University of São Paulo: At Cidade Universitária, the project wants to attract the public to carry out sustainable practices

Motivated by the idea that it is possible and necessary to teach sustainable practices at the University, professors Thais Mauad and Antonio Mauro Saraiva decided to implement a community garden in Cidade Universitária, in the Butantã neighborhood. It would be a multiplication of the work carried out in the vegetable garden that has been resisting for nine years at the USP School of Medicine (FM), where Thais works. “But the original idea unfolded into six or seven other practices”, says Saraiva, showing the space that already has about 80 square meters of flower beds, producing flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables. The idea gave rise to USP Sustainability – USP’s Integrated Sustainability Practices Program.

Supported by the Superintendence of Environmental Management (SGA) and the Dean of Culture and Extension (PRCEU) at USP, the project aligns with the decade 2021-2030, declared by the UN as the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. The intention is to combat the climate crisis and improve food security, water supply and the protection of biodiversity.

According to Thais , a survey by Instituto Escolhas identified idle land in the Sapopemba region that, alone, could feed 80,000 people if they were occupied by urban agriculture. “We are already experiencing the consequences of climate change, the trend is for everything to get worse. If we don’t change the way we do things, the way we have energy, the way we take care of water and the way we deal with our own food, we won’t be able to adapt and mitigate what come forward”, he says

Located in an area known by the USP community as the Children’s Recreation Center (Nuri), the current Multipurpose Space was inaugurated in 1989 with the vocation of “interdisciplinary use” by the physicist and then dean of USP, José Goldemberg. The proposal of USP Sustentabilidade is to rescue this meaning to the place and make it an “open, practical laboratory for experiences that involve sustainable cultivation, exploring food biodiversity and approaching practices for healthy eating”. While explaining the project’s intentions, Professor Saraiva was called by a group of about ten people, who visit the space every Thursday for the garden maintenance effort. “You’re talking, but I haven’t seen you pick up the hoe,” says one of the volunteers.

The blocks that delimit the beds were donated by a concrete factory and the first planting was done with worm fertilizer and seedlings from the vegetable garden of the Faculty of Medicine and Instituto Kairós, one of the first partners in the project. Partnerships represent a way to strengthen the group and maintain local resources and skills. Paula Lopes, the Popó do Kairós, notes that everything they have done so far has been aimed at giving strength to the land. “Bringing pets: butterfly, earthworm, armadillo, bee, ladybug… so it is very diverse in species”, she says. The work began in December and, although the focus is not yet on food production, the land has already responded to the care very abundantly. “We harvest cabbage, radish, basil. In a little while, another month, there will be a turmeric harvest. And in two months, probably,

Around the vegetables, there are small wooden boxes that shelter stingless bees in the landscape. The meliponary is discreet, but has the grandiose intention of encouraging the creation of native pollinators and the cultivation of plants that serve them as food. Even before passing the entrance gate, it is also possible to notice new water drainage solutions. The rain garden installed on the sidewalk by the Campus City Hall, another partner in the project, allows the surface runoff from the street to enter the garden, infiltrate and only the excess leaves to the storm drain.

A bill establishing the National Incentive Plan for Residential and Community Vegetable Gardens is currently being processed in the Chamber of Deputies. PL 3141/21 proposes the allocation of areas, distribution of equipment, seeds and supplies, provision of guidance and teaching material to raise awareness and organize communities. The text of the proposal indicates that the national plan will make it possible to save on food expenses for families, in addition to providing an improvement in nutrition and quality of life. More than reducing expenses, a new relationship with food production is society’s response to the combination of climate change and the reality of hunger in the world.

collective knowledge
In partnership with USP’s Science and Technology Park, Cientec , another proposal of the project is to visit schools, bringing knowledge about composting. For this, they must also install composters near the vegetable garden, as well as a rainwater harvesting system. “There are a lot of natural resources there to be used. What’s left of the pruning, which serves to protect the soil… a lot of water falls from that stadium and we have to take advantage of it”, says Thais about the stands at the stadium of the Sports Practice Center (Cepeusp) that is next to the vegetable garden.

The site also boasts the first swimming pool built in Cidade Universitária, which now gives way to the first pumpkins in the garden. “Here there was compacted earth, bad. We removed it, did some tests and it is already producing”, points out Márcia Mauro, an agronomist at Cepeusp and one of the project’s volunteers. “People are afraid, they think they have to take a course. The idea is to show that it is possible to have a vegetable garden anywhere. We lost that notion, that knowledge,” she says.

With the return of face-to-face classes on March 14, Thais and Saraiva intend to encourage teachers to propose projects that use the space, as well as attract students who appropriate and help take care of the place. The idea is to give plots to groups of students who are responsible for the cultivation and maintenance. Students from the Pharmacy course at USP are keeping their “pharmacy alive”, says Thais, taking care of two beds with herbs of medicinal interest.

Each increment installed on site corresponds to a breakthrough in the design. USP Sustainability also wants to explore the use and generation of clean energy and bioconstruction resources. Equipped and articulating other USP initiatives, the space can be used as an open-air classroom for teaching courses to students, researchers and interested parties. For example, the Meliponiculture and Citizen Science course , which has already been offered twice remotely, with approximately 2,900 subscribers.

“We are expanding, little by little, our small park for visitation and sustainable practices open to all”, says Professor Saraiva proudly. According to him, the project will have a schedule with a calendar of activities. One of these activities can be the Urban Agriculture Festival, organized by the Union of Community Gardens of São Paulo. The group’s first meeting since the beginning of the pandemic was held at USP. “I’m suggesting that they hold events there. Calling farmers to organize an organic fair, in short, the possibilities for using that space are endless”, suggests Thais.

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