In the city of Chennai, Restore, an established non-profit organic food store, has been working closely with and for farmers for over ten years. More than a ‘shop,’ this organisation has networks and connections that extend to both local farmers and farmers as far away as Bangalore and Ooty. These networks are not simple supply chains but flows where food, knowledge and care move back and forth between the urban, the rural and the spaces in between.
To bring visibility to these flows, the farmers, the knowledge and the caring practices involved in building such connections, we are exploring the possibility of a collaborative counter-cartography project.
Following the work of Kollectiv Organgotango+ and contributors to the book ‘This is Not an Atlas’ (2018), the project adopts the term ‘counter-cartography’ to describe what will be a process of mapping human and more-than-human food relations and thus, making visible flows of knowledge and care in and around Chennai. Such flows or embodied connections of food, knowledge and care often obscured by positivist and capitalist representations of food networks and supply chain mappings.
The first aim of the project is to give consumers who shop at Restore more information and understanding about their food and where it comes from, thus making visible the farmer, their labour and their knowledge. The second aim is to challenge the dominant processes and conceptions of capital market flows by demonstrating: (1) the mutual flows of knowledge between farmers and traders, (2) the care networks that are constituted between farmers and traders that disrupt market norms and (3) the caring relations that exist between humans and more-than-humans across urban and rural landscapes. The ‘map’ will intersect with the Tamil seasonal farming calendar to demonstrate and make visible the dynamic and circular flows of food, knowledge and care moving within space and through time.
This project note is part of my ongoing research with farmers and traders in Chennai, India. It was proposed and discussed with activists at Restore in Chennai a few days before I had to leave India due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is therefore still very tentative and has not moved beyond this first discussion in early March 2020. We are also in the process of translating the note into Tamil to share with farmers and other activists in and around Chennai.
Despite being at this very early and uncertain stage I wanted to share this with the WEGO network and other interested scholars working in collaboration with activist networks and using participatory mapping to invite feedback and reflections.