When you are off the ground and hear about Slow Food gardens, the first impression would be a piece of land with well-designed symmetrical plots running parallel to each other and planted with colourful vegetables for the soul purpose of providing food to the participants. To some point I would like to say it is true, the impression is right but goes beyond the western imagination of a garden to a practical learning that goes beyond just growing vegetables in Agro ecological ways but comes with other outcomes as a person I would never imagine of.
Nurturing future and current leaders, knowledge sharing, biodiversity, building solidarity and unity, improving diets and nutrition, building self-esteem among African children, developing local economy systems, mitigating climate change and building resistance against injustices associated with industrial agriculture among others are some of the underlying outcomes we have come to realize that come with establishment of a garden in a community or school.
The end of my studies at the University of Gastronomic Sciences years ago marked the beginning of my renewed association with the Slow Food gardens and traveling across the country, experience has taught me that Slow Food gardens are beyond what we see. Here is my story.
15,000 students are directly benefiting from project in the 48 districts where Slow Food Uganda has so far established a solid network. In central Uganda, I witnessed scholars at Gocce Di Vita agricultural vocational institute launching a Jim Jam investment club to save their monetary earnings from the garden produce at every end of season. To them, this is one step towards the sustainability of their garden after its establishment. In Iqura nursery and primary school, pupils there between the age of 4 and 12 year are indeed enjoying daily meals of vegetables and herbs harvested on a regular basis for the past three year of their commitment to the project. Learners in Kibirige memorial nursery and primary school cannot wait to host the fruit and juice party on March 2019 and certainly exhibit imaginable fruits and vegetables from their half an acre garden. At Kisowera primary school, students and teachers are determined to maintain a balanced deity on every meal and after hosting the vegetable festival in 2018, the school devoted its land to being a practical learning ground for the future farmers. St. John’s Secondary School actively participated in the Food for change campaign through the gardening project. Here I met an incredible amount of traditional bitter tomatoes, egg plants and leafy vegetables not mentioning the replacement of flower beds and all kinds of artificial flowers with consumable herbs. In Mubende district, St. Zoe primary school is indeed a model school in the area where students grow their own beans in the didactical garden and they say that it is way to maintain our local and indigenous seeds while imparting practical knowledge and skill into those that will change and protect our food system. Those and so many other schools across the country are indeed thankful to the project for opening their eyes to see the beauty embedded in engaging young people in the preservation of biodiversity and in the fight against malnutrition. I am referring to the same idea of 10,000 gardens in Africa to fight against climate change. This project is one form of agriculture practiced in harmony with the environment, preserving biodiversity and natural resources. In Northern Uganda, after crossing the Nile River at Karuma, bush burning is the order of day however, V.H public primary school in Lira is impressively doing all it takes to save the Marakwanga which is a drought-resistant herbaceous plant undergoing extinction.
With the desire to expand our network, Slow Food Uganda team continually visits School and communities thanks to the collaboration with the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, 15 schools and community groups have so far joined the project in Arua Diocese, Adjumani district giving a chance to over 1000 students to participate towards a change in the food system. We are aiming to change the poor feeding patterns in the north and the extensive use of agrochemicals by proving alternative methods. Pakele primary and St. Mary Asumpta are some of our target schools in Adjuman. Pakele has more than 1000 pupils including a huge number of refugees from South Sudan and disabled children. On the other hand St. Mary Asumpta is only a girls school with 600 students who practically grow Sorghum and Millet for food while Maize flour for porridge.
Who knew we would set our feet in Kyotera and meet amazing groups of Students and staff of St. Gabriel’s Primary school and other schools under the Canossian sisters to embrace the project? Meanwhile in Dokolo, the farmers of Bed I Gen in Anok village are busy protecting the biodiversity through Bee keeping. Julius Darius Ochet is strongly fighting together with Slow Food Uganda to stop the agricultural practices in the area that are affecting the survival of bees. The gardens are playing a crucial role in food and nutrition education, help preserve Biodiversity and can change the food system.