this case, food insecurity, the way that we define it is that in the neighborhoods of Cabarete, your average home will not have more than two days worth of food at home.

So to suffer from food insecurity is to experience a lack of consistent access to enough nutritious food.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
And that seems to be mostly due to economic causes? Yeah. Okay.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Economy.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Because, I mean, I’ve been living on the Callejón de la Loma for two plus months, and I’ve learned how to shop on the Callejón de la Loma to have nutritious food. There’s always available like like the comados are usually well-stocked and there’s fresh produce most of the time. So it’s not that it doesn’t exist.

Like it’s not a food desert.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
No, it’s not a food desert. Right. You’re correct in that.

It is an economic issue that the homes that we are serving, you know, disabled folks, elderly or single parents without employment, they just don’t have the funds to purchase nutritious food.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
And they don’t know, in many cases, what is nutritious food. They don’t know. They don’t have access, but they don’t know.

It’s better a broccoli, a banana or salami.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Now, our critique of the comados and even the carritos that pass by with food is that they are produced through monoculture. So a lot of the times, even though there is a lot, there’s a lot of access to food, they are expensive for because they are being transported from other parts of the island. So it takes a while to get here and they’re lacking in the nutritional benefits that would be something if it was grown more in a local area and using different methods that are not monoculture, that are not your conventional massive agriculture production that strips not only the soil of the minerals and vitamins that we need, but then the actual food that we’re eating.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So for people that don’t know, what does monoculture mean?

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Monoculture is like a worldwide method. When you go to, you see it a lot in the U.S. too. These massive farms are just cultivating the same thing in a row.

So there isn’t a diversity of crops being grown and it makes those systems really vulnerable and dependent on using artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, things that we know affect the soil, the health of the soil, and then affect the health of what we’re eating.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
So monoculture is basically the system that we depend on because we eat all of this food right now because of the monoculture. So that has a huge impact on nature, that has a huge impact on on us because we also consume that. So the food sovereignty comes to actually secure that people produce closer to where they are the food that they need.

Not closing the welcome for other food around, but increasing the production of amount of food that we eat around here so we can buy it around here and we can produce it around here more locally helps to create more a circular economy, an economy that is more circular that move around.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
So yeah and to give like the the full definition, food sovereignty is, it was a coined first by La Villa Campesina and it’s the people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food that is produced through environmentally conscious and sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Food sovereignty is like a global movement that’s fighting for food justice and it advocates a lot for the rights of farmers instead of global like massive corporations. What you see a lot in Caldereta in the entire country is that the food is being produced through monoculture and the people especially in barrios and low-income neighbors, they’re dependent to whatever is sold in the colmados and their supermarkets.

We’ve lost throughout the years, the years people’s interest in growing their own food and because the island where we live in is very fertile like we can grow food year-round and in other parts of the country like where I’m from, Guanao for example, there is a rich history and a culture of people having their own conuco or their own like garden plot where they grow their own food or part of it. So they’re not that dependent on whatever is being sold in the market but here in Caldereta, again because it developed with the tourism industry, there isn’t land access like that. So the majority of people that are living in the callejón, they’re living very tightly.

They don’t have a backyard or they don’t have space where they can grow. So that knowledge is being lost in this region or it’s not being you know like encouraged especially like when we’re talking about like neighborhoods that are like you know like what I described like shanty like where people are living packed, very close to the street. I mean you’ve seen walking most of the streets don’t have any sidewalk or accessible or even proper infrastructure.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
The conuco, conuco is a small piece of land that you cultivate and what I mentioned and about the conuco, one of the reasons why in this area, Caldereta, conuco are not welcome is because they say conuco, they need to burn the land because there is a technique to build conuco that you burn the spot where you’re growing and that technique is being practiced in the country for many years. So fires are an issue in the country and actual the agroforestry comes to our world to create I will say a more sustainable way of conuco but you don’t need to burn anything and you use the soil instead of burning the soil you use it the way that it is. So agroforestry is a technique that we are using, Acabar de Sostenibles is using in a land that was donated to us to actually produce more food and yeah and take care of the ground, take care of the nature at the same time.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So what does that mean agroforestry?

