Community gardens are rare in Santiago. Though the city provides unique, year-round growing conditions entirely devoid of hard frosts, gardens also lack resources and a welcoming private or public partner. Despite the hurdles, one exceptional project provides a working blueprint: La Aldea del Encuentro. One of the most successful examples of urban agriculture in the city, La Aldea del Encuentro forms part of a thriving community center located near the foot of the mountains in comuna La Reina.
La Aldea (photo by Ben Bookout)
Julia Franco, the director of the community garden project, accepts anyone willing to complete eight hours of training in the gardens, a one-month evaluation period and monthly meetings with all community gardeners. Participants must also tend to their plot once a week. In exchange, gardeners receive a 4 by 4 meter plot to cultivate as they see fit. Additionally, in order to pay for tools, water and materials, La Aldea takes half of the plot's harvest and sells it on Saturdays at the Ecoferia located just steps from the garden.
Director Julia Franco (photo by Ben Bookout)
The Ecoferia outdoor market showcases the produce of local organic farmers and other goods produced by local merchants, ranging from clothing to fragrant soap, on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:30am to 1:30pm. An excellent source for inexpensive organic produce in Santiago, the feria has a unique atmosphere. Shoppers buy their fruit and veg for the week while enjoying a cup of tea and a slice of pie in the small cafe located within the market. The market's popularity has increased since it started in 2010 and the number of vendors and products has grown with its popularity.
The Ecoferia (photo by Ben Bookout)
The success of the gardens results directly from the hard work and education of participants wanting to get their hands dirty and cultivate their own food. The program provides its gardeners with seeds and seedlings year round, as well as workshops on natural cultivation, maintenance and fertilization techniques. These workshops usually take place at the monthly meetings.
The gardens also have a team of attendants who give advice, lend out tools and sell seeds and plants, all while watering, weeding and harvesting. The group that works at La Aldea is integral to the function of the gardens. They note who is coming once a week, monitor safety, keep plants alive in a gardener's absence and organize work in the gardens. The organization also has outreach programs for local schools, universities and community groups wanting to learn about organic gardening and composting. The gardens have grown in recent years, going from 65 gardeners in 2009 to well over 120 in 2012.
Gardeners at work (photo by Ben Bookout)
In a city as dense as Santiago it can be challenging to find space to grow your own food and difficult to feel a sense of community. The community garden at La Aldea del Encuentro provides a venue for the cultivation of both.
Community Garden La Aldea
Av. Larrain 9750
Using transantiago one can get to the gardens on the 403 or from metro Plaza Egaña taking the D02.
For more information the gardens can be found online at: huertasdelencuentro.bligoo.com/ and on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/groups/huertasdelencuentro
or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the Ecoferria it can be found online at: www.ecoferia.cl