By Jan Yatsko, Atenas Today, January 23, 2013
|La feria in Atenas, Costa Rica|
One of the best tourist spots in Costa Rica can be found in your “backyard” and at 81 other locations. It is a true cultural and social experience where Costa Ricans of all social classes come to hear the latest local news. It is a visual delight, an inspiration for artists and writers, held outdoors and it is free to the public. You can practice your Spanish, learn new words and sample something exotic. It constitutes one of the most important retail markets in Costa Rica where the majority of the products are made nationally. It is the feria de agricultor or nicknamed “la feria” and they are held on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday throughout Costa Rica.
The first feria began in 1979 in Zapote, a suburb of San Jose, to give small producers the opportunity to sell fresh quality products directly to the consumer. At a feria one can purchase not only fruits and vegetables, meat and cheese, but flowers and plants, clothing, shoes, homemade tortilla chips and fruit jellies, local artisan coffee, shopping bags made from recycled rice sacks, handmade baskets and a variety of prepared foods from bakery items and pupusas to a complete gallo pinto breakfast, all at prices less than those offered anywhere else. As you walk through the feria, listen to the words that the stand holders shout to get a customer’s attention. “Lleva mango, lleva cebolla (onion), lleva flores (flowers)” as they tell you to take home their particular product. “Solo bueno” means that only the best products are sold to you. When a customer says “regaleme una ...” (give me a...) you are in business, but when a customer says “ahora pasamos” (we’ll come by later) that is a polite way of saying “no, thanks”.
The feria has something that the supermarkets cannot offer to its customers. It is very often one of the aspects that visitors to Costa Rica comment on and what we are losing in the US and Canada. The feria provides the homey atmosphere where people connect with each other and form relationships, not only with their friends, but with the merchants who produced the product. Familial type relationships are formed between the producer and the customer and frequently an extra product is placed in your shopping bag or a special order is no problem.
The ferias employ over 7,000 vendors (2010 census) which economically support even more people. A phenomenon is occurring right now in Costa Rica that happened 20 years ago in the US. Consumers are being lured to Pricesmart, Walmart and other big stores with the false idea that all prices are lower. Local small businesses suffer. However, the “Buy Local” campaign has raised the consciousness of the consumers up north and it is now ecological, healthy for the local economy and good for your health to purchase products close to home. Continue the “Buy Local” practice in Costa Rica and purchase as many products as you can in your home area. Support the ferias for they not only provide a vital retail market for the local economy, but they continue a social and cultural tradition.
There are three local ferias for you to choose from: Atenas on Friday morning; Grecia on Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday morning and Alajuela on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. If you are traveling through Costa Rica and would like to know if a feria exists in a certain area, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I thank Ronald Morales at Consejo Nacional de Producción for providing statistical information about the ferias.