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
So it’s, I don’t want to give the wrong definition but it’s a series of techniques where we are planting in abundance and we are planting diverse plants that are edible anywhere from fruit trees all the way to timber. So in the area here where we are in the community farm for example, our goal is to reforest eventually. So we are planting in abundance as much as possible and over time we are able to cultivate each year different edible fruits or vegetables and crops and in about 10 years we’ll have a full forest that’s a mix of timber, native trees and fruits and everything in abundance.

So it’s kind of like we are recreating what happens in the forest naturally but we’re speeding up the process. So we are kind of helping mother earth to regenerate itself because in this process we are also rebuilding the soil. So where we are in the community farm there was raising of cattle and that damaged and compacted the soil a lot.

So we have to kind of rebuild it and we do that by utilizing all of the biomass or all of the organic matter that a tree or different plants give instead of the local practice of gathering it and burning it. We use it as mulch and we start to rebuild the soil and every single tree or plant in our system is going to add something to the soil or fortify so that they’re stronger and they’re not dependent. We don’t have to use artificial fertilizers, pesticides, none of that.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Some of those plants are not edible but are part of the system. So some plants are not edible for us but are food for the ground. So we grow some plants that grow pretty quick that we can chop and drop again so that rebuilds the soil.

So agroforestry is a technique, it’s a bunch of techniques that try to emulate the nature and try to speed up the process because in many areas in here trees being cut, cows walk for a long time. So we don’t believe that these areas, for example, we’re just going to let things grow again because nothing will grow again after the cows if you don’t do something, at least a minimum. So what we are doing with agroforestry because of the area is a technique that respects all the rules about this area where we have the farm which is a natural monument and because these techniques respect the area in many ways this is actually the best thing for implementing here in this land.

So we can grow back food but also trees and forests in general.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
And you mentioned the food packages that you did for, that you used to help the local families that are in need. Where does the food come from in those packages and how do you make sure that it’s, as you say, culturally appropriate?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yeah, so in the beginning of, as I said before, we started in the pandemic. So we start with basically everything that we receive to help the people. Pretty quick we start choosing what will go, what we didn’t want to put on those packages and at that time we were receiving stuff for a good deal from different markets, different suppliers around.

And then farms start joining and more and more is food that we produce, food that comes from farms and certain things that we get from suppliers like rice for example or beans that we don’t produce. We don’t want to go through that yet but we’ve been producing more and more and the goal is to actually produce most of the stuff that we put in the package and if at some point we won’t need the rice, we won’t need the beans because we will be producing more stuff that people can eat. That respect and provides nutritional values.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
The way that we, the other question was that, it was about the where you were getting the food from and how you make sure that it’s quote unquote culturally appropriate.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
So we’ve been starting what people like, what people knows and what people don’t know, we add like a recipe and we explain what we are sending. Some leafy greens for example that some of the local population they didn’t know but they were eating that when they were kids but they didn’t remember. We gave them the recipes so they kind of get to try new things but those new things are things that they many people haven’t seen on their life but our grandfathers, our grandpas, they used to eat it before.

We just don’t have the food around so we just stopped eating. So we base all the food that we make. We base on what the country eat, what the country, what people like, what people rather and we kind of go around that.

So when we are both Dominicans we pretty much knows what is not going to go into the package.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So what does go in the package? What are some culturally appropriate foods for Dominicans?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Okay like cultural like eggplant, tomatoes are popular, root fruits like sweet potato, yucca, plantain, bananas, garlic, onions, also milk, uh what else?

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Oatmeal.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Oatmeal.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Some are like the staples that are are not raw vegetables. You know we always have rice beans, milk, oatmeal. It’s full.

Okay we’re trying to add more and more vegetables to our package but we always have staples like rice, tea, milk, oatmeal. Sometimes we’ll include cooking oil, sardines. It depends like what is available with the supplier and then we’ll add different different vegetables and roots and greens.

We for example in the community garden we’re growing a few greens that the local population doesn’t doesn’t use yet but they are available in the supermarkets usually for the for the visitors, for the tourists. So things like arugula, like bok choy, different types of cabbage, flowers, yeah spinach. So what we do is we try to make it like educational and accessible.

If we’re going to add something to the packages that we know that a family may look at and be like how do I use this? We’ll include a recipe like Papo said. I’ll try to do an activity in the garden in the kitchen where they can come and learn about it and taste it and they can learn all the benefits of implementing that into their diet but we never just want to give something to them that they don’t know because it will probably just go to waste.

