Horta comunitária

Damaged sidewalk becomes community garden and receives UN award

In Curitiba, residents of Cristo Rei neighborhood take over the sidewalk space and grow food plants on the spot; initiative was approved by the UN Food Garden project

An idea born from an abandoned sidewalk caught the attention of the United Nations. The said public walking area was in deplorable conditions when residents of Roberto Cichon Street, in the Cristo Rei neighborhood, in Curitiba, decided to use the place to plant seedlings. Today, the Community Garden Horta Comunitária de Calçada Cristo Rei is specialized in unusual food plants and received an award by the UN Food Gardens.

 Community action began unpretentiously. A resident of the building located in front of the sidewalk realized the space was abandoned and decided to act. He, then, planted some seeds there. More residents of that street, who began to collaborate with new seeds and seedlings, followed the example. Quickly, it turned into a collective garden.

 It took a little more than one year from the first seed, planted in November 2016, until UN Food Gardens approved the project. The certificate issued by the organization in December 2017 states that the tribute "is the acknowledgment of the remarkable efforts of members of Cristo Rei Community Garden to promote sustainable urban agriculture and contribute to food security and well-being of their community.”

 How does the community garden work?

 According to the residents, the organization is exceptionally democratic and communitarian: anyone who wants to cultivate needs only to take a seedling and plant it, and anyone is free to harvest anything they want. "It is a direct, horizontal and self-managed action, where everyone has a voice and actively participates in decisions. The vegetable garden is not only limited to neighborhood residents; everyone is welcome to harvest, plant and care”, says Jorge Koch, spokesperson for the project.

 The popular and active action was paramount to keep it alive, especially after a move by the Curitiba City Hall. The municipal administration received a complaint due to lack of cleanliness and sent a supervisor to the site, who imposed a fine and officially notified the land plot owner to remove the garden - the owner of the property right in front of the garden is the legal responsible for the sidewalk maintenance.

 The community reaction reversed the decision and the initiative went on, with the support of the owner and much more people. "The garden had greater visibility, besides being part of an urban agriculture collective group in the city, and can mobilize calls for joint efforts," says Koch. Today, there are almost 50 people directly involved in the garden and about 1,000 supporters. The vegetable garden will soon be named after one of its most active participants: the villagers will officially name it Mrs. Tamae, in honor of the late Su Tamae.

 In the daily organization, tasks are divided informally, but groups perform specific functions: one is responsible for the seeds, another takes care of the gardening and a third reaps the seedlings. Thus, everyone benefits equally, the residents say.

 What is grown in the community garden?

"The goal of the garden is to grow food and boost positive occupancy of public spaces, on a community-based basis," explains Koch. Therefore, all kinds of food are welcome there: currently, the sidewalk gives life to boldo, kale, rosemary, yam, ginger, sweet potato and strawberry.

However, more and more residents have been specializing in the cultivation of so-called UFPs (unusual food plants). The current list of UFPs presents leaf cactus, radish, purple wild chicory, Malabar spinach, dandelion, vegetable garden fishies, Japanese tomato, shepherd's needles, croá-melon, arrowroot, sorrel, mitsuba, broadleaf plantain and Indian cress.

"UFPs are born spontaneously, there’s no need to plant them. Due to people’s lack of knowledge, they are usually removed from the garden, but have great nutritional value," Koch explains.

Currently, the most active members of the community garden are talking to residents of other neighborhoods in Curitiba about helping to reproduce this template.