Maria M. Mur
Valparaíso (Chile), April 21 (EFE) .- The landscape in the Villagra ravine, at the confluence of the hills of Las Cañas and El Liter, in the Chilean coastal city of Valparaíso, has changed radically during the pandemic: debris, mice and rusty appliances gave way to tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins.
Teresa Balboltín still finds it hard to believe what she sees through her window every morning.
Although more than a year and a half has already passed, it seems to him that it was yesterday when, in the hardest moments of covid-19, he organized with the neighbors to clean the landfill that had been generated there and fulfill the common dream of “living in a clean and dignified stream “.
“We have been infected with parasites. We have removed more than 10 tons of garbage. Most of the waterways in Valparaíso are micro dumps and living near them is stigmatizing,” the neighborhood leader told Efe.
“It’s easy to leave a place you don’t like, but it’s not the idea, it’s about recovering public spaces”, he adds while cutting a couple of cherry tomatoes, one of the flagship products of the “Villa Marat Garden”.
His other great specialty are pumpkins, indispensable in most of the Chilean spoon dishes.
Halfway through the interview, a group of “huerteras” – as the neighbors who manage the garden call themselves – approach to ask “how is the child”, pointing with a laugh at a pumpkin that already weighs almost six kilos.
“When the pumpkin is ripe, the trunk turns cork-colored. That’s when you have to cut it. This one still has some,” explains Marta Rivas.
500 KG OF FOOD
The “VillaMarat Huerta” is part of a larger project, promoted by the Municipality of Valparaíso, which includes 17 small cultivation areas, most of which are grown in old landfills spread over the different hills.
From the office of the mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, 100 kilometers east of the capital, they advise residents how and when to plant and provide them with the resources to build these little green lungs.
The municipal coordinator of the project, Margaret Salinas, explains to Efe that the objectives are different, including “promoting healthy eating, recovering public spaces and generating healthy meeting environments for the community”.
Almost 2,500 vegetables have been planted since the end of 2020, including fruit and vegetables, and the goal is to produce 500 kilograms of food in the medium term in order to distribute the food to closer neighbors and not just to those who take care of the orchards.
“The utopian goal is to achieve food sovereignty,” says Salinas.
The gardens are also agroecological, which means no chemicals are used: the soil is fertilized with the compost produced by the neighbors themselves, and natural preparations based on tobacco, ash or garlic are used to control pests.
“They are healthy products, not like in supermarkets, where you don’t know what you are buying. I have a melon in the house for a week and it is intact. on the hill of Porvenir Alto.
A SOLUTION FOR INFLATION
Despite having one of the most important ports in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the poverty level in Valparaíso is around 13%, above the national average, according to Fundación Sol.
With a high rate of work informality, their neighbors were severely punished during the pandemic, especially in the hills.
The worst moments of the crisis are already behind us, but now they are haunted by another evil: inflation, which in March accumulated a year-on-year increase of 9.4% and closed at 7.2% in 2021, the highest figure in 14 years.
“Grapes are priceless and apples are already selling for 1,500 pesos per kilo (1.69 euros),” says Rivas, the neighbor who knows when the pumpkins are ripe.
César Rodríguez, one of the few men of the “Huerta Villa Marat”, is a craftsman and is still recovering from the economic blow of the pandemic.
If I weren’t one of the orchards, I wouldn’t be able to “eat green”: “Now that my cows are skinny, I come here and take out chives, a lettuce, a cherry and make a salad.”
For him “replacing the rubble with fruit trees was something magical”, although he admits that he was one of the “culprits” of throwing garbage into the stream a few years ago.
“We neighbors have changed and brought dignity to the hills and – he concludes – now the orchards are authorities that speak for themselves”. EFE
mmm / jm / icn
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