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

Residents of Roberto Cichon Street, in the Cristo Rei neighborhood of Curitiba, said the public walking areas were in deplorable conditions. An idea arose when a resident of one of the buildings in town realized the space in front of his building was abandoned and decided to plant seedlings on the sidewalks. The once abandoned sidewalk has transformed into the Community Garden Horta Comunitária de Calçada Cristo Rei, which is specialized in unusual food plants. These actions caught the United Nations attention  and received an award by the UN Food Gardens.

This community action began unpretentiously by one individual and turned into a group act from the community. 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 the 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 promote community growth is welcome to plant a seedling, 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.