Dominicans are very picky eaters and if they don’t know why they should eat something or how it can be tasty they will not.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yeah and many of the people that we serve they are they have problems with food for their health like they are diabetic or they have a high blood pressure so we find ingredients, stuff that they can they can add on their diet and change it for instead of something else and and use that that is more beneficial. Like for example we were the last two weeks ago we were explaining to a group of people what we were growing a spinaca malabar malabar spinach, a little spinach, baby spinach. It grows and climbs and when I came to Cabaret I used to see that in the street but nobody was eating that.

I mean I used to see that in gardens and and the plant just disappear and suddenly I’m here explaining people again that yeah that’s edible you should grow it again and I go you didn’t know and yeah instead of buying to me get the seeds bring it home and don’t let it die next time because it’s edible.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So are they receptive?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yes yes yes yes I think it’s you know and I think people in general they are receptive receptive to recipes and this is something that of course it’s a have to say it’s a move that start with the women new recipes and then suddenly we are all like oh yeah we die yeah they start preparing that at home your mom or she was cooking that and now a whole culture eat it because they prepare it. So a lot of ladies from the community they come and they they get to know these recipes and they try right away and they give us feedback and they prepare it for their family.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah that’s cool.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yes yes exactly. Changing from having a probably a soda and a piece of bread to a omelet with spinach I mean that’s huge.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah it’s a big difference in especially the nutritional value.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Exactly exactly exactly because at the end of the day if we don’t like these or that is one thing but in terms of nutritional values I mean we have a lot of nature around that we still need to know more and and it’s vast so we need to to learn to use it in a better way.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So of the um various locals that I’ve talked to and mentioned that I’ve been volunteering with the majority of them haven’t heard of you so I mean that’s maybe not representative but especially because I haven’t talked to that many people it’s not like I’ve talked to the entire population of Cabarette. But how would you say the locals how would you say Cabarette Sostenibile is received within the community or known about or not known about or integrated with?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yeah so the people that we serve they definitely know who we are.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Of course.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Even that we have to that we it’s been a intense work to tell them that this is not coming from any politician and this is not for votes this is not from a church this is Cabarette Sostenibile. But at this point the people that we serve they know 100% who we are and they start getting to understand that this is not just this is not like a charity that is bringing just food to people and and not I’m trying to get I’m trying to get I don’t know accreditation or something for that. In the community what we notice is that like out of the people that we serve is that there is so much going on in terms of advertising in terms of what people in what people have an interest that even though we are running a program that everybody can come and join and serve as volunteers many people they are not like they are not even like looking for volunteer like to volunteer anything they are busy running their own life. So yeah that’s that’s that’s the reason why you asked around and and probably like people some people were like oh we don’t know who they who they are.

I don’t know if what I’m gonna have to say that something to that but we don’t even though we do a marketing online and everything like our efforts are not to kind of being well like recognized or or known in this town even that that’s part of a NGO that’s part of promoting we spend a lot of time working on the actual thing so right the actual program

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
yeah but we’re also relatively new we only have really like two years in operation officially so I think it’s going to take time we’re bringing something new so we have already faced some resistance and and that’s going to be part of it we we’re aware that we have to be patient and that it’s going to take some time for people to get to know us and to feel welcome and to feel like it’s it’s as much theirs as it’s ours. What kind of resistance have you faced?

Well the resistance has been mostly in our like farming techniques because there there’s just a lot of misinformation about using pesticides and herbicides so since we banned all of that in in all of our locations there people are always like are you sure what do you mean you don’t use this and and that so there’s resistance in that way in that people don’t know these these techniques so sometimes they may be a little bit stubborn to try them even different ways that we plant and that we do things differently and sometimes they they don’t trust until they see it working. And we’re ok with that. We’ve proven our point to a lot of people and it will take time.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
And also another resistance is that the fact that we help people with food, people that are comfortable in their position, they still saying that people should not receive something for free. The same, this speech that people should never receive stuff for free because they don’t appreciate and people don’t, whatever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I mean, we don’t think that way.

We think some people should receive stuff and nobody’s receiving anything for free, especially the elders that used to work for the land, used to work for hotels, used to work for places in these areas and they don’t receive anything. That’s not for free. I mean, that’s actually nothing.

