More than two years after the announcement of the project at Terra Madre 2010, Slow Food has launched 1,000 food gardens in 25 African countries and has already raised the funds to complete 700. The project has allowed its African network to grow, gain strength and mature.
So who did the work to create the gardens? A small office at Slow Food’s international headquarters and a few experts, but, most of all, the 50 African coordinators and over 30,000 other people — women, men, children, teachers, farmers and cooks — who did all the growing, watering and harvesting work.
The project was funded by a vast network of Slow Food convivia all over the world. Slow Food Italy was the most active, raising enough funds to finance 500 gardens and organizing an extraordinary number of events. Slow Food Korea also deserves special mention, as do Slow Food USA and Slow Food France. Their donations have been boosted by a contribution from the Lions Clubs association, which has pledged to support 200 gardens, and the Compagnia di San Paolo bank foundation, which covered the costs of important training seminars in Italy and in a number of African countries.
Some of the donations have interesting stories behind them. One such is that of the family of Angelo Vassallo, the former mayor of Pollica, murdered by the camorra in 2010, who asked people to make donations to Terra Madre in support of the first food gardens in Africa instead of taking flowers to his funeral.
A Thousand Gardens in Ten Points
A garden is just a drop in the ocean compared to the problems facing Africa every day. But if there are a thousand of these gardens, and if all the people involved are communicating with and supporting each other, then their impact grows. Together they can speak as one voice, against land grabbing, against GMOs, against intensive agriculture and in favor of traditional knowledge, sustainability and food sovereignty. They can also represent a hope for thousands of young people.
The thousand food gardens follow the philosophy of good, clean and fair. But what does that actually mean? Here are their ten distinctive features.
1. They are developed by a community
The gardens bring together and develop the capacities of every member of the community. They recover the wisdom of the elders, utilize the energy and creativity of younger people and are based on the skills of experts.
2. They are based on observation
Before planting a garden, it is necessary to learn to observe, to get to know the terrain, local varieties and water sources. The garden has to be adapted to the characteristics of the area and local raw materials should be used to make the fencing, the compost bin and the nursery.
3. They don’t need a large amount of space
By looking at the space available creatively, it is possible to plant gardens in the most unlikely places: on a roof, along a footpath and so on.
4. They are gardens of biodiversity
Slow Food gardens are places of local biodiversity, which has adapted to the climate and terrain thanks to human selection. These nutritious and hardy varieties have no need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The gardens are also planted with medicinal plants, aromatic herbs and banana, mango, citrus and other trees.
5. They produce their own seeds
Seeds are selected and multiplied by the communities. This means that every year the plants become stronger and better suited to the local soil, and no money has to be spent on buying packets of seeds.
6. They are cultivated using sustainable methods
Natural remedies made with herbs, flowers, ash and so on are used to combat harmful insects or diseases.
7. They save water
Spirit of observation and creativity are again fundamental. Sometimes it only takes a gutter, tank or cistern to collect rainwater to solve seemingly insurmountable problems and avoid more expensive solutions.
8. They are open-air classrooms
Food gardens offer an excellent opportunity for teaching adults and children alike about native plant varieties, promoting a healthy and varied diet and explaining how to avoid using chemicals.
9. They are useful but also good fun
Gardens are a simple and cheap way of providing healthy, nutritious food. But even in the remotest villages and poorest schools, Slow Food gardens are a place for games, celebrations and fun.
10. They network together
Neighboring gardens exchange seeds, while those further away exchange ideas and information. The coordinators meet, write each other and collaborate. School gardens in western countries are raising funds for the African gardens.
But we still have work to do! Help us to finance the remaining 304 gardens!
Information and updates about the Thousand Gardens in Africa project, including a film featuring the local coordinators and some of the children involved, can be found on the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity website www.slowfoodfoundation.org.
Article first published in the Slow Food Almanac 2012.