Gardening Communities: Agroecology and Gardening within the Slow Food Global Network

20 Feb 2020

Gardening agro-ecologically has always been a crucial action for the movement and many Slow Food Communities are active around the world to promote this model.Gardening can mean many things. It can mean to educate new generations on food and its complex relationship with the environment, it can mean to promote biodiversity and food sovereignty, or to fight against food deserts and support the access to fresh, whole food in large Cities.

Gardening and small-scale agriculture has been our basic activity to produce food for thousands of years. In our current food systems, we are far from this reality and far from the understanding of what it takes to grow food while respecting nature, the environment, and communities.

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Togo

Most of Africa’s soil has been abused by intensive agriculture, synthetic chemical fertilizers and in some parts, the cultivation of GM crops. In a land, which is marred by crises and is constantly struggling to be food sovereign, Slow Food’s initiative of cultivating food gardens offers small-scale farmers and local communities a chance at a sustainable future.

The Slow Food Gardens initiative aimed to create a thousand agroecological gardening units for Africa’s population. On its successful completion, Slow Food raised the number to 10,000. Today, 51% of the total of 3326 gardens thrive in schools whereas the remaining 49% are community gardens. On an average, each garden, which extends roughly over 1,266 m2, involves 25 people and in most community gardens, women farmers take the lead. In schools across Africa, 216 minors are involved in creating and maintaining the gardening units, with an impressively high number of girls.

These burgeoning gardens, which are cultivated using traditional techniques, are home to more than 215 different plant species that yield a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, tubers and cereals as well as medicinal herbs for the communities. Given the extensive diversification, it would be difficult to put a number to the different varieties of the same species that flourish in these gardens. However, more than 20 are included in the Ark of Taste. This stands as evidence of the fact that biodiversity is a prime concern for these communities.

The Jardins Potagers de Agoè-Nyivé community in Togo, for instance, organizes activities such as conferences, debates, film screenings, competitions in schools along with curating projects with producers, chefs to fight the disappearance of local traditions and raise awareness of traditional foods, their origins and preserve biodiversity. “Most of the members of the community are engaged in agriculture and are committed to developing agro-ecological educational programs. width=

The objective is to highlight the use of organic manures and polyculture, instead of chemical fertilizers and monoculture, which is killing our soils. They have preserved and cultivated local corn varieties that fit production systems and the best known is ’AgoèBli’ which simply means ‘the Agoè-Nyivé corn’,” says Atigan Komlan Dovene Fabrice, Slow Food Community Manager of Agoè-Nyivé’s vegetable gardens.

GRAPHICAL DEPICTION: Geographical distribution:
47% Central-East Africa
29% West Africa
19% Southern Africa
5% North Africa

Though these good, clean and fair gardens have extended their roots across the continent, it is the sub-Saharan countries that boast of the strongest networks – both in terms of numbers as well as the scale of interventions and leadership capacity. Some of these include Burkina Faso and Benin in West Africa; Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Centre, extending up to the East and South Africa and Malawi in the South. In-depth verification and monitoring will be carried out in these gardens in 2020. width=

Chile

Mallarauco Melipilla Agroecological Community

The community is base in Melipilla, Chile, located west of Santiago de Chile between the Pacific Ocean and the towering Andes Mountains. It represents a community garden managed by different families of the area close to the city. This community’s goal is to spread the knowledge of agroecology through workshops and social gatherings that provide the local producers with tools and techniques to produce food in a more sustainable way. This is especially important in Melipilla, as in other western regions of Chile, where large conventional avocado orchards have created big problems in terms of water management, biodiversity loss and food sovereignty. Through direct hand-on work at the farm, this community aims to create a space for agroecological crops crossing, plant biodiversity, reintroduction or direct support of native crops, and value of traditional knowledge.

The goal of Agroecologica Mallarauco Melipilla is to transfer education to the community to rescue traditional rural knowledge. They promote activities like educational workshops for the community and schools on agroecology. Promote local products by inviting producers and creating bridges between them and the consumers through farmers’ markets and other sales activities. They also create spaces where different generations of farmers and consumers can engage in dialogue on how to support a better local food system.