What we are bringing is a little thing, it’s a bag of food that we grow it for them and we try to bring as much information to them as nothing compared to what they have done before for all of us. So that’s like one of the resistance that we find. And also the administrations in general, like we’ve been going through a lot of permissions we’ve been asking for a lot of things to actually implement these techniques that we consider that are the solutions to regenerate the ground on these areas and bring forests again and bring more food to this area.

So apparently our system rather to lay on their back and wait for nature to fix the problem. And but it doesn’t work like that.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
I know, especially not if there’s litter everywhere.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Exactly. It’s not going to happen. We need action and we are very proactive.

The heart of these of Cabaret de Sostenible, which is Moral Law, and me and a group of volunteers, we are proactive. So we are not people that can sit down and see the problems going through. And sometimes we address the problem in a way that people try to avoid like confronting problems and going through and yeah, we understand that people sometimes don’t like to confront, but that’s why we have so much problems, so many issues around.

So we are looking for solutions and bringing solutions.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
So yeah, yeah. Problems don’t get solved in the same way that they were created.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Exactly.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Exactly, exactly.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
So that’s a great breakdown.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah, I don’t think that’s my quote, but I’ve seen variations on that idea.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Exactly, exactly. And we’ve been very surprised when we hear like, oh, no, we’d rather to sit down and just let the nature do the work. Say, whoa.

It’s OK.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Well, is the nature taking away these styrofoam food containers out of the gutter?

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Exactly.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
She didn’t put it there.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Exactly. Nature used to have these places full of trees.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
It’s not appropriate for that. Yeah. So just take a couple of minutes and talk about a little bit of the other programs that you’re working on besides the garden and the farm and the food distribution, because I know you have some programs in the works for helping locals have some more access to the wellness and entrepreneurial stuff going on.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Yeah, well, in Cabarete, there’s a huge wellness industry and it operates mostly towards the visitors. So usually beachfront studios will offer everything from yoga classes, different types of massage and therapy. But the way it’s been set up, the pricing makes it really inaccessible to anyone that lives here in the neighborhood.

So you don’t see a lot of participants in yoga classes. The yoga classes, for example, will be all in English. There aren’t many offerings in Spanish.

So that already limits how the demographic that attends or that feels that that class is available to them. And that goes with all kinds of wellness and holistic industry that’s really booming. So what we are working on is using our spaces to be able to offer those services, especially to the young mothers that we work with, to the disabled and elderly folks that really need that kind of therapy for their body, for their health, make it accessible and make it free.

So we’re gathering practitioners of those different services that are willing to do some kind of exchange or to offer it at low cost or even free so that we can make that accessible to the neighborhoods that we work with.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Also through Academia de la Costa, which is a project that we work as well. I’m founder and we are directors, co-director. With that project, we offer classes for adults and kids and we offer scholarships for kids that want to practice martial arts, jiu-jitsu, boxing.

We run classes in La Cienega. We run classes in the Callejón and in other places around here. We’ve been doing it through the years.

So that’s a project that started a long time ago before Cabaret de Sostenible, but it became under the umbrella of Cabaret de Sostenible because it’s a project that started before, but through Cabaret de Sostenible, we’ve been able to reach people that we never thought we would reach. And Cabaret de Sostenible is bringing these elements actually to the community. So we think all these massages, all these techniques are part of having a good health.

So, I mean, I don’t remember when my mom took a massage, for example, and many ladies around here, they don’t think it’s even a knee. They probably are suffering from a pain on their hip or something, but they don’t know that that can be cured or healed with a little touch or maybe not cured, but it’s more manageable. So we noticed that Cabaret de Sostenible is promoting a lot the holistic area.

So we would like to have more access, to create more access for people in the town.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
We need it to be equitable. If something is going to be available to one population, and especially a foreign population, then it needs to be available to the natives. Otherwise, it’s unfair.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yeah, one of the mothers.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
And that should be obvious.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
One of the mothers that works with us, she volunteers. And one day she remembered a time that she was pregnant, and she was complaining about some pain. And I told her, you should go to yoga.

And she asked me, like, where? And as I was telling her where, I realized that the price was crazy, especially for her, it was like $50. And at that point, I was like, okay, forget it.

There is no yoga here. I mean, I was telling her to go there and pay $50. I mean, no way.

