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SFAV launches the Slow Food school garden project in Vitoria Gasteiz

Date interview: February 22 2016
Name interviewer: isabel Lema Blanco
Name interviewee: Anonymous
Position interviewee: Convivium member.

Values Reputation/legitimacy New Knowing New Doing Networking Competence development Civil Society organizations

This is a CTP of initiative: Slow Food Araba-Vitoria (Spain)

The first CTP (point of inflection) mentioned by the interviewee refers to the start-up of the school garden project that the Slow Food Araba-Vitoria convivium promoted in 2008. This date corresponds to the inauguration of the first School garden promoted by Slow Food Araba-Vitoria (SFAV), in a kindergarten in  the neighbourhood of Ibaiondo, Vitoria (September 2008) and which, since 2012, has consolidated and has proved to be an stable project of the association that arrived to stay.  

We started with the gardens in a stable way about four years ago. Before, we had been looking for ikastolas[1] and educational centers where we could create school gardens. We started organising workshops a little later

The SFAV school gardens project was born with the aim of promoting healthy eating habits for children in the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, where SFAV is based. Slow Food partners wanted to move the Slow Food movement's food discourse into the formal educational context. Schools and colleges became a relevant actor with whom to work and collaborate as a way to introduce changes in the food culture and consumption habits of the school population and also of their families.

For the implementation of this first experimental project, SFAV benefited from  the collaboration of the teachers at a kindergarten  in the Abetxuko neighborhood and also of a local foundation, the Zadorra Foundation, which provided extensive experience in urban organic gardens (experience with Which SFAV had not had since then).  

The idea came from previous studies. You would make a child smell a strawberry with his eyes closed, and he or she would smelled of toothpaste. You gave him an apple and said it smelled of hair shampoo. You told him to draw a hen and they would draw a cooked chicken, already on the plate. They did not know where the food came from or what was behind it, how was it grown. Then, we started talking about the need to do something in schools. As if it was an extracurricular activity in the garden. With the children and their parents and teachers. And with Slow Food members. Then, we contact with the Zadorra Foundation, which already had experience in organic gardening. And the idea began to come out. We started with a couple of ikastolas[1]. The garden project turned out well and now there are more and more schools every year

  According to the interviewee, the school garden project has meant a shock to the association from two points of view. Firstly, because it has contributed in a very relevant way to the knowledge of the association in the context of Vitoria-Gasteiz, especially in a field, such as the education sector, they had not previously worked with. It should be noted that we are referring to the early years of Slow Food Araba-Vitoria (constituted in 2005). At that time, the activity of the association had been more targeted to an adult audience, interested in gastronomy. Educational activities such as "taste workshops", culinary days, had been organised, but this is the first project addressed to an educational community:

This school garden project is enriching Slow Food. People see that they are not left alone. We are helping them. That pleases us. More and more people share our philosophy. Slow food is well known now. Children go home and tell their parents that they are going to start a school garden. And of course They are getting familiar with us. At first we started with two schools and now there are a lot

Second, the success of school gardens has meant reinforcement and a motivating element for the SFAV partners themselves. Slow Food members are encouraged to participate in this project. Working with school communities  and in schools is very positive, it brings them to a new context, where the recognition and learning they observe in students is very satisfying, comforting and motivating, as well as the interaction with educators and parents. [1] N.A. The ikastolas are public Basque-language kindergarten and primary schools.



The Slow Food School Garden Project has been promoted by partners and members of Slow Food Araba-Vitoria who voluntarily decided to promote the creation of school gardens in primary and secondary schools in Vitoria. According to the interviewee, the implementation of school gardens sprang from the concern by a group of SFAV activists (many of whom were fathers, mothers or grandparents), who had been observing a growing disconnection of the new generations of Vitoria-Gasteiz with the rural world. Thus, in spite of the proximity, in terms of distance, between the city and the countryside, children and young people were at risk of losing their ties with the territory, with nature and the rural environment, and also with the traditional food culture of Araba and the Basque Country.  

This concern also seems to be shared by the educational community or by the local institutions, which little by little also became involved in the project. The people responsible for coordinating the activities are a more or less stable group of 10-15 Slow Food partners, who organise activities at the centre and attend requests for new educational centres that want to join the project.

Besides, from the beginning of the activity, SFAV had the collaboration of a local foundation (Zadorra Foundation) together with teachers, families (parents’ associations) and the students themselves. Likewise, as the SFAV association has grown, a series of chefs involved in the KM0 restaurant network have joined the project, and carry out a healthy eating workshop, where students cook the products grown at their school garden.   

