My Garden, Our Garden

My Garden, Our Garden: my first vegetable garden with my host family in Brazil

I decided to try my hand at growing a vegetable garden. The project was initially for myself, to learn and connect more with my food studies. Yet, I quickly realized that there is a lot more to gardening than just biology and manual labor. Every time I stepped foot into my garden, tons of metaphors came to mind. The most important was learning that nature is life. We have to treat it like a relationship and not an obstacle. It needs to be loved, fed, and wanted or it will die. If it dies, we will die. Maybe not instantly but we will decay eventually from inside out.

In my food studies, I always hear this statistic that only 4% of the population of the United States grows all of the country’s food. I assume that there are not many Americans who want to do the physical labor or devote the time required to grow real food, nor understand the complexed science and biological relationships between nature and food. But, I feel that we have to challenge ourselves to learn about food. Just like any field of study that we might get into, we must learn the basics, the history, the traditional ways and thoughts to achieve something different, great, and truly innovative. I always remember the example that Rocket Scientist, Wernher von Braun; it is said that he didn’t like mathematics and physics but his fascinations with space travel inspired him to study the subjects he needed to achieve his dream. So I thought, if I want to bring food sovereignty to the world, then I need to understand what is food. Hence the garden.



This garden helped me learn to love. I didn’t want this to be MY garden, but OUR garden. A garden that I believe can enrich the lives of my host family here in Brazil. I see the importance and the benefits it can bring to our lives, but how do I inspire them to see this as well? How can I change their overseeing into participation?

First, I have to control myself. When my family does MESS around in the garden, I am always wondering why they do DUMB things such as step in the plant beds, decide to plant seeds in a compost pile, take plants out of the garden, etc. Yet, if I want this to be OUR garden I have accept the things they want to do as well and try not to be always right.

Second, I want to reveal that this is a craft, an art, to help them see more than just the manual labor and extra responsibility. On the same hand, I come from a more privilege situation. So my reasons for this garden are going to be different from theirs. Similar to when I buy clothes at thrift stores and ROSS dress for less than say a family with several kids.

My host family is really dependent on money. I guess we all are. But poorer families will always find costs higher and find it more difficult to obtain their necessities. No one likes to admit they are rich or poor, but I have to say that living with my host family for the last few months I now know that I am rich. Not because I have money in the bank (because I don’t) but because I have the opportunity to succeed and be financial wealthy with much more ease than my host family. Example, I wrote a nice email to some people that I know one afternoon and they collectively donated 200 to my cause. Where as my 22 year host brother has to work almost the entire month (with a crummy work schedule) to gain the same amount. It is hard to compare our extremely different financial needs, but it amazes me that in the last 6 months I was able to purchase 6 plane flights while he has not even been able to obtain enough cash to take out the girl he likes to a movie.

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This garden is to assist my host family with food that is less expensive, healthy, natural, and appropriate for them. Because when the lack funds, the first thing to go are the vegetables. They begin to care only about what fills their guts and gives them cheap pleasure (i.e. rice and sugar). When all you care about is quantity over quality you loose respect towards others, towards yourself, and towards life. My goal is to give them a garden to be proud of, so that they will not need to use their self defense mechanisms to prevent public humiliation as much. To improve their self-esteem with food so that hopefully it will lead to assistance in cleanliness, appearance, and attitude in other aspects of their life.

Honestly though, this is all far too easy for me to say. Even though, I have tried to experience and live like them, the truth is that here in a week I am leaving this reality, this way of life… But it is really hard to accept that I found my host family in a hole, tried to extend my hand down to help pull them up, but it was beyond my reach to help them out. Maybe this garden can be the rope they need to get out. yeah… How do I harness it so that it is stable enough to bring them out into a new life? How do I teach them how to climb? How do I do all of this before sun goes down, and I go home?

Ideas to have my family engage and love this garden:

  1. Made a Facebook group to track the garden progress and get advice from my friends back in the States. Now, it is time to hand it over to them to update.
  2. They all keep telling me that they are going to take photos of the garden in the future and send them to me. With what camera? I am leaving mine with them.
  3. My host mother suffers from a lot of health problems including depression. I going to make a little bench in the shaded area for my mãe mineira to sit and relax.
  4. I want to devote this garden to them by possibly painting my host mom’s name on the wall and maybe a bible quote as well.

Share you ideas. How to inspire? How to teach? I thank you comments.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Matt says:

    This is an interesting point of reference to how we see developing countries. I’m interested in how they reached out for your help? Through which program where you able to accomplish so much? Was it through UT?

    Also, why is “rice and sugar”; the quick and easy sources of energy, bad? Why should we discourage those types of foods when, as you said, they are cheap and pleasurable?

    Who are we to decide our own role as the omniscient teacher of healthy eating? I hope I am not offending you; I do not mean to be sarcastic. I often struggle with these same questions and only ask to get a fresh perspective on the subject.

    1. asiago says:

      Hey Matt, Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts. No offence at all Friend! I guess to better explain the garden I started in Brazil for my host family, I should give you a little bit of a background. I did an official UT Austin exchange with UFMG in Belo Horizonte (BH). I was assigned housing with a quite well off Brazilian couple that host several exchange students. I quickly decided that was not for me. Thankfully, I was able to find this host family via a previous host family that I had in Salvador da Bahia (another UT faculty led program that I did back in 2009). Basically, my old host family invite to stay with the other side of the family in BH. However this family was much different due to their economic situation. So, they never reached out to me for my help specifically and UT did not send me to them. Everything that I did for this family was out of my own will and creativity, no service program, no outside motivation. I think UT though could use some more service study abroad program instead of just language and culture.
      I love sugar and rice. I think though, they become negative when your diet depends completely on them ie rice to fill your gut and sugar to bring you some pleasure. Sadly a diverse diet is expensive and requires more labor. From a agro-environmental stand point, if all the population eats is mono crops what is going to happen to food production as the earth deteriorates from lack of biodiversity.
      I really like this last question of WHO THE HELL AM I TO SAY WHAT IS HEALTHY. I agree with you that any sort of teaching, advise, development that we might do abroad or even here in the states should be reviewed and questioned. With that being said, I am pulling from my own health transformation over the last few years or so. I used to be an obese person struggling with American foodways. When I started to learn about Food, not just nutrition, but what I define as food studies, that is when I was able to shed weight and just feel a thousand times happier. One thing that was difficult over there with my host family was remember that what worked for me might not work for them and change takes time. I am a privileded college student with lots of food education under my belt and it took me a long time to change so I had to have patience.

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