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God wastes nothing: Inspiration from Brazil

Meet Claudio Oliver, an environmentalist and pastor who shared his experiences of urban farming in an interview

2014 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Footsteps magazine issues on a wooden desk.

From: Valuing food – Footsteps 94

Different ways to safely store and preserve food, making the most of the food we have and reducing waste

The homestead is called ‘Casa da videira’ which means ‘Vine’s House’. Photo: Claudio Oliver

The homestead is called ‘Casa da videira’ which means ‘Vine’s House’. Photo: Claudio Oliver

Meet Claudio Oliver, an environmentalist and pastor from Brazil who shared his experiences of urban farming in an interview with the Editor for Footsteps.

What inspired you to become an urban farmer?

One day, after years of hoping and dreaming about having a piece of land, I went to my balcony and looked out over my 0.6 square metre plot, full of terrible soil. Then I went to my kitchen where I collected my food scraps. Seeing the connection between the two places, I was inspired to pray a prayer something like this…‘Lord, instead of complaining or dreaming about land, I will make a decision to honour you and your creation. I will not create rubbish which I cannot use again within my home and I will make the best of the soil you have given to me.’ 

I started my first worm bin [editor – a way of composting using worms] and within six months the compost helped me to produce a very good harvest of tomatoes, lettuces and berries from the little ‘farm’ which had grown out of this wasted space with poor soil. 

Having been faithful in using that small space, we soon started to transform the car park at our church into a garden. After three years we had 300 different vegetables, trees, fruits and flowers growing there! Later, we rented our first house to start what we have called ‘Vine’s House’ because we wanted to show that it is owned by the Vine (see John 15:1‑8). 

Food takes a lot of effort to grow but so much is wasted. How do you minimise food waste in your life in the city?

I start with this principle: waste can pollute or waste can be put back into the cycle of life. Once you have understood this, you can take practical steps to do this by feeding food waste to animals or making compost. You always need to ask yourself the question: how can this waste bring new life? We have found that this kind of approach leads to abundance, and abundance leads to sharing, friendship and strong community. No-one leaves our house without something in their hands. 

We believe that the best way to take care of your rubbish is not by recycling, but by what we call precycling. This means not buying things in the first place so that we do not have to dispose of them. We call the next step overcycling. Once waste already exists, we can find ways to extend its life by using it for as long as possible. 

You are involved in a movement called ‘Do Meu Lixo Cuido Eu’ which translates as ‘I’ll take care of my rubbish’ – can you tell us more about it?

It is very simple; waste does not exist in nature. The campaign’s main message is that if you have produced waste, you can find a solution for it. Or if you cannot find a solution, you can give up using whatever is creating the waste. Anyone can join the campaign, or use our campaign name, because everyone can take care of their own waste.

What you do could be quite challenging to others around you, how do people react to your way of life? 

For some we are a sign of hope. These people love and support us. For others we are symbols of all they hate, seeing us as underdeveloped and backward. When some people complained to the city authorities, they sent officials to check on what we were doing. But after coming and seeing the quality of our work, they decided not to punish us, but instead to support us. They even changed a local law in our favour so we could keep doing what we do.

Claudio welcomes visitors. ‘We love to say “come and see” to everyone we can,’ he says. Photo: Claudio Oliver

Claudio welcomes visitors. ‘We love to say “come and see” to everyone we can,’ he says. Photo: Claudio Oliver

How do you share your ideas with others?

We love to say ‘come and see’ to everyone we can. Through living our normal life here we always have something to show. We also use Facebook, videos, reports and academic research and we arrange official visits from students, schools, universities and members of the local administration.

If we want to make the most of the food we have, where can we start? 

You can begin by looking at how you use food in your own homes. When God created us, he put us in a garden and gave us all we needed for life. You can think about where the food waste goes and try to use it to bring life to new things. You can do this by feeding food waste to animals or letting worms turn it into soil. With other types of rubbish like plastic bottles or aluminium cans, wherever possible avoid using them and if you need to use them, you can keep on using them until the very end of their life. You can also help by sharing your experiences with me. I would love to learn from you!

Claudio Oliver lives and works in Curitiba, Brazil. He has more than 25 years’ experience as an environmentalist, urban farmer and pastor. He is passionate about seeing people live in positive relationships with one another and with creation.

Email: [email protected] 

Footsteps 41 has more information on using worms to make compost.

Five ways to use coffee grounds

Many people around the world enjoy drinking coffee but did you know that you only actually consume 2 per cent of the fresh coffee which you use to make a cup? 98 per cent of all the goodness from the coffee bean is not used! 

  1. Reduce bad smells in animal beds. For example, in rabbit hutches, cover the floor with coffee grounds and put an equal-sized layer of wood chips on top. Make sure you put enough wood chips so that you cannot see the coffee grounds any more. You can replace this every week, compost the waste (coffee grounds, wood chips and rabbit droppings) and then use it to make your plants grow!
  2. For getting rid of foot odour, make little cloth bags and fill them with some coffee grounds. Put them inside your shoes for a few hours and the smell will improve. 
  3. Rub the ground coffee in your hands to get rid of the smell of garlic or onions. It goes away immediately! 
  4. Ants do not like coffee grounds! We scatter the grounds to keep them away from our plants. If you know where the ants are coming from, you can block their path with the coffee.
  5. Make friends! We collect coffee grounds from the shopping malls and coffee shops in our city and the owners are very happy to have the coffee waste taken away free of charge. We get 40 kilograms of coffee per week from each shop. We take their waste and use it to bring life!

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