Lima is a desert — the area receives less than an inch of rainfall each year. How does this city produce enough food for 8 million people? It doesn’t — food is trucked in from the Andes mountains and the Amazonian rainforest. Without access to distant markets, the population would starve. Recognizing the precarious nature of this arrangement, the local government is encouraging people to plant community gardens. We visited one such garden, known as Paraiso (Paradise), with the intention of helping out.
Of course, there are many ways to help when it comes to gardening. Planting, weeding and harvesting come to mind. Or perhaps we might move a few rocks to help expand the series of terraces that are being erected along the hillsides. This was our intention. But soon after our arrival we realized something else was in store for our eager group of North American college students.
Earlier that day the Villa Maria del Triunfo mayor’s office had learned about our plan to visit the garden. The mayor, Silvia Barrera Vasquez, had been wanting to travel there herself to meet the visionary who had started the project and got it up and running. Once she learned of our plans to visit, her curiosity was peaked and she decided she’d pay a visit at the same time.
So there we were, being shown around the garden by our host, Senora Gregoria, when all of a sudden an entourage of 20+ people appeared. There were aids, reporters, photographers, body guards and, finally, the mayor herself. It turns out that the mayor recently received millions of nuevo soles in funding for urban gardening projects and, in our presence, made promises to distribute a portion of these monies to mend the fence on the garden’s perimeter, as well as other improvements. We were all impressed with the work already done here, unlike anything we have found in Lima to date.
And then, as quickly as it began, the mayor signaled her intention to depart for her next engagement and we were left to finish our tour. Most of us never did get our hands dirty that afternoon. But, according to our hosts, our presence brought needed attention to the project and, with the mayor’s support, they hope to finally get the funding they need for improvements and expansion. This led to a spontaneous celebration — sandwiches and soda appeared from a shack at the edge of the garden and we were thanked profusely for the contribution we had made to the project. Strange as it seems, our mere presence was the most valuable thing we could offer this day… but some of us are still looking forward to getting dirt under our nails.