07/23/14 – This guest blog is written by Cameron Marlin. She is part of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA and spent part of her summer working with Fresco de Dentro.
Business school and entrepreneurial education are two very different things. The first, is a boot camp-like training designed to teach business logic and aptitude. Entrepreneurship conversely is more complicated – repetition, memorization, and skill honing are no substitute for the experiences of spending time in theworking with farmers field, meeting our team, and communicating with people.
Through coursework and research, our team investigated the status, growth, and opportunities relating to the expanding and evolving field of urban agriculture in Brazil as we built the business concept of Fresco de Dentro. We read countless articles and reports detailing the Brazilian government’s support of various urban agriculture initiatives, including those relating to preserving cultural food, promoting healthy food consumption, transforming public spaces, fighting poverty, and reducing crime, to name a few. We conducted wide-scoping market research as we studied: the trends of the growing health food industry, the school initiative to source 30% of food locally, the popular restaurants, and other government supported food security programs. We examined work of many NGOs and a handful of authors who have published related material. We crunched numbers, calculated break even points, and compiled pro-forma statements and balance sheets.
However, no amount of traditional research could begin to prepare us for the people we met and the observations we made during our time in Brazil.
Nowhere else would we hear the story of Julia, the primary gardener for a 5,000 square foot school garden, assisted by 85 year old Amelia, and advocate for an urban agriculture association in Belo Horizonte. Julia’s weekly market sales were limited by the theft of the organization’s vehicle to only what she could transport via bus.
We wouldn’t have learned about this school’s integration of the garden into the curriculum. one of the school’s programs teaches students to care for and tend to a seedling at home, and later invites the students to transplant their young plants into the on-campus garden. Janaina told us about the excited way the children took pride and ownership over the individual plants and for the garden as a whole.
We never would have understood the security system the surrounding neighborhood and self-appointed on-lookers provided as they kept track of visitors and suspicious activity at this community garden in Manguinhos, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to observe first-hand the grin of pride on Fernanda’s face when a regular customer stopped at the community garden to purchase directly from her plot.
And we could not have otherwise felt the garden’s calming and serene respite from the bustling and chaotic city had we not spent the morning learning about the community garden plot Raquel tends to.
Equipped with little more than skeleton of knowledge regarding social ventures and management, we arrived in Brazil with an image of a business to test and explore for a potential launch there. After countless discussions, dozens of interviews, garden visits, and exploration and observation, we came to better understand the nuances, similarities, and differences among a handful of cities, their people, the food, and the social dynamics. This learning proved critical as it illuminated ways our original mobile market concept could, and should be adjusted to best fit the underlying intention: to support, promote, and encourage urban agriculture and the countless dedicated gardeners throughout Brazil.