Colonization traditionally meant that the man of the family left home for months, or even years, in search for new lands. Once he established his claim, he brought his wife and children. Without doubt, settling these claims meant years of hard work, isolation and learning to live in a place where there were no services, no supplies and very little contact with neighbors! The men held the role as provider and head of the family, but, the women were in charge of tasks that were equally challenging: adjusting their families to this new and formidable world.
Women settlers were left in charge of turning the provisory structures of land claims into the farmhouses, gardens and orchards that sprinkle the area of Palena – Queulat today. The winters were hard and the summers were short; thus, the challenge was enormous. Nevertheless, it was the woman’s job to establish gardens and orchards, essential for obtaining the necessary food for daily meals. To make food stores last longer and go further, women made jams, conserves and sauces. They recycled their seeds from year to year and eventually, they developed a tradition of meeting and swapping seeds and techniques with their neighbors. Over time, their gardens produced more and more, and a few years ago, a group of 15 of these women who live in the valleys near La Junta, decided to take a BIG step forward and convert their home gardening and canning work into a source of additional income for their families. They created the Women’s Agricultural Club of the Valleys, and you have the opportunity to meet them, learn their stories and shop for their delicious goodies at the Farmer’s Market they’ve created in La Junta.
The club has a lot of triumphs to celebrate; they have earned grants and special support from Rural Assistance Programs, they officially established their Farmer’s Market with the Municipal Government, their greenhouses and gardens have continued to grow and to prosper. Nevertheless, when you ask club members, they’ll tell you that the most important outcome of their efforts has been the contributions they have been able to make to their families. With the extra income the Market has provided, they have been able to realize important goals like better education for their children, improvements for their homes, or the purchase of a vehicle. Their husbands have shown a lot of pride and respect for their efforts and now, it’s common to see these guys taking time away from their own work to help with their wives activities, gardens and greenhouses.
If you’re curious about the gauchos and gauchas of Patagonia, take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Market in La Junta and talk with these fearless women farmers. You’ll definitely leave with a sack of delicious goodies. What’s more, you’ll learn more about the ingenuity, strength, wit and determination of the people of this area, and you’ll also learn lots of secrets of sustainable agriculture. And many of these women will welcome a visit to their farms to tour their gardens if you want to learn more.
The members of the Women’s Agricultural Club of the Valleys live in La Junta and the valleys in the surrounding areas. In La Junta, members include Nélida Rogel, an expert on homemade jams, and also the Señoras Mirta Barría, María Altamirano and Miriam Gallardo. Señora Brenda Vivar lives very close to La Junta, on the Carretera Austral north, beside the Arrieros del Sur Livestock Fair. Several members live along Route X-12, the Heritage Route between La Junta and Raul Marin Balmaceda. Señora Francisca Solis is the President of the group and also the owner of the Rural Inn, Mirador del Rio, which is located at kilometer 6 of Route X-12. In addition to selling in the Farmer’s Market, Francisca offers her vegetables in the Panadería de Rubén, in La Junta, which is owned by her son. Señora Mercedes Cardenas lives in few kilometers further west, at km 10, where she has several greenhouses, including a new one she and her husband have recently built. Señoras Sandra Cárdenas and Soledad Villegas, have their farms on the other side of the Palena River, about halfway between La Junta and Raul Marin. Each week, they go to the Market and back, crossing the river by boat!
Heading in the other direction from La Junta, along Route X-13, you can tour the Cuarto, Quinto y Mirta valleys and visit Señoras Rosa Sanchez and Mireya Rosas, who are neighbors and have their greenhouses and gardens in the sector of the Cuarto Valley and River. In the Mirta Valley nearby, you’ll find the farms of Señoras Gladys Casanova and Yohana Aillapán and can hike the Aillapán Trail built by her family, which leads to a beautiful glacier. In the same sector, in the vicinity of Claro Solar Lake, you’ll find the farms of señoras Perta Bashma, María Rivera and Julia San Martín.