Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Cultivating Community Knowledge: Growing Food, Flower & Ethnobotanical Gardens with Street Children in Brazil.

Projeto Sossego do Meio Ambiente - Peace in the Environment Project Results and Summary of Activities - funded by CIDA

By Illène Pevec

compost the weeds

I went to Santo Ângelo, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil in January of 2001 to start community gardens with children in a very poor community in a town of 76,000 people in Brazil's southern interior. My host organization, CELUAN, had done an extensive sociological study of the targeted community but not yet begun the educational outreach they wished to do. I began a program of environmental education with about 80 to 100 children and adolescents and some parents. Through art activities they identified a community clean-up, tree planting, a park for the children, and community gardens as a focus for our work.

Creating community gardens costs very little money for the positive results it achieves for the people involved. Given the dangerous effects of pesticide residues on children's physical and intellectual development, an organically grown community garden provides inexpensive, vitamin rich food to the earth's most vulnerable citizens, the children. A community garden also teaches more than gardening and healthy eating, it connects people with each other and with the earth, and from those deep connections comes much positive growth.

Update February 26, 2003

In January, 2002 with funding from American and Canadian foundations channeled through Susila Dharma International we expanded the project to include a summer pre-school program for very young children and their care-takers and a summer camp for the children 6 to 14. We worked with twelve 15 to 18 year olds to form a "Green Team" of counselors to lead and assist the younger children with their work in the garden and their recreational and educational activities at the camp. Nature studies, art, traditional Brazilian games, swimming, and a carnival party at the end gave the children many experiences.


Celuan continued the work with the children throughout the year using their school facilities to provide a play site, sports, English, Computer education, dance and music lessons to the children three days a week. Five days a week the Green Team of counselors alternates supervising younger children at the community center in gardening, educational and play activities. Adão Vieira, the community president, coordinates the Green Team andthe children and at the community garden.

In October 38 young people ages 10 to 18 went on a trip to Iguassu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina to visit the national park in both countries and the environmental school run by the Brazilian government. This trip rewarded these young people for their hard work of the past 22 months of working to keep their community trash free and their community garden growing. Funding was provided by 3 American foundations.

After a 13 hour bus ride the students got their first glimpse of a sub-tropical forest in a natural state. They played environmental games to learn the names of the animals living in the park and learned about the history of region, known by the Guarani people as the Valley of the Butterflies. The children renewed their enthusiasm as green ambassadors for their community and planted more fruit trees in the community garden on their return. The garden is gradually becoming a permaculture garden with a variety of fruit, vegetables and medicinal herbs growing year-round.

February 2003 the children have a summer camp again. A sewing program for mothers and teens will begin soon, along with a pre-school and parent educational program using the methods of the International Child Development Project at the Celuan facility. Parents in the community have begun an additional community garden, as has one of the child care centers run by a teacher who used to be at the grade school where we planted the first school garden. The seeds are spreading for organically grown food for families.

This summarizes the work accomplished through April 1, 2001.

Community meetings and workshops with adults, children and youth to identify environmental assets and problems. Art used with children and adults as a tool for visioning. Late January to mid-February
Needed: More employment, enterprises within community, sewer system and gutters, a park with play equipment for children and volleyball and soccer courts, community garden for food, job training for youth, trees for streets, river bank and park, clean up the trash, clean the polluted river.
Assets: Friendly neighbourhood where people know each other well—a good number of trees already planted on sidewalks.

Community Clean-up Day: Feb. 17
Participation by about 60 children and youth, 20 adults, and the local Coca-Cola distributor who donated a truck to haul the trash away to the dump. 10 local businesses donated food for the small meal served at the end of the day to everyone who had worked. Two donated commercial trash containers and hauled them away. Every household in the neighbourhood received a hand-delivered invitation to help clean up and to participate in the tree planting ceremony that opened the event. Two trees were planted in front of the community center and a trash receptacle was placed there as well.

Create the Community Garden at the Community Centre, the Nucleo. Work began last two weeks in February, fully planted by first week in March. Work continued daily with first crops of radishes and arugula harvested in last week of March. There are 20 plots, some shared. some singly tended, plus one for the community centre itself and one of medicinal plants. Four plots had adult partnership, CIDA purchased wheelbarrow, hoes, shovels, rakes, hoses, small hand gardening tools, flowering bush, seed starting container and seeds. CIDA also purchased the wood, paint, cement etc to make a grape arbor and benches for the garden.

seeds sprouting

Create Gardens at the local grade school: The grade school serves 6 classes of children from kindergarten to grade 4, 108 students. Students range from age 6 to 60. For Four Wednesdays in March Illène and Adão sometimes with the help of Denize worked with every class to create the gardens each class had chosen to do. This required clearing the school grounds of trash and weeds, something that had not been done in a long time. (It had been locked and unreachable on the community clean-up day.) The Grade 4 class did the vegetable garden, grade 3 did medicinal plants, grade 2 started a fruit orchard, grade one did an herb and seasoning garden and the kindergarten and morning grade 1 shared planting the butterfly and hummingbird garden. The food raised in the gardens will be used to supplement the school snack and any extra will go home with the kids. CIDA purchased wheelbarrow, hoes, shovels, rakes, hose, four fruit trees, two flowering bushes and seeds. (The other varieties of fruit trees desired by the students can't be planted until May which is why they were not purchased.)

