'Ecology without a social fight is simply gardening': Kasia's experience at Comunidad Milpa

Written by Kasia Pendlebury
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Over the weekend, Neil, Milena, and I visited Comunidad Milpa, a project outside of Buenos Aires city towards Tigre. Having got up early to get the bus from Plaza Italia, what struck me on arrival was how industrial the area is. I was told that this part of town was home to several factories, among them the Ford production plant. With the backdrop of this industrial landscape, Comunidad Milpa felt somewhat out of place, which is perhaps exactly why it makes perfect sense that it is situated here.
When we arrived we were greeted by Valeria, the project’s coordinator who lives on-site, as well as three dogs, the most enthusiastic of which was a greyhound who spent most of her day angling for any food people, had in their hands. We sat in on a meeting between the coordinators at the start of the day, where they reflected on various activities that they had undertaken during the week, for example attending the march that marks the anniversary of the start of the military dictatorship in Argentina. In these discussions, everyone had the chance to say something and I was taken aback by the confidence and authority with which the members, a lot of them teenagers, spoke, and impressed with how respectfully people treated their peers’ thoughts and opinions.

We then joined the group that was preparing for the weekly market, we weighed and packaged almonds at a much slower pace than all the coordinators, and helped pick tomatoes that were grown right there in their greenhouse. All of the items sold come from local producers with whom Comunidad Milpa has direct contact and are sold at affordable prices so that everybody can afford to eat good, unprocessed food.

After this, we were treated to a tour of the project, and I learned lots of Spanish gardening vocabulary, almost all of which I have since forgotten! It was really interesting to learn about how the community operates and to see just how much produce they have managed to grow in the garden and the greenhouse.

In the afternoon, I knew that the ‘cannabis lady’ was coming in to give a talk, and, to be quite honest, had no idea what to expect. What I witnessed was so much more interesting than anything I could have imagined: a frank and open talk about the benefits of medicinal marijuana, tips on how to grow it, and information about the law and the rights of growers. I particularly enjoyed the contributions from a lady who must have been in her 80s and described herself as ‘experimenting,’ with it all, and how their talk became a forum, with everyone welcome to chip in with thoughts and questions.

Having heard that this project was centred around sustainability, I was somewhat surprised to see how politically minded the goals and the actions of all of the participants were. Messages around the project were written with the ‘e’ common in inclusive language, and there were signs about how and why to enact political action. My favourite quote of all was a mural on the wall that read ‘la ecología sin lucha social es simplemente jardinería,’ (ecology without a social fight is simply gardening), which completely transformed my vision of ecology from an older generation interested in growing strawberries, to a powerful and necessary means of fighting against and questioning important aspects of society and politics.

It was a true joy to be welcomed to observe and talk to the members of Comunidad Milpa, and it certainly provided me with some serious food for thought (excuse the pun)!

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