Conciencia Colectiva – Cultivating Community

My name is Erica Nickels, and I am a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to the next round of United Nations climate change negotiations happening right now in Cancun, Mexico.  When I graduated from high school, I received a generous scholarship from the Kitchener-Waterloo branch of the CFUW that supported my studies in International Development and Environmental Studies at the University of Ottawa. The CFUW has provided me with a bursary to support my work at the United Nations, and in return, I will be providing you with regular updates and insights into my experience as a young women participating in the negotiations.

While many delegates to the U.N. climate change negotiations were still packing their bags and preparing for their departure, young people from around the world had already arrived in Cancun, participating in the 6th Conference of the Youth (COY6) at el Universidad del Caribe.  COY provided an amazing opportunity for youth from diverse across the globe to come together to discuss solutions to climate change, and develop strategies to work together, both at this year’s COP and beyond.

By Saturday afternoon, I was suffering from information overload.  When I saw that one of the workshops would be facilitated in the University’s ecological garden, I jumped at the opportunity to get outside, and hopefully get my hands dirty.  I imagined myself wandering through the garden and taking a moment to appreciate the incredible beauty of my natural surroundings.  What I discovered instead was an amazingly inspiring story of a community of people who are leading by example and tackling climate change head on.

La Conciencia Colectiva is a group of volunteers who have started a community garden at el Universidad del Caribe in Cancun, Mexico.  Community gardens have recently gained renowned internationally for their capacity to provide fresh produce in urban neighbourhoods while also building a sense of community belonging.  What’s particularly special about La Conciencia Colectiva is that it is using permaculture and biodynamic farming techniques to demonstrate that a more sustainable world system is not only possible – it’s already happening.

Unsustainable agricultural practices, from deforestation to clear land for farming, to petroleum-based pesticides and energy-intensive farming practices, to the overuse of fertilizers, and even the thousands of kilometres our food travels from field to table, are making a significant contribution to climate change.  According to a report released by one of the lead authors of the International Panel on Climate Change, agriculture is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, contributing between 17-32% of all human-induced climate change in 2008.

The good news is that we have the knowledge and experience, based on thousands of years of sustainable agricultural practices from cultures around the world, to transform our world food systems and shift towards an agricultural model that that has a high food output and a low ecological impact on our planet.  In fact, we could be growing food on land that is currently considered un-arable, similar to Geoff Lawton’s hugely successful experiment in turning 10 acres of salty Jordanian desert into a lush garden.

La Conciencia Colectiva is in the process of converting sandy, arid soil into nutrient-rich beds that can support highly productive, low impact agriculture.  They are doing this not with chemical fertilizers, or even by pouring thousands of litres of water into the earth, but instead by using a combination of vermiculture and traditional composting.  The University has already committed to purchasing all of their fresh produce from the gardens in the next 5 years, but La Conciencia Colectiva was clear that their first priority is to feed the families that are part of the project – after all, self sufficiency is the cornerstone of sustainable agriculture, and only excess produce will be sold for profit.

The workshop facilitators pointed to Havana, Cuba as an example of a city where 95% of their food is grown and raised within the city limits.  Conciencia Colectiva aspires to develop a similar network of urban gardens throughout the city of Cancun as a practical strategy for feeding themselves and their community while reducing their personal contribution to climate change.  Urban agriculture is also an important part of preparing for a climate-changed world where we will be able to rely less and less on the current global food distribution system. Conciencia Colectiva’s urban gardening project addresses all of these factors, but most importantly it models an alternative way of living and being that they believe must be at the heart of any transition to a more just and sustainable world.

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