Building Valongo’s Ecotopian Garden
On the 7th March, 2020, the Utopia500 team visited Valongo High School to assist Professor Marcus Vinicus in building a sustainable garden for the school. This project is part of Marcus’s post-doctoral research in Brazil, where he specialises in Utopian Literary Studies. Here in Porto, he is supervised by Professor Fátima Vieira. The purpose of this project is to: reduce food waste, eliminate the use of pesticides and other chemicals and unnatural fertilizers, and to promote a more sustainable diet and attitude towards food. The project is carried out with Valongo high school students who study vocational courses in: baking, bartending and cooking.
The ultimate goal is to turn the school into a sustainable place. The school’s kitchen will compost food waste that will be used to fertilise the garden. The food and aromatic herbs grown in the garden will be cooked and served in the school canteen and also will be utilised by cookery students. Building the garden themselves and watching the plants grow from seeds to fresh food products promotes important values such as responsibility and accountability. The project also values practical, hands-on learning, allowing the students to learn outside in nature away from the constraints of a classroom.
Knowing where your food comes from is an important lesson to pass on to the students. Growing your own food, there is no doubt in how it has been grown and in what environment. Today, most of us consume a highly unsustainable diet, usually we have little knowledge as to where our food has come from or how it has been produced. We eat food that is out of season and that has travelled thousands of miles to reach our plates, our individual and often careless weekly grocery shops can contribute massively to global pollution. Growing and eating our own food is by far the most sustainable way to eat. Marcus highlighted the beauty of tasting something that has been grown in such a natural, untainted way and the strong connection we share with nature when consuming in this way.
Furthermore, in our consumerist society where everything is instant, at the click of a button we can have a ‘fresh’ meal delivered to our door, as the world never stops, we never seem to either. Most of us don’t take the time out of the day to prepare a meal from scratch, let alone to garden and grow our own produce. Taking this time to pause and cook fresh produce, away from technology, allows us to reconnect with the natural, real world. It is a cathartic process beneficial for both the mind and body.
Asking the students what they could learn from the project, Tiago, 17, a pastry student, points out that: "this could teach me things I could do at home too, turning it into a routine habit," highlighting how students are inspired to take sustainable action outside of school, driving feasible social change. Other students like Mariana, 16, or Beatriz, 15, emphasize how with projects like these ones they can learn to grow various plants, thus helping to reduce environmental pollution in the food chain.
In these current times of uncertainty as the world faces a pandemic and so many things are out of our control, Professor Olga emphasised that a garden is something concrete and stable that the children can work on, a factor they can control. The stability is a sanctuary and a way to escape the uncertainty and anxiety of the real world.