Urban Agriculture in Portugal: ahead or behind?

Coming from Portugal, I see urban agriculture as a very interesting process.

Porto, where I come from, has a big metropolitan area, with about 1 million of inhabitants. With most of my friends having families from the countryside of Portugal, I was the “unfortunate” one, with my four grandparents living  in the same neighbourhood in Gaia (the city on the other side of the river from Porto, which hosts the cellars where the Porto wine rests). This meant that every summer and holiday season my friends would take off to meet their relatives in villages somewhere in the idyllic Portuguese countryside (idyllic to me, at least), and I had to stay in Gaia.

But living in the city does not mean that I did not have any contact with the rural world. I used to help my grandmother to feed the chickens in her backyard. I remember more often, when she took me to look at the chickens, as a distraction manoeuvre to manage to feed me. (I was not so much into food when I was a child). Even now, she still grows some vegetables: cabbages, tomatoes, beans.

The knowledge that was passed on to her by her mother, and probably by most parents of the early 20th century, has in many cases, not passed on to the newer generations. The great urbanization seen in the last century is definitely partly “to blame”, alongside the lower status that is associated with “working the land”.

However, in Porto and its surroundings  the “rural world” is still very mixed with the urban landscape. Although allotment gardens become more popular and even trendy, most of the agriculture in this region is carried out by people who have always done it like that: using “efficiently” the land they own, as their parents did.

As I wrote here for EUKN, you can still easily find espigueiros popping out of the urban-rural landscape. Espigueiros are an old type of granary built to keep rodents (mice, rats..) away from cereals.

This close contact between the rural and the urban domains is, in my opinion, a characteristic of Portugal, unusual in most of Western Europe.  It is, on one hand, a sign of our “lag” in economic development. On the other hand, it is an asset that could allow us to leapfrog into a future of lively and local-boosted food economies.

I leave you with some pictures of the rural in the city.

Espigueiros, by Paulo Gonçalves. Found in http://viajaredescobrir.blogspot.nl/2011/12/portugal-arcozelo.html
Espigueiros, by Paulo Gonçalves.  Found here.

You can spot couves everywhere. Can you see the small ones?

small cabbages can be seen!
Garden by the street, small cabbages can be seen!

Fruit trees are also commonly found, peeking from the other side of the walls.

Orange tree waving hello!
Orange tree waving hello!

Another improvised vegetable garden, with a gardener in action, watering the field!

Can you spot the gardener?
Can you spot the gardener?

This last picture was taken 5 minutes walking from my home.  The buildings in the distance are part of Vila D’Este, one of the biggest residential developments in Portugal, accommodating 17,000 inhabitants.

Another vegetable garden, looking on Vila D'Este, a big residential development.
Another vegetable garden, looking on Vila D’Este, a big residential development.

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Stories in a daily meal

By the storyteller Ambra Tosto.

Ambra, the constant gardener
Ambra, the constant gardener

A student room in a Dutch town, not too big not too small.. Just a town, surrounded by a belt of   warehouses, little factories  and by a  highway ring…I look down at the table and I realize that I can tell  the story of every single ingredient of the meal in front of me.
A luxurious situation nowadays, if you live in a town, where most of what we eat passes through an endless chain of anonymous hands, boxes, trucks, shelves and shopping bags.
But my meal, today, is the condensed result of droplets of urban sustainability.

Here I tell you its stories:

The soup
The soup is a bright green cream, the kind of soup a kid would hate.
It is made of lovage and beet leaves that come from a fun and messy student vegetable garden, spinach freshly picked from one of the buckets in my terrace, a little experiment of urban gardening, and nettles that grow everywhere for free!

The baked eggs
The hens that laid the eggs live approximately 200m away from my house in a garden/small didactic farm around an old windmill.

The bread
I make it almost every week mixing flour, water and sour dough.I bought the flour in the weekly farmer market, organic Dutch wheat wind-mill-grounded in a close-by village.
The sour dough, however, that works as yeast, is the ingredient with the longest story, a story of many many careful hands that kept it alive, feeding it new flour every week, for 150 years!

the messy student garden :)
the messy student garden :)

Written by the storyteller Ambra Tosto.

EUKN – Eating City Summer Camp – enjoying and preparing food while discussing future urban food systems in Europe

Between July 28th and August 3rd, 25 participants discussed topics as food provision, urban agriculture, eatable landscapes, cooking education, gardening experiences and efficient waste management, at the Eating City Summer Camp in France. They were inspired by lively discussions around the meal tables, by the cooking skills of the French chef, the delicious homemade bread and the sweet cherries handpicked from the farm trees.

