Your message does not just pass by looking at the land, cultivating, harvesting and eating. There is also a deeper approach: that of looking at the planet, taking care of it. Have we come to a critical point?
We believe that yes, we have reached a critical point. Speaking only of current food production systems around the world, these, in general, compromise the Earth's ability to produce food in the future. Growing scarcity of natural resources and loss of biodiversity, population growth (particularly urban) and climate change pose enormous challenges not only for the food chain, but also for global stability and prosperity as they can exacerbate poverty and to destabilize the economy. To make the agri-food system more resilient in times of increasing instability and uncertainty, a radical change in food production and consumption is inevitable.
For these reasons, we are convinced that it is necessary, for example, to eliminate the large number of synthetic chemicals, in particular through organic farming. Especially for a child, it is important to realize that having a vegetable garden is much more than cultivating our food, it is also understanding the environment that surrounds us and how we depend on it. It is necessary to know, for example, that plants produce their own food and feed all other living things, that earthworms and microbes in the soil are fundamental, or that there are insects that we call auxiliary because they are hunting for other insects who eat the crops of our garden.
Domestic gardens have been given not only economic, social and environmental benefits but also therapeutic benefits.
Is there a therapeutic dimension in the cultivation of home gardens?
Absolutely. Domestic gardens have been given not only economic, social and environmental benefits but also therapeutic benefits. Garden and garden environments are now recognized as an effective and beneficial therapeutic modality for the well-being and improvement of people's quality of life, particularly their physical, mental and emotional health. It offers opportunities for socialization and rehabilitation, for active participation and physical exercise, to stimulate the senses, concentration, creativity and manual dexterity, and the scientific community has a growing interest in this area.
Is not every home garden biological?
No, synthetic chemicals, in the form of soil-borne fertilizers or pesticides to combat pests, diseases or weeds, can not be used to be biological. As an alternative to them, techniques such as organic fertilization are applied through the application to the soil of compost obtained by domestic composting, for example, or organic fertilizers; rotations and crop associations and for the control of pests and diseases, the existence of biodiversity, such as auxiliary insects, is encouraged or natural products such as soap preparations and plant extracts are used – biopesticides .
One of the obstacles many people throw at home garden projects is the supposed difficulty of maintaining them. I assume everything starts from the way we see this maintenance. If we approach it as an educational project maybe it will change the motivation, right?
Of course if we approach the garden as an educational project helps not to give up especially when difficulties appear. As in all projects, the difficult is the beginning and after the first difficulties are overcome, everything becomes simpler. With some practice and knowledge the tasks of the garden become routine and the obstacles easy to solve.
Do they have data that allow us to perceive the Portuguese context in relation to other European countries where the cultivation of food at home is a consolidated reality?
We do not know the existence of statistical data on the cultivation of food at home or in communal urban gardens, but we know that it is a widespread trend in Europe as in the whole world. In the middle of the century. XX, 30% of the world's population lived in urban areas, rising to more than half in 2018 (55%) and is estimated to increase to 68% by 2050 (UN, 2018).
The "Resilience of Cities" integrates the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2016, and cities must move towards greater interaction with nature, taking every opportunity to insert nature and promote people's contact with natural elements, through an ecological infrastructure connecting the city to the territory, which offers environmental and social services. Urban agriculture fulfills these requirements and the practice of organic production in urban gardens is highly recommended and essential, due to the need to respect and preserve the ecosystems and to be an adequate system of food production, promoting a healthy diet.
It is fascinating the life that exists in the soil In a teaspoon of soil we can find more than one billion of alive beings, pertaining to ten thousand different species.
A fascinating fact that we take away from your book is all the biodiversity that exists inside a simple vase on a porch. Can you give us an example of this?
Well, it's really fascinating the life that exists on the soil. In a teaspoon of soil we can find more than one billion living beings, belonging to up to ten thousand different species. We are talking about fungi, bacteria, microscopic algae, protozoa, nematodes, insects, spiders, mollusks and worms! In a vessel, which usually contains mixtures of substrates and soil, this quantity and diversity may be slightly smaller, but it is always gigantic. We often forget the microscopic world on which life depends, for microbes and other living beings are the protagonists that break down organic matter into mineral matter, which plants are then able to transform into organic food for them and for all of us .
In the book they present us with a detailed guide with the vegetables that can be grown at home. We were surprised by the diversity. Can you give us some examples of goods that we acquire on commercial surfaces and which, with some investment on our part, can we cultivate domestically?
For vegetables such as potatoes, onions or carrots, the space normally available for cultivation in urban areas is not always compatible with the total quantity needed for the consumption of the family. However, for spinach, cabbage, lettuce, peas, tomato, cucumber or peppers and all aromatic plants, it will already be possible to have a true independence of their acquisition in the supermarket if space is available.