Santiago City Crops: Grow Your Own with Cultivos Urbanos

City dwellers often speak of the idyllic notion of relocating to the country in order to grow their own food and live off the fat of the land. Yet it may not require moving house at all. With the many environmental and economic problems that we face today a constant pressure on society, it is imperative that we adapt to new challenges. In Santiago, Cultivos Urbanos is addressing these issues and, by taking a step back, is leading the way forward.

 Workshop - photo courtesy of Cultivos Urbanos
Workshop - photo courtesy of Cultivos Urbanos

Cultivos Urbanos was founded by a group of architecture students from La Universidad Católica following the 2008 food crisis which had serious effects across Latin America. It is an organisation set up to promote urban agriculture and develop citizens’ awareness of sustainable living whilst teaching them to cultivate their own crops, either at home or as part of community co-operatives. It is a back to basics approach that reaps rewards for those who seek a simpler, healthier and more self-sufficient lifestyle.

The majority of work has so far been carried out in the Barrio Yungay, a vibrant and relatively cheap part of the city in which numerous unaffiliated associations, groups and collectives highlight local residents’ commitment to working together. Plots of land are readily available and there is generally a positive reception to community-centred projects.

 Recycled industrial printers - photo courtesy of Cultivos Urbanos
Recycled industrial printers - photo courtesy of Cultivos Urbanos

The principal project is the Huerto Urbano Yungay in Quinta Normal Park, on a piece of land granted to the organisation by the local municipality. Saturday afternoons see upwards of twenty people clearing out the debris of the house that previously stood here and which was flattened in the earthquake. The construction of a 300 square-metre vegetable garden will serve as an educational centre in which the public will be able to learn how to organically produce crops.

‘The original plan was to make a manual on sustainability and urban cultivation’ says Anibal Fuentes, director and founding member of Cultivos Urbanos. ‘But that never happened in the end when we found ourselves developing projects in local communities. We liked this idea as it allowed us to increase our possibilities’.

 Workshop - photo courtesy of Cultivos Urbanos
Workshop - photo courtesy of Cultivos Urbanos

One often-cited obstacle to urban cultivation is a lack of space and time, all too common problems in large cities. Yet this is not necessarily a hindrance. ‘The important thing is to optimise space’ says Anibal. ‘People who live in apartments can make grow-boxes for their balconies, and there are crops which require less maintenance for people with less time’.

While Cultivos Urbanos have been well-received, their work represents only the tip of the iceberg. How does Anibal find attitudes in general in the heavily-polluted Santiago towards environmental issues? ‘A large part of the population lives with this promise of development that is entwined with consumerism. There are very few policies in place to solve problems and there is a lack of environmental education’.

 Working on site - photo courtesy of Cultivos Urbanos
Working on site - photo courtesy of Cultivos Urbanos

Through the raising of awareness and the ending of this perceived dependence on the supermarket, Cultivos Urbanos is seeking to change this. Future plans include the establishment of a network of allotments and orchards throughout Santiago, as well as the development of similar projects in Valparaiso.

It is easy for anyone to become involved in the project. As well as the construction of the vegetable gardens, classes on urban cultivation take place every Saturday morning at MAC Quinta Normal with the option to continue working on the projects throughout the day. These workshops attract people of all ages whose gardening knowledge ranges from novice to green-fingered guru. In short, everybody’s welcome.

More details about Cultivos Urbanos, including projects, classes and affiliated organisations, can be found on their website.

http://www.cultivosurbanos.org/

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