Eating City International Platform

The young people represented 25 European countries at the Bergerie de Villarceux, France. The event was organized by the Eating City international platform, a project of Risteco, (an organization which started as the environmental branch of a public catering company),and it gathers people from organizations as diverse as the Terre Citoyenne Alliance, the independent agricultural think tank Groupe de Bruges and the Slow Food Movement.

From food logistics and procurement to plankton and religion

The structure of the meeting had a mix of formal and informal styles, with lectures, working groups and participating in baking and cooking activities. Lectures were given by experts in the most diverse aspects of the food system: Logistics, Fishing certification, Public Food Procurement, Local Food Marketing, and Youth Food Movements in Europe.

There were also speakers introducing less obvious topics: the nutritious potential of plankton as a widespread food; and the connections between food, culture and religion.

The perfect setting: the Bergerie de Villarceux

It is not by chance that the meeting took place at the Bergerie. The Bergerie consists of 600 hectares that were part of an old property of the Marquis de Villarceux. Part of that property still hosts the castle and gardens of Villarceux and is administered by the regional authorities of Ile de France. The part of the Bergerie was turned into an Ecocenter and a biological farm, hosting hundreds of animals, and producing cereals and lentils, among other things. The Bergerie has been committed to a process of ecological and social transition for more than 20 years.

Hands-on approach

With participants that are fascinated and appreciators of good food it is no wonder that baking the daily bread together with the baker, and helping the chef preparing the meals, were some of the most popular parts of the program. The food was, needless to say, prepared using always biological local ingredients, including meat and lentils from the farm.

Declaration of Villarceux

The meeting resulted in the Declaration of Villarceux, elaborated and signed by all participants. In September the Declaration of Villarceux will be widespread through the Eating City platform and the participants’ networks throughout Europe.

A concerned visitor during the presentations of the working groups
A concerned visitor during the presentations of the working groups

via EUKN – Eating City Summer Camp – enjoying and preparing food while discussing future urban food systems in Europe.

The Hungry City – how food shapes our cities, our houses and our lives

One of the most interesting things about Foods and Cities is the great number of aspects it touches: fair trade, dietary habits, cooking skills, urban planning, regional development, community involvement, North-South relations, economy and agriculture, but also sustainability at a local and global scale.

As my thesis was dealing a lot with the topic of global impacts of local actions, I was very interested in how food can be used to address the (un)sustainability of people’s lifestyles in cities. When interviewing some experts, two of them suggested to me the book “The Hungry City”, by Carolyn Steel. I had never heard about it, so I was quite surprised when two of my three interviewees recommended it to me.

It was a great tip! After I finished the thesis, the first thing I did was to borrow the book from the library, and to spend some hours reading it in the park.

Post-thesis relaxation, last summer.
Post-thesis relaxation, last summer.

The author of the book is a British architect, who looks for the first time at cities from the perspective of Food. (Watch her Ted Talk.) She tells the story of how food shapes our lives. Not only in terms of health, but of the city itself.

Did you know that in London, the streets through which food entered the city centuries ago, are still nowadays some of the main traffic streets? Before industrialization, food was brought in from the surrounding region by foot, or from faraway places by boat. Can you imagine all the chicken, cattle, goats, crossing the streets every week, in direction to the markets where they were sold?

“If you look at the map of any city built before the industrial age, you can trace food coming in to it. You can actually see how it was physically shaped by food, both by reading the names of the streets, which give you a lot of clues. Friday Street, in a previous life, is where you went to buy your fish on a Friday. But also you have to imagine it full of food. Because the streets and the public spaces were the only places where food was bought and sold. “

Carolyn Steel, TedTalk

Steel gives glimpses of how food was prepared, sold, transported and enjoyed throughout the centuries – which is also the story of how our relation to food changed with times.


Sustainability – stories and facets

As I mentioned here, I did my thesis on “how sustainable is sustainable planning?”.

While researching, for months I dived deep into academic literature . In order to make sense out of what I was reading, I came up with the image of the Dodecahedron of Sustainability and of Sustainable Planning.

We all learn in high school about Platonic solids: the cube, the pyramid, and those with complicated names and many sides. These sides are also called facets.

When dealing with the concept of sustainability, one is confronted with its many facets.
This is how I envisioned  it in my thesis the concept of Sustainable Planning:
sustainable planning_dodecahedron_small
Then, I described in detail, each one of those aspects.

The image of the dodecahedron, the 12-faced solid, serves to convey the multitude of  aspects, understandings and points of view that lie behind the sustainability concept.

In this blog I intend to portray the same idea, but by telling stories.

The criteria used is:

– people/projects/ideas that I find extremely interesting and inspiring,
– to be somehow connected to sustainability.

This is how I think the dodecahedron of sustainability stories might look like:
sustainability stories
Let’s start it!