Discover the garden of healthy food for the poor of Rio de Janeiro

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A litter-affected Rio de Janeiro slum includes a drug-trafficking Rio de Janeiro slum, the largest vegetable garden in Latin America, providing healthy and affordable produce to families in need.

The successful project, located in the Mangenios slum north of Rio de Janeiro, is booming at a time when Brazil is experiencing rising inflation and concerns over the availability of Russian fertilizers, a major concern for the powerful Brazilian agricultural sector.

The cultivation of this project began at the end of 2013 on a plot which was then called “Karakolandia” because it housed a large number of drug addicts.

The importance of this park gradually increased, and its good reputation emerged in an area dominated by the authority of drug traffickers.

The park currently provides affordable, pesticide-free crops, two characteristics that are not always associated, to about 800 families per month.

“Why were the poor condemned to eat poisoned food?” asked Julio Cesar Barros, one of the park’s directors, in an interview with AFP.

“My goal is to make organic food accessible to the non-rich as well,” he added, referring to the more expensive fruits and foods sold in affluent neighborhoods such as Copacabana and Ipanema.
Manginios Park is one of 56 parks in Rio de Janeiro that Barros created in collaboration with city authorities in 2006. It was hailed in the Milan International Charter for Food Policy in Cities as one of the best in the world.

The garden covers an area equivalent to four football fields, and produces a month and a half tons of yucca, carrots, onions, cabbage and other vegetables.

Half of the produce is sold to families for an average price of two riyals (40 cents) per kilogram, and the other half is donated to orphanages and shelters.

Stay away from drugs and crime

Doné Enedina da Silva, 73, wears a hat to protect her head from the scorching sun, to remove weeds growing among green plants.

“The garden has changed a lot of things for me, like the way I live and eat,” said the woman, who has ten grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren. “I barely had the money to buy carrots and onions,” she says. said.

Da Silva is one of twenty-five park workers, who are paid on sales. Barros says she was cleaning hospitals while other park workers were involved in drugs and crime and their future looked bleak as a 40-year-old employee preferred not to reveal his name or details of his past .

“Working in the garden is like therapy, he says. I come to the garden whether it’s raining or sunny. I won’t quit my job.”

He is proud of what he has achieved, noting that his work in the garden means his 11-year-old daughter eats well and healthily.

Obesity vs education

Barros explains that “the food culture in the neighborhood is very poor”, since the rate of obesity among people over the age of twenty rose from 12.2% to 26.8% between 2002 and 2019, according to government statistics. .

Barros, whose projects also target school gardens, says: “What happens if a child comes home with vegetables he grew at school? The culture develops accordingly and the child begins to influence his parents to eat healthier.

“Eating healthy food is important, but it’s not always accessible to everyone,” says Alessandra Almira, 39, who lives in the slum and does her shopping every week in Manginios Park.

Barros points out that the quality of the crops from these gardens are attracting restaurants that offer healthy dishes in Rio de Janeiro, as they start sourcing from community projects.

“Will food become unavailable to those who need it and return to the reach of the wealthy? We have to find a way to solve this problem,” he said.

While waiting for a solution, the Paros project is in full swing.

The government of Rio de Janeiro has announced its intention to create a park in the Parque de Madureira district of the city four times larger than Manginios Park. Officials have confirmed that it will be the largest urban park in the world.

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