Teaching of Environmental Awareness: Accomplished in an integrated manner with the gardening and trash cleaning activities at both the Nucleo and School. I had excellent basic botany and ecology books available to use daily from CELUAN's library.

Field Trips: Worm manure farm: CELUAN gave us their school bus to take the children in the project to a local farm where all manure and organic matter is recycled by worms into excellent worm castings. After a presentation on worms at the school they have begun to build a worm bin for the students to recycle organic matter and make good organic garden fertilizer.
San Miguel das Missões: This is the most important historic site in the region where the Jesuits had an agricultural colony that protected Indians from enslavement by the Portuguese from the north. The city gave us a tour bus to take the children to see the ruins and the city of San Miguel gave us free entry to the site and sound and light show that describes the history. For most of these children it was the first time they had ever left their town since the families do not own cars. Since the site is a UNESCO world heritage site there is consciousness in the town to keep it clean and the children were able to see a place free of trash with many trash containers to help the public keep it clean.

Soap Making: The community health agent came to the Nucleo one morning to teach us how to make soap from tallow and included herbs grown in the neighbourhood that help to clean bugs like lice from hair and skin. We were thinking of this as another possible money making activity for the project, but the financial gain is minimal from selling the soap.

Public Awareness: This program attracted a great deal of media interest. We were in the newspaper sometimes three times a week, always at least once a week with articles in the state capital's paper and on the internet also. I was interviewed on the radio with the community volunteers several times. We put project photos on exhibit in the Nucleo when we had a party to honor the work of the children in creating the gardens. We took the six prepared photo boards to the town square the last two Sundays to participate in the weekly event that combines crafts fair and community information. A large number of people came to see the photos and talk to the children and adults about our project.

Public Honors: The City Council of Santo Ângelo gave me a public homenagem, an honor of speeches and certificate, in council chambers to thank me for the project. The school honored me on International Women's Day with poems, songs and skits performed in my honor. The Mayor of San Miguel honored me with thanks for bringing environmental awareness to the region. The challenge, of course, is to get public officials to go further than words and put money into the program so that it can continue as a youth problem-prevention program and spread to other neighbourhoods and towns.

Public Petitions and teaching of democratic action: In the last two weeks we circulated two petitions: one to ask for the park by the river in the space allocated as "Green Space" but currently a field of weeds and trash; one petition asks for the space from the city to have a wood working shop so that the youth can have a constructive activity and learn a marketable skill. The decision to do this came from the community as a whole, children and adults. The children took the petitions house to house in the neighbourhood and to the Sunday meeting in the town square. These petitions will go to the mayor and city council.

work together

Project Identification: I decided to make t-shirts for the children and adults who had participated in the program from its inception. This was a gift to them from CIDA for two months of work in transforming their community from a trash bin to a much cleaner place with two new gardens. I presented the t-shirts at the party we had a week before I left to honor the children's work. A local t-shirt company had a graphic of a seedling being held in a hand ready for planting and that graphic went under the name of our project, Projeto Sossego do Meio Ambiente-The Peace in the Environment Project.

Cooperating organizations:

CELUAN: an organization of teachers and others interested in providing enriched educational opportunities to marginalized children. Their support to me was huge in terms of their introduction to the community, the full use of their library and office while I worked, room and board and professional and personal friendship.

Garabi-Ita: A reforestation project operated by the state whose purpose is the reforestation of the river that runs through the town and borders our specific targeted neighbourhood. They have promised us tree seedlings for the river bank and proposed park and instructions for planting these native species of trees. We have asked for their help in making the park an ecological teaching park so that people can understand what native forest is in this region which has only 8% of the native trees left.

The Nucleo Communitaria: The Community Centre is a small building of one room with a half room kitchen area that has a small sink, two burner stove and attached bathroom. It's back yard is where we developed the first community garden. Adčo Vieira is the president, a voluntary position with no pay and many responsibilities as this is the only public meeting area aside from the churches and grade school in the community. Everything from wakes to birthday parties to our program happens here.

The Public Grade School: Municipal school for grades k to 4: site of second garden and sponsor of the Mother's Club which helps mothers to learn crafts that they can make at home and sell at the crafts fair for a small financial gain.

Pastoral da Criança: This nation-wide organization of volunteers dedicated to the health of young children and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize works actively in the community handing out nutritional information and natural supplements to parents. The volunteers in our project also work in the Pastoral and we met together several times to see how we could support each other. They are an integral part of the community and have done much to improve local health.

In Summary: Every day in morning and afternoon sessions at the Nucleo I worked with the assistance of Adão Vieira, the community president and Denize Vieira, his adult daughter, to create the gardens, care for them, play environmental games and fix nutritious food with the children. Since there is no place in the community for the children to play currently and many of their mothers work away from home as maids our program gave the children a place to come and be involved in supervised activity they enjoyed. They also received a nutritious snack after their hard work in the garden and this snack is an important addition to very meager diets. The grade school where we worked each Wednesday will probably need on-going support from Adão on a weekly basis if they are to sustain their large gardens. Only three teachers actually were willing to put their hands in the dirt when I was working with them.

Revised November 29, 2006

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture