Four years ago the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity launched a project to create 1,000 slow food gardens in Africa. Last year they passed their target, and having mobilised 50,000 people to take an interest in community food growing, they decided to re-launch with a little more ambition. They now aim to create 10,000 gardens.
All very nice, but what exactly is a ‘slow food garden’, and why would Africa want them? The Slow Food Foundation have ten characteristics that they work to, and it’s a nice combination of community engagement, food security and appropriate technology.
- They are community created, with input from everybody, and a particular focus on drawing in the expertise of older generations and passing it on.
- Before building, observe. Every garden should reflect the needs and resources of the local area, with relevant plants and techniques, and local materials used in any construction.
- Use space creatively. The aim is to model sustainable community agriculture rather than feed large numbers of people, so small scale gardens are fine – whether those are on rooftops or in small corners of unused land.
- Value biodiversity by planting a variety of plants, focusing on local varieties and those best adapted to the terrain. Include medicinal plants, herbs, and fruit trees as well as vegetables.
- Save seeds for replanting, reducing the community’s dependence on bought seed, and strengthening local adaptation over time.
- Use natural gardening techniques to treat pests, make compost and mulch, avoiding expensive chemicals and inputs wherever possible.
- Use water wisely by harvesting rainwater, and using mulches and groundcover to keep moisture in the soil.
- Consider them open-air classrooms for teaching about plants, growing, sustainability and healthy diets, encouraging the sharing of local expertise and experience.
- Make them fun, using the space for community celebrations as well as a place for growing food and learning.
- Network gardens together for swapping seeds and ideas, collaborating across regions. Community gardens in richer countries will raise funds for starting new gardens in Africa.
There are currently just over 1,200 slow food gardens in Africa. I was pleased to find 17 of them in Madagascar, including one just over the hill from where we used to live in Antananarivo. They’re all across Kenya’s Rift Valley too.
If you are interested in sponsoring the creation of community garden, or fundraising through a community garden that you are involved in, visit the Slow Food Foundation website.