Brazil Set To Build The World’s Biggest Urban Garden By 2024
The green space will link five Rio de Janeiro favelas, ultimately covering an area the size of 15 soccer fields.
(Bloomberg) -- The city of Rio de Janeiro is working with local favelas to build what organizers say will the biggest urban garden in the world, as part of a government-funded initiative known as “Hortas Cariocas” intended to popularize the consumption of organic produce and provide a source of income to disadvantaged families.
Once completed, the urban garden will span several surrounding favelas connected by a green strip of land alongside the Madureira Mestre Monarco Park, located in the north zone of the city, including the communities of Cajueiro, Palmeirinha, Serrinha, Buriti and Faz-Quem-Quer. The green corridor will be formed between the communities of Madureira and Guadalupe. When the expansion is finished, the garden will be as large as 15 soccer fields.
Up to 100,000 families will eventually benefit from the project every month, according to Julio Cesar Barros, the founder of Hortas Cariocas and director of agroecology organic gardening for Rio de Janeiro’s municipal environment agency.
Making organic food more affordable and accessible is one of the main drivers of the project, Barros said. “The result of our project is not to have a beautiful garden,” Barros said. “A beautiful garden is a consequence of our work. The of our production is to see how many plates of food we [are] able to serve.”
Seed by seed, Hortas Cariocas has grown considerably since it was created in 2006: It now has 56 active community gardens, of which 29 are located in favelas and 27 in schools across the city. About 50,000 families are already involved with the project, which serves as a source of fresh food for some and income for others.
This year, the goal is to produce 80 tons of food across all 56 gardens, according to William Fernandes Souza, who works at Madureira Park. Once the project is completed, he expects production will double. The need is acute: More than 33 million Brazilians are facing hunger.
The objective of building the world’s largest urban garden has strong support from Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, who made it a goal of his administration to have the garden fully operational by 2024.
The current project will expand existing gardens in the communities of Cajueiro and Palmeirinha, creating an 11-hectare green space for the cultivation of organic produce for gardeners to sell and donate across surrounding communities. The area will consist of thousands of garden beds and open soil where different kinds of vegetables and fruits will be grown.
So far, roughly 400 to 500 garden beds have been built, Barros said, which amounts to only 4% of the total to be constructed over the next two years. The gardens at Madureira Park currently have 38 gardeners working on a weekly basis, but once it’s fully operational, Barros estimates there will be nearly 90 — or approximately five to eight per hectare.
All gardeners are compensated for their work, with lower-level gardeners receiving a monthly R$500 ($98) stipend while team leaders and coordinators receive R$630 ($122) and R$1,000 ($192), respectively. To fund the stipends, Barros said the city spends R$140,000, or nearly $27,000, per month.
Of the produce cultivated, 50% is donated to people in need and the other 50% is sold by gardeners at affordable prices for the community. The goal is for each garden to become self-sustainable and ultimately independent, Barros said. The decision to ‘emancipate’ is made by the gardeners and volunteers in each community.
Community interest in the gardens has grown substantially in recent years, Fernandes Souza noted. “During the pandemic, many of our locations received an increasing amount of demand from families looking for donations, and the project was able to meet its social goal, donating more items than selling,” he said. “As the situation got better, people started coming back looking for donations as well as to buy. It popularized the idea.”
In addition to economic gains, Barros said the project offers an even bigger social benefit by helping individuals distance themselves from drug trafficking, which was once common in the vicinity. The area used to be known as “cracolândia,” Rio de Janeiro’s biggest area for crack cocaine consumption. “Before, you would open your door and see the ‘crackland,’” Barros said. “Today, you open your door and see a garden.”
The ambition behind Hortas Cariocas isn’t new. Back in 2013, the team recovered an area in the Manguinhos community and began planting seeds. Today, the Manguinhos Garden is the largest urban garden in Latin America, growing more than 2 tons of organic vegetables and fruits every year, including cassava, collard greens, strawberries and bananas.
Besides encouraging the community to grow organic produce, the project also created jobs and generated income for those who needed it the most — including Ezequiel Dias.
For Dias, a Manguinhos resident and coordinator of the garden, the project changed his life — and his community. Dias was unemployed for five years before he was introduced to Hortas Cariocas and began working at the Manguinhos Garden. He started as a gardener, cultivating vegetables and building garden beds. After years of involvement, he now works as coordinator, where he leads a team of 25 gardeners.
“Life in our community is very precarious. You have to fight,” Dias said. “There are people who don’t have food to eat. So the garden changed the lives of families because there were people who were unemployed but now have a job. You are inside your home, working and earning your income, and as a result, eating healthier.”
As the project continues to grow, Barros said he hopes that more families are fed and able to adopt healthier lifestyles while earning income from the work put into each garden. He said the end goal is to encourage urban sustainability.
“It’s possible to produce food in a major urban city and not depend on trucks coming from out of town, creating carbon dioxide and greenhouse [gases] warming up the planet,” Barros said. “We must always work around the concept of fertile cities, cities that can produce and grow their own food. It’s possible.”
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