She wasn’t able to do it. So I realized that, oh, there is no yoga for this woman. It doesn’t matter how much yoga is across the street, how many instructors, it doesn’t exist for her.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Well, not to mention that, but depending on where you live in Cabarete, like some of the places are, it’s just really hard to get to.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Yes.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Like, for example, I went to a class at Natural Cabana. I mean, to get there is so inconvenient. So who cares about the price, just getting there is hard.

Like it’s, if you want to go by public transportation, you take a carrito to the outside of Perla Marina, and then you walk for 20 minutes to get into this fancy neighborhood with all these resorts and expats’ homes and everything. So first of all, you feel like completely out of place. And second of all, then you get to where the yoga is, it’s at a resort.

And even if you’re paying 600 pesos for your class, it’s like, I mean, I don’t know, maybe 600 pesos sounds like a lot to… Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. I don’t really get the scope for me.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
In other hands, it’s a great deal for foreigners.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah. Like I get it in some ways, but in other ways, it’s like hard to comprehend at the same time. So it’s like, okay, 600 pesos is what, like $10?

Like that sounds like not a lot of money, but also sounds like a lot of money when, if you go to the ATM and you take out 2,000 pesos, I mean, you pay 600 pesos to go to a yoga class, but you paid 100 or 200 to get there and back. And you still had to walk like for 40 minutes.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
So exactly. So I’m not criticizing.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
Yeah, no, it’s not like that’s a great place.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
But we cannot rely on that. But right.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
It’s not accessible.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
It’s not accessible.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
To most people that live here.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Especially like on this country that is far from having those things as part of the health and insurance, because this country doesn’t even have the mental health as a problem of health. As a priority. Exactly.

Mental health is not a priority.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
I think a lot of places are like that, though. I think it’s only starting to become more considered part of health and well-being. I think it’s only starting to become something that people consider important.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Exactly.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
And then there are other questions about entrepreneurship. So mostly our idea is to create different models of social businesses. And we use the community kitchen, which is, as you know, in front of the garden as kind of like our hub and our space to develop that.

So, for example, a simple way that we do that and that relates to food sovereignty of creating diversity and economic options is, well, recently we had a harvest of guava and we didn’t distribute all of it. We didn’t sell all of it. So we had this excess.

So what we do with this guava, which is a fruit, is we then process it. We work with some of the local mothers to turn that into like a jam or something else that can be bottled and sold. And then we make partnerships with different community members so that they earn a percentage.

Percentage will go back to the foundation and then they earn something as well. So it’s a different form of income that also stimulates us having a diversity of food options, not just being dependent on whatever is sold.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
We are doing also, we work with almond, the local almond. So we make almond butter. And for that product, for example, right now we don’t have a person that works with that, but when we were working on that project, we had a mother that was making part of 50% of the income of what we were producing for that because that was a specific product that was more complex and it took more time.

So we are just waiting for the next person to take that place and actually keep moving forward in that direction. But there is a big diversity. There is diversity.

So there are always things that we can produce out of these plants, leaves, fruits. And yeah, that’s part of food sovereignty. When you walk in streets and you see countries like Mexico that people produce, make a lot of recipes in the streets, and you wonder why, why there is like a new, like a thing that you never ate probably with the same ingredients that you try every day, but they are so motivated to make these different plates.

And it’s because of food sovereignty. So food sovereignty is not something just like, how do you say, drastic that is like, no, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of culture involved, a lot of creativity.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
I think we’ve covered quite a lot in the last little more than an hour. So is there anything else that you want to wrap up with sharing that we didn’t cover or just any last thoughts for listeners?

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Well, thank you for your time and for the questions and wanting to hear about what we do and for volunteering with us in the past few weeks. I guess we’d like to invite anyone that’s interested in our work. Our website is cabaretesostenible.org and you can also find us on social media, on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, cabaretesostenible. We love to connect with the Dominican diaspora that’s abroad as well. And we welcome support. We have a network and a system where we welcome volunteers and anyone from around the world is really welcome to join in and give us a hand.

There are so many benefits to gardening and farming together. We welcome anyone that feels in touch with our mission and our values.

[Tomas “Papo” Soñé]
Thank you for having us and thank you for all the questions. With this podcast, we keep spreading the word. That’s a big help.

[Host: Caylena Cahill]
I think it’s really cool what you’re doing and how broad the scope is too. It’s not just about the food distribution. It’s all encompassing with the whole town really and trying to bolster the whole area and make things more integrated.

I think that’s great.

[Moraima Capellán Pichardo]
Thank you.