The workshops are carried out through a collaboration agreement between the school and Slow Food. Now, teachers approach me to organise a workshop, an activity in their school (...). They email us and they request us to organize educational workshops. We have so many activities to coordinate! As schools run weekdays, it's easier to carry on this project. Schools get in touch and we go to the Ikastola, we see what resources they have, their infrastructure and we evaluate what we can do there and when

The Slow Food Araba-Vitoria school garden project is based on the local context of Vitoria-Gasteiz, but is linked to a global tendency - in developed countries - for a greater public concern about the population's food styles and their relationship with health. An example of this is the Nutritional Observatory of the City of Vitoria, which has various programs for intervention and evaluation of dietary habits and has been supporting financially those schools that wish to promote a school garden project.

At the international level, Slow Food has placed a special emphasis, since its international congress of 2012 in the awareness raising and educational mission of the movement. Thus, the document "The central role of food" which came out of the Congress (Slow Food, 2012[1]) highlights the positive impact of school gardening experiences (in the USA, in Italy). The network has also promoted innovative projects related to food education in Europe and America (such as the European Schools for Healthy Food Project[2]) which encourages meaningful learning through 'learning by doing', collaborative and sensory education methodologies. Although SFAV has not been part of such projects, it has been inspired by the network's previous experiences in designing its own school garden program, contextualizing it and later expanding it to other sectors of the public. 



Related events

The interviewee briefly mentions a number of events that, directly or indirectly, relate to the CTP (turning point). The first of these corresponds to the constitution of the Slow Food Araba-Vitoria association, in January 2005. Since then, the association has started a small number of activities with the aim to gain recognition in the city, and has come closer to the Slow Food philosophy; they try to transfer to citizens. The project itself was born with the aim of raising awareness and promoting healthy and sustainable consumption habits within educational communities.

Secondly, it reflects the evolution of the project in the following years from its implementation, not only developed in kindergartens but in primary schools. Currently, according to the interviewee, the project has been extended to nursing homes, where Slow Food provides advice and develops healthy eating workshops:  

2 years ago, we started organizing workshops with seniors, in nursing homes. We are starting gardens in nursing homes. We have observed that these people, the residents of nursing homes, know a lot about gardening, because some of them have worked in the countryside

A second event mentioned was the setting up in 2014, by Slow Food Araba-Vitoria, of a second project of an educational nature, focused on favoring students' contact with rural environments and food production. It is the "program of school visits to farms and livestock farms", in which local producers (of Slow Food’s products) are involved, together with the University of the Basque Country and the financing of public administrations. This project also has a positive impact on the motivation of farmers, who feel their work is recognized:    

There are many schools involved in the program of visits to producers. Because there are schools that do not have space to create a garden but that are involved in the educational project we have in collaboration with the University of the Basque Country. And they go to visit rural villages, farmer exploitations with many livestock and agriculture activities. They see it in situ. Last year, 35 or 36 visits were made to farms and ranchers and t kids were delighted. And producers too. It pleases them. It gives them the courage to keep going. Both kids and adults are interested in that. And more and more people are asking for their seasonal produce basket, going to the butcher where that meat is sold or buying directly from the producer

 A third related event is the collaboration with the University of the Basque Country (started in 2015 and which continued in 2016) to evaluate the educational impact of school visits to food producers in relation to the introduction of new attitudes and healthy eating behaviours. The positive results of the study also suggest new lines of work, which Slow Food plans to develop in the future (such as carrying out "family" activities in order to modify the family's food practices). 


With regard to the reactions generated by this CTP, the interviewee neither perceived nor had evidence of any opposition arising in regard to its implementation or the continuity of the SFAV children's garden project. Despite this, from her words it can be deduced that at the beginning they did not find much support on the part of the educational community addressed by the project.

They initially started collaborating with two schools and growth was slow during the first few years, but after the experimental phase, the project has consolidated in the city. Also, this project has served to reinforce the motivation of Slow Food volunteers, who describe the activity as highly satisfying.  

In the Slow Food Araba-Vitoria´s general assembly, which is usually celebrated once a year, the school garden project has never arisen as a theme of discussion; it has never been a priority in the discussions. Because people see it is still working well. They see the edible garden workshops keep going on well. All the activities, in general, and gardens is one of the activities. People ask: how does it go, it seems like it's going well, right? Well, things are still going well

SFAV members perceive, according to the respondent, that school gardens are a very positive activity - from the point of view of their social impact as explained above - and that it enjoys great support both by the educational community and local public institutions. Each year, new schools request the collaboration of Slow Food to promote school gardens or health food workshops in their centres.

