$11 worth of groceries from the IMA

food 1
Here we have 15 oranges, a head of green cabbage and a smaller one of purple cabbage, a couple of large chayotes, three sweet green peppers, four cans of grated sardines — for the cats — and a flat can of sardines in tomato sauce which the man of the house will eat except saving the sauce to flavor the dogs’ food, three pounds of potatoes, a liter of milk and a head of broccoli. All of this the produce of Panamanian farmers and fishers, on sale at the Agricultural Marketing Institute (IMA) food market.

If you have to feed yourself
on a low budget in Panama

photos and note by Eric Jackson

Market Day! In Anton’s corregimiento of Juan Diaz, barring any conflicting event or holiday weekend that might alter the time and place, it’s on Thursday mornings at the corregiduria. That’s when the men and women of the Agricultural Marketing Institute (IMA, by its Spanish initials) comes by to sell whatever the week’s selection of Panamanian food is on sale. The national rice harvest is underway, but there will still be a shortage that will be made up by imports limited by regulations and there was no rice on this day. Plenty of noodles, but your editor’s noodle stash is well stocked at the moment. Sugar and salt? Shouldn’t be eating those things so none of that this time. The IMA people know the regular customers’ usual food preferences, so when the broccoli was not jet on display its availability was mentioned.

Compared to a few years ago, the price of vegetables is outrageously high. But IMA prices still make things more affordable for Panamanian and foreign residents alike. Might it be the case that in some other communities the foreigners would be mortally embarrassed to shop alongside the plebeians who are IMA regulars? Might newcomers not know the custom when it gets crowded, for a separate and somewhat faster line for the senior citizens, pregnant women and disabled? If one is to make Panama his or her new home, it’s worth it to learn such customs and set aside the fears of snobbery to which food stamp users get subjected in some US communities. This is Panama. Assimilate and enjoy!

As it happened, along with the editor the only other native English speaker in the village, a teacher of Afro-Antillean roots, was there to shop. Both of us remember days in Colon and both of us are well enough read, so between American English and Caribbean English there was no communications barrier. The slippery mud footpath between our street and the corregiduria? Now THAT’S a barrier that sort of scares us both. But not enough to keep us from market day.

food market day 2
Country living means that opening hour lines are short to non-existent in the rainy season, but a bit longer in the dry season. But although most of the people in the village raise chickens, grow fruit and vegetables or both, few of us are self-sufficient about feeding ourselves.


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