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The Mallarauco Melipilla agroecological community is spreading the good, clean, fair message championed by Slow Food, in this area of Chile as agroindustry continues to push to further damage the land.

Malaysia

City Green: How a school taught its students about good, clean and fair food

The edible gardens in Malaysia’s Cempaka Schools grew out of the founder, Dato’ Frieda Pilus’s insistence on the importance of children learning how to grow their food. Since the inception of the Cempaka Edible Garden in 2018 the school, which was founded in 1983, has been experimenting with a wide variety of plants, which have furthered the students’ interest in what they consume, turning them into “food/green heroes”, who understand and advocate for good, clean and fair food.   width=

“Students have begun to understand their food better and the importance of self-sustenance. They are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of growing their own food and responsible ways of consuming it,” says Farah Salizah Ahmad Sarji, Director of Communications, Cempaka Schools. These no-dig edible gardens — where large planter boxes catch just the right sunlight and shredded leaves and waste are used as compost — hold valuable lessons in biodiversity for the kids.

A way of creating awareness about a healthy diet and biodiversity among students is to introduce them to the Ark of Taste, through the products included in the catalog that can be found in their school gardens.

While choosing what to plant, “we focused on what is normally eaten and grown in Malaysia. Chilies, butterfly peas and okra flourish in our gardens,” says Sarji. Surplus produce is sold off to neighbors and the sophisticated composting systems put in place at Cempaka help reduce what the school discards into the landfill. An important part of educating students about food waste is teaching them ways of conserving and/or preserving surplus and growing a variety of products that mature at different times.  width=

These edible gardens have had positive effects that extend to the other extra-curricular activities of the school. The Masterchef Competition, organized by the school, is one example.

“Students are given standard recipes for a starter, a main course, and a dessert, and are asked to prepare dishes within a stipulated time period. Through this competition, we’ve noticed students learning how to take instructions, time management, and teamwork. They learn how to prepare food in a hygienic way, showcase their creativity and further their taste education,” she adds.

However, the most important goal of the program is to sensitize the children toward their environment. The Responsible Earth Citizenship Program, another offshoot of the edible gardens, is designed to cultivate a sense of responsibility towards the environment and inspire students to adopt a sustainable outlook. “Through the program, our students go on nature-based educational trips. For example, in 2018 we put together the Padi Planting project. The ‘padi patch’, which is located within the school premises, exposed students to urban farming by providing them first-hand experiences of how to plant padi (our staple food), harvesting (using traditional tools which we make in the school), pounding rice and cooking it. The entire process was manual and was carried out by the students. It was a huge success,” says Sarji.

Italy

Vesuvian shared vegetable garden: biodiversity and tradition

For the past five years Slow Food Vesuvius has been supporting the shared social garden project in the municipality of Cercola, east of Naples.

This vegetable garden inspired the local community activating dozens of citizens who keep it running. They work in tandem to sow and cultivate the produce and share the harvest through social gatherings that allow them to further share their values and culture and invite the local school groups to learn and make this community garden their own.

Biodiversity, seasonality and sustainable agriculture are the core values of the garden to further commit to the mission of the Slow Food Convivium. The people connected to the Cercola garden and its activities have learned about traditional varieties of the Vesuvian basket and have identified products to safeguard through the Slow Food Presidia projects.

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photo credit Matteo Croppo

In addition to the activities of the vegetable garden, the participants of the shared Cercola Garden are active in bringing ancient traditions back to life, safeguarding and promoting actions and practices. One of those traditions is the ancient ovens, the community has taken advantage of the presence in the area of old neighborhood ovens, dating back to the 19th century and used only on a few occasions by elderly ladies. Nowadays, the community is developing activities to pass down the knowledge from elderly women to the youth to keep these traditions alive.

The Vesuvius Earth Market is another extension of the work of the community garden. An initiative aimed to extend the reach of the community garden through the area, recognizing the work done and promoting the values Slow Food values. The goal is to continue encouraging community participation, spreading the knowledge of good agroecological practices, and deepening a sense of belonging to the territory and its history.

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