A project launched to create hundreds of productive gardens in schools and communities by cultivating indigenous plants and showing how they can generate healthy, nutritious foods has created over 200 such gardens in schools while giving additional income to schools to run their daily activities.
The programme run by an international not for profit organization, Slow Food International is aimed at creating 1,000 gardens seven countries in Africa. Dubbed the Thousand Garden in Africa project, the programme has been teaching communities to cultivate a wide range of grains, legumes and vegetables such as amaranth and millet, which are traditionally used to make flour for porridge, as well as stinging nettles, which are common in traditional recipes such as mukimo – a traditional Kenyan dish prepared with mashed potatoes.
The gardens have been created across Kenya, as school gardens that are primarily educational, but with some produce used for school meals and some sold; as community gardens, which are now being used for subsistence with a small percentage of produce being sold at the market; and as urban and peri-urban gardens, which will be used primarily to produce food to sell in the local market.
Each garden also functions as a nursery where seedlings of local species are cultivated and sold to the community at affordable prices.
“It means the passing-on of knowledge from the old to the young and a reinforced spirit of collaboration. A garden, moreover, means guaranteeing a daily supply of fresh and healthy food to local communities, improving the quality of daily life and the development of local economies,” said Carlo Petrini, the President of Slow Food International, during Terra Madre Day, a day set up by the organisation to bring together farmers, producers, schools and cooks in creative events to celebrate local food production.
The project is a departure from the gardens offered by other organisations that come fully equipped with seedlings. Slow Food Intl does not give farmers kits or seeds, but instead helps them gather local crop varieties that are naturally suited to local conditions and have less need for external inputs.
The gardens are cultivated using sustainable methods that include composting, using natural solutions for disease and pest control, and water management.
The aim is also to restore prestige to farming, an occupation often shunned by young people in Africa.
The gardens have a secretary and a treasurer who are students, two teacher co-ordinators, and two parents as advisors. The students dedicate at least six hours a week to the project activities.
“Participation in the school gardens project in no way harms scholastic achievement. On the contrary, our experience has shown that of the 10 top students in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE), there are always 4 to 6 who have taken part in many school gardens project,” said George Ng’ang’a, a teacher at Michinda school, one of the beneficiaries of the initiative.
The “Terra Madre gardens” are run by the communities, but also by students who have graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy on Slow Food scholarships. After graduating from University, the students return home to introduce and monitor the garden projects.
Jane Karanja and John Kariuki are beneficiaries of the scholarship and actively involved in pilot projects of the Terra Madre gardens in Molo district. They are also organizing a forum in Nakuru next month, the first of its kind in the continent, to bring together delegates from English-speaking African countries involved in the project to discuss how to put into practice the methods in the garden handbook developed in March by African agronomists.
Said John: “We are not doing it so that all the children become farmers; we are doing it because, whatever they do, they will have to choose what to eat every day for the rest of their lives. This starts them on the right path to understanding where food comes from and making thoughtful decisions. You can become anything, but you will always have to eat.”
Other countries involved in the project in Africa are Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and Morocco
Slow Food International was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how people’s food choices affect the rest of the world.
Today, Slow Food has over 100,000 members joined in 1,300 convivia – its local chapters – worldwide, as well as a network of 2,000 food communities who practice small-scale and sustainable production of quality foods.