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Here in New York City as in many urban centers, the community garden offers an escape from the concrete jungle— a place for neighbors to gather; a place to read and relax, or get your hands dirty. In Africa, gardens can have a much more profound effect. They can even save lives.

Hunger and food security are two of the biggest problems facing this giant continent. Slow Food, the Italy-based initiative for biodiversity and sustainability, saw a possible solution to these issues in the community garden. According to Slow Food, the number of malnourished in Africa has more than tripled in a 30-year period, reaching 250 million in 2009. The organization believes this to be partly a result of Africans relying on imported food rather than food they produce themselves.

In 2010, Slow Food International began to build community gardens through Terra Madre, Slow Food’s international network of farmers, producers and food communities. The project to build community gardens began in the 17 African countries where the Terra Madre network was already established with the intention of building gardens in every country on the continent. The project’s name announces the ultimate goal — 1,000 Gardens in Africa.  

On April 9th, Brooklyn-based Slow Food USA joined with Slow Food International to help reach the 1,000 garden goal. Since this announcement, the number of gardens has increased from 567 to 618. There are now gardens in 25 countries, engaging 723 communities. Each garden is run by its respective community, with added help from graduates of the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Northern Italy, promoting sustainable agricultural education for farmers, community members and children. Each garden uses compost, natural pest prevention, and grows local plant and vegetable varieties as well as medicinal herbs.

The communities are given the power to choose what they grow and eat. The project also aims to bring greater respect to the profession of farming, inspiring children to want to grow healthy, local foods. Nalweyiso Jovia, a student at St. Andrew’s Primary School in Uganda, shares his experience working in a community garden: “I tasted gooseberries for the first time today, and I have now decided to plant an even bigger garden at home than the one at school!”

Paolo di Croce, executive director of Slow Food International, wrote in the press release announcing the program, “By supporting A Thousand Gardens in Africa, one isn’t just supplying the materials necessary to set up a garden, and guaranteeing a daily supply of fresh and healthy food to local populations, they’re encouraging young people to be farmers.” Check out the project’s inspirational website here.

Each garden costs around $1,300 to build, so Slow Food USA’s recent commitment to raise funds for the project in the United States has been instrumental to its growth. Furthermore, Slow Food USA has just received a $1.2 million grant — the single largest grant Slow Food has ever received — from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, greatly increasing the organization’s ability to work toward a better food culture around the world.

To donate through Slow Food USA visit the organization’s website.


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