Slow Food USA Partners to Build 1,000 Gardens in Africa

New initiative aims to help African communities grow food locally

Children working in the community gardens in Africa, part of the Slow Food International initiative.

It's not just the U.S. that could use locally produced agriculture — a new initiative, founded by Slow Food International and partnered with Slow Food USA, now aims to build 1,000 community and local gardens throughout Africa to help communities become sustainable.

Community gardens have become part of the global movement for local and sustainable food, says president of Slow Food USA Josh Viertel. And part of the problem is the food culture in America, which has a large impact across the globe. "The food culture and agricultural business in the U.S. is negatively affecting Africa," Viertel says. "But it's the same problems we face here: dependency on [genetically modified (GM)] products and chemical fertilizers, and losing local and traditional knowledge of agriculture."

The U.S. exports a large amount of agriculture to Africa in the form of food aid or in GM seeds, Viertel said. These crops, mostly grains like corn or soy, are beginning to drive local farmers out of business; either they can't compete with low prices from U.S. producers or they're going into debt trying to sell GM crops. Unlike most seeds, which can be saved and used over and over again for the same crop, GM seeds need to be bought and grown each season. It means larger production costs for local farmers. "What it does is create engagement in a market that makes the grower, and community, more vulnerable," Viertel says.

So, Slow Foods hopes to reverse the cycle of unsustainable production and give Africans the help they want to become self-sufficient. "We're helping our African partners in response to their wants, who say, 'We don't need GM foods and chemical fertilizers, we want to prove to the world that a different kind of agriculture is possible here,'" Viertel says.

Based on each regions' needs, Slow Food and their partners help communities develop their own gardens, crop varieties, and producers. Some are school gardens, used mainly to source cafeterias and feed schoolchildren, while others are community gardens with different seminars, markets, and community-building events. The gardens are similar to what community gardens in the U.S. look like, says Viertel.

"There's a nutritional component [in the gardens], but there's also a political and community component that's about building stronger communities that are self-reliant, and that take care of each other," he says. "By creating both food and the ability to grow food, we're also creating the ability for communities to stick together."

The best way to get involved is a financial donation, says Viertel; nearly half of the 1,000 gardens are already funded by individuals and Slow Food chapters across the globe. Check out the web site, and see testimonials from the African community gardens below.