Urban Community Gardens Provide Jobs and Income in Socioeconomically Deprived Areas

With more than 12 million people living within the city of São Paulo, and its sprawling suburbs bringing the total population to more than 21 million, the metropolis is shaped by social, infrastructural, and economic inequality. The United Nations Human Development Index shows the sharp contrast among different areas of the city. For example, while the south of the city scores 0.927 on the index, which measures income, education, and life expectancy, the east has a score of 0.478. It is in this particularly vulnerable area of the city, where Cities Without Hunger decided to base its programs.

Cities Without Hunger is a non-governmental organization based in the city of São Paulo, Brazil that runs four kinds of "help-to-self-help" projects. These school gardens, agricultural greenhouses, small family farms, and community gardens generate job opportunities, income, and food security for project participants and their neighborhoods. Through these projects, the organization promotes the social inclusion of people in precarious socioeconomic situations.

The organization saw an opportunity to grow gardens on the land underneath power lines and above pipe lines where construction is prohibited. The availability of land, combined with São Paulo's good soil quality and subtropical climate, made year-round harvesting possible. In addition to the idle land near pipelines and power lines, the NGO is exploring the possibility of using the shores of the Tietê River as well once it is cleaned. The project transforms this idle urban land into productive gardens, providing jobs for the 115 urban gardeners who work there currently. Since its foundation in 2004, Cities Without Hunger has created 25 community gardens, 38 school gardens, 7 greenhouses and has helped three small family farms transition into organic agriculture.

 Towards the Human City: Cidades Sem Fome
One of Cidades Sem Fome community gardens. | Cidades Sem Fome

The typical project participant usually faces severe difficulties in finding work and has access to few social services. Although they are advanced in age or lack of formal education and training Cities Without Hunger applicants often show profound knowledge and experience in agriculture. Taking part in one of Cities Without Hunger's community gardens, they have the opportunity to grow their own products and sell them directly to the local neighborhood, receiving 100 percent of the selling prices. This model gives the community cost-effective access to high-quality organic food, benefiting not only gardeners and their families, but also up to 1,000 residents per garden.

Towards the Human City: Cidades Sem Fome
Sebastiana Helena de Farias, an employee at Cidades Sem Fome's São Mateus garden, is known in the community for her contagious joy. | Cidades Sem Fome

"Our gardens are actual businesses. Community gardeners sell fruit, vegetables, herbs, but also compost, seedlings, and flowers," said Hans Dieter Temp, founder of Cities Without Hunger. "We help people help themselves — The gardens are a chance to work, to earn a decent income, to live a life in dignity."

Cidades Sem Fome: Hans Dieter With Visitors
Cidades Sem Fome Founder Hans Dieter stands with visitors at one of the organization's community gardens. | Cidades Sem Fome

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