“This network [and these Youth Exchanges] are a source of support for us to not feel alone. A bridge so that we don’t get stuck doing the same thing. !No somos ‘agri-locos’! (We are not agri-crazies!)” cheerfully proclaimed Amy Cruz, a student from the Nicaraguan National University in Jinotega who participated in CAN’s 6th Annual International Youth

Exchange: “Women & Youth United for Food Security, Food Sovereignty, and Climate Change” this June in Nicaragua.This annual gathering, also known as El Intercambio, strengthens CAN’s international networks working to achieve food sovereignty. This year, over 35 project managers, students, and community leaders from nine of CAN’s partner organizations were brought together for eight days of sharing skills, stories, and challenges around agroecological practices; project sustainability; and strategies for building a thriving, local food system.

UC Santa Cruz student

UC Santa Cruz student Izamar, and Growing Justice Youth Team member, Marcus, playing icebreaker activities.

Here are some highlights from this year’s Intercambio

Visits to seed and grain banks in three different regions were fascinating. Long-term participants of these Intercambios got the opportunity to reflect on the growth that had occurred since the 2ndIntercambio in 2012, when the strategy of using of seed and grain banks to reduce seasonal hunger was first established.

Since the 2012 meeting, many different organizations in the network were inspired to begin their own grain and seed banks and this year’s Intercambio allowed participants to share challenges they have faced and share tips for establishing fair as well as accessible prices for the seeds and grain; how to include members of the cooperative as well as the community; and ways to promote participation from their community in establishing rules for loaning and selling seeds and grain.

Youth leaders walking to visit family gardens.

Intercambio participants walking to visit family gardens in Las Segovias, Nicaragua.

We had the opportunity to see a few artisanal water filters that helped farmers filter “aguas mieles” or coffee wastewater, which is an industrial water pollutant; “greywater” from their household activities such as laundry and dish washing; as well as any rainwater that was captured to use as irrigation to water their home and patio gardens.

Women and youth-led rural enterprises visits. Both the Cafeteria Monte Grande in San Ramón and CAN partner CII-ASDENIC’s value-added product processing facility in Estelí were two amazing examples of how rural women and youth, respectively, are starting their own businesses. These businesses purchase agroecologically-produced items from local, small-scale producers, and process them into value-added products.

The women’s group from the Danilo Gonzales cooperative, who run the Cafeteria Monte Grande, purchase coffee and the majority of their fresh produce and eggs from other communites involved with UCA San Ramón & CAN’s Youth Leadership and Food Sovereignty project. A similar model is followed by the youth working with CII-ASDENIC, but there is a much wider-range of their products—from fruit juices to jams, and even cacao liqueur!

Youth leaders at CAN's Intercambio discussing action plans for the year.

Youth leaders from CII-ASDENIC  discussing action plans for the year.

During the evaluation, participants all agreed: they were eager to return home to share these new skills and experiences with their community and to continue their work in achieving food security and sovereignty. As Ashley Solis-Pavon from CAN’s Growing Justice project wrote, “Without this opportunity, I wouldn’t have opened my eyes to new  ideas I can bring to the community gardens in Watsonville, California. I am really excited to go to my community and show them everything I learned. All of this has brought me to realize that there are so many people who actually care about the food system.”

CAN’s programs to empower women and youth are possible thanks to the collaboration of many dedicated individuals and generous sponsors like the Madeline Clare Moore Foundation, Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company, Harbourton Foundation, Bob Ellis and Jane Bernstein. It is experiences such as participating in the Youth Exchange that can be transformational for youth, shaping a lifetime of work toward food systems change.

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CAN’s 6th Annual International Youth Exchange: “Women & Youth United for Food Security, Food Sovereignty, and Climate Change” was organized by CAN partners in Nicaragua: UCA San Ramón, CII-ASDENIC, and PRODECOOP. Other participating organizations included VIDA, A.C. from Veracruz, Mexico; the Intercultural Maya University of Quintana Roo (UIMQRoo) in Mexico; students from the University of Chapingo’s Food Systems major; student-led organization Friends of CAN from UC Santa Cruz; students from Santa Clara University’s Miller Center, and youth from CAN’s newest project Growing Justice in partnership with Mesa Verde Gardens.