According to the perception of SFAV associates, the activity is well received by students, who experience a change in attitudes towards the local and ecological production. The success of this project has led to the launch of new related activities, as explained above, as the project of school visits to farmers, currently involving almost 40 educational centres in Vitoria-Gasteiz.


The interviewee considers that the creation of school gardens in Vitoria-Gasteiz has been one of the most relevant moments in the history of Slow Food Araba-Vitoria. This opinion seems generally accepted across the entire association or at least by those partners in closer contact with the project or those more actively involved in Slow Food activities. At first Slow Food did not anticipate the impact that this project could have. The project was of an experimental nature and put into practice a series of ideas and intuitions on how to design a school garden and an educational project as such. Initially launched in a single centre as a pilot project in 2008, the results of it were evaluated and continued in subsequent years, since it became a stable educational project in 2012.

No, at the beginning, you have an idea, an intuition, but of course, you are expecting to see how they respond. First, we go, pace by pace, slowly, and then we see that some schools make their gardens bigger, or they expand to other places. The schoolyard planters are also used to put other plants, not just flowers. This does not stop there. It’s bearing fruit. Our efforts are contributing bit by bit to it. And we are having results. There may be things that have been skewed. Now I cannot remember any. I do not neither remember events that made us grow up suddenly. No. We have done this little by little, seeing, and doing things little by little. And we will continue working slowly. Workshops, laboratories, etc. For people to know the product

From that moment, the organization began to be aware of the implications and and positive impacts that the school gardens will have for both Slow Food Association and for the people from Alava as a whole. First, the impact is assessed in terms of capacity to enhance critical awareness among the population or introducing new consumption habits among students. Likewise, according to the interviewee, the visibility of the Slow Food movement - and the spread of its transformative discourse - has increased significantly across a sector within the Alava citizenship that was not usually involved in its activities (since they were more oriented to people interested in gastronomy or in either promotion of local products). However, the interviewee points out that, in any case, the recognition and growth of the association cannot be directly linked to any specific moment in the history of Slow Food Araba-Vitoria, but is a consequence of constant work on the ground. 


With regard to lessons learned by Slow Food Araba-Vitoria, the interviewee shows that, in this case, learning has transcended the association itself, and that the impulse of school gardens has favoured learning processes within the educational communities themselves. Particularly noteworthy is the change in attitudes and habits among young students (main target groups of the educational project) and their families. According to this, students would have acquired both theoretical and practical knowledge about healthy eating through their participation in the school garden (planting, watering or collecting vegetables) and cooking in Slow Food workshops.

Kids pick up the groceries from their gardens, and then we organize cooking workshops with them. They eat those foods very happy. Before, those children hardly had eaten fruits or vegetables. And now they eat them because they have grown them in their gardens. Those are their products. Then they learn to eat healthy in a new way. If there is leftover food they ask you for taking it home to teach their mothers that they have prepared it. That satisfaction is somethings that fills me

And kids realize where things come from. That fruits and vegetables have to be grown, to be watered and collected to be able to taste it. Then you have to cook them. They know that food must be as clean as possible, not using pesticides, not using GMO’s. Because all these have impact in our health

On a more personal level, the interviewee identifies an individual learning process derived from her direct participation in the coordination tasks and facilitation of the project, the interaction with children and her observation during the activities carried out in kindergartens and primary schools. This has allowed her to reflect on her own educational practices, as well as it has helped her in improving her communication and pedagogical skills, and it has even made her to integrate this learning into her own family life:  

It has been a turning point for Slow Food Araba-Vitoria but also for me personally, in relation to how I am engaging in Slow Food. Children themselves have enriched me. My grandmother had a garden, but I didn’t. I saw how it was to grow your food. But seeing children, how they perceive the garden, how they learn about food, it teaches me a lot. And I can pass it on to other groups later. To other children that I know. Even my grandchildren when they grow up, planting with them in pots, to make them aware from their very early ages

Finally, this project has also served as a group learning experience. Slow Food partners within the Araba-Vitoria convivium have been able to develop new strategies that allow them to reach their objectives as an association: to promote sustainable lifestyles in their local context and responsible consumption of organic food and closeness. Likewise, according to the interviewee, projects such as this one have favoured recognition as a group of their capacity to promote innovative projects and changes in society, despite being a small association and based on the voluntary work.

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