Inspirador How São Paulo Provides Healthy Food for Those in Need

The organic market in the warehouse of Frente Agroecologia Urbana attracts many local residents.
The organic market in the warehouse of Frente Agroecologia Urbana attracts many local residents. | Photo (detail): Frente Agroecologia Urbana

A solidarity network in São Paulo sets up a circular food production system that combines logistical support and food donations. It connects farmers with consumers and vulnerable communities. 

By Jonaya de Castro and Laura Sobral

The Inspirador is rethinking sustainable cities in identifying and sharing inspiring initiatives and policies from more than 32 cities around the world. The research is systemising these cases in categories, these are signified by hashtags.

‘Development’ as it was defined in the last decades has its days numbered and values are being rethought. Technology is pushing for this reflection, as well as the climate crisis. Understanding the urgency to redefine horizons of urban development, some cities have adjusted their route to be more inclusive, diverse and regenerative. What are the possible changes so that lifestyles are less reckless with regard to nature without denying society’s technological advances?

A hangar can serve as a platform for important movements in cities. The one that houses the Frente Agroecologia Urbana* (Urban Agroecological Front) Warehouse, forinstance, serves as a commercial warehouse and organic food market. Since August 2020, it has provided support and infrastructure for small farmers across the São Paulo metropolitan area.

Food Far Away From People 

Due to the pandemic, many people were thrust into a severe situation of vulnerability, and hunger re-emerged in Brazil, especially among informal workers.“We started out when the pandemic emerged,” says Claudia Visoni, a farmer, Co-Congresswoman in the State of São Paulo and one of the creators of the Frente Agroecológica Urbana, an initiative that works closely with the Agroecological movement in the city. 
Agroecological farmers in the Greater São Paulo area, as in many other parts of the country, face major obstacles to distribute their food and are among the communities that are food-insecure. Agroecology is a sustainable method of farming which centres on food production that makes the best use of nature’s goods and services while not damaging these resources. It is aligned with the values of permaculture, which is an approach to land management that adopts arrangements observed in flourishing natural ecosystems. Agroecological and Permaculturist farmers seek to improve food yields for balanced nutrition, strengthen fair markets for their produce, enhance healthy ecosystems, and build on ancestral knowledge and customs.With Covid-19, these people became unable to support themselves. 
“The project started by connecting the dots. On one end, farmers who lacked the means to distribute their produce and on the other end, people in need of food”, Claudia saya. The project began as Anticorpos Agorecologicos (Ecological Antibodies) when they quickly began to collect money from donations to distribute it to agroecological farmers in exchange for whatever produce they had available. This produce was then taken to peripheral famine-struck communities. From April to September 2020, over 10 tons of food were produced by more than 200 organic farming families and distributed to more than 800 communities. 

Urban Agroecological Alliance 

For small agroecological farmers, one of the major difficulties is logistics. “Quite often, they are deeply exploited by someone who buys what they have at a meagre price,” says Claudia. It was necessary to create a warehouse to organise the distribution of food in the city for these farmers, who did not have access to the big logistical silos of the city. The group then rented a property to create a community fair trade warehouse. Farmers contribute a symbolic amount, which can be as low as R$ 100 reais (which is the equivalent to 15 Euros) in exchange for this infrastructure. 
The project continued to develop and changed its name to Urban Agroecological Alliance, aiming to work with all stages of food production. In this new chapter, through four areas of work, the group will cultivate gardens in the outskirts of the city, offer technical assistance and financial support, increase the food security of communities and create new centres of environmental education. In addition, they plan to provide logistical support to small farmers through the warehouse as well as to launch a market, distributing clean food through fair means. Finally, they intend to continue donating food, connecting people and fighting hunger. 

The project intends to create a parallel economy based on socio-environmental regeneration with donations, the warehouse, markets and vegetable gardens. It is a whole system running on a different logic. 

“We understood that this is a virtuous cycle.”

Claudia Visoni

Valuing the Farmers 

Understanding people’s real needs is central to being able to help. “A lot of people have this image of farmers as being ignorant people who need to take courses,” says Claudia, questioning initiatives that offer educational programs that are not accompanied by subsidies or infrastructures. She points out that most government investments in Brazil are destined for export agribusiness and that there is no support for small agroecological farmers who produce food. 
“They want the farmers to be taking classes when they are actually the guardians of ancient knowledge. They know a lot, are not heard enough and have no resources. A farmer once told me: ‘I don’t want any more courses, I want resources.’” In this regard, Claudia points out that greater representation must be achieved, which means that it is necessary to fight for the inclusion of more farmers in government bodies. “This creates a perspective based on lived experience”, she mentions. 
The Urban Agroecological Alliance is guided by the experience of those involved, both in activism and permaculture. “Many of us are permaculturists and talk about small, slow changes. We are learning each day”,  says Claudia, who for eight years has been working in Horta das Corujas (The Owl Garden), a community garden in a public space in São Paulo. 
For those facing similar challenges and who want to take action, her advice is to start small, with what is immediately available. And to also start right away and learn from your mistakes, one step at a time.  

Food for All – Simple but Challenging 

“Our economy is very effective in creating negative impact: the exploitation of nature, exploitation of people, inequality, pollution... and we do the opposite of that,” says Claudia. The biggest challenge, however, is funding. The project is in full expansion and needs financial resources to shift from precariousness to something more stable. There is recurring funding that individuals and organisations can contribute to.  

“It is surprising how the project has had nothing but positive impact.”

Claudia Visoni

Being an activist in the project is not all roses, but they are motivated. “What pushes me is what is in the Declaration of Human Rights: food for all. To act to generate a system that promotes access to good, fair, pure food. This demands an array of solutions,” says Claudia. She adds that the most rewarding thing about the project is to be able to create a system that works through a regenerative, circular logic. 
At this moment, the warehouse is the heart of the Urban Agroecological Alliance. When you step into the space, you see handcrafted products and seasonal vegetables side by side with flags of social movements, engaged volunteers and farmers. Everyone is welcoming and ready to share more about the importance of sustainable and family farming. It may seem like a simple scene, a very small idea, but if you pay attention, you can see its strength: it is a powerful seed. 

* Since the publishing of this column, the Urban Agroecological Front changed its name to the Feed Alliance (Frente Alimenta).


What Is This Series About?

The “Inspirador for Possible Cities”project is a collaborative creation by Laura Sobral and Jonaya de Castro aiming to identify experiences among initiatives,academic content, and public policies that work towards more sustainable, cooperative cities. If we assume that our lifestyle gives rise to the factors behind the climate crisis, we have to admit our co-responsibiltiy. Green planned cities with food autonomy and sanitation based on natural infrastructures can be a starting point for the construction of the new imaginary needed for a transition. The project presents public policies and group initiatives from many parts of the world that point to other possible ways of life, categorized into the following hashtags:
#redefine_development, #democratize_space, #(re)generate_resources, #intensify_collaboration, #political_imagination