“Grandmother’s Kitchen – Healthy Eating, Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship” is a community project that aims to promote sustainable food, based on the principles and products of the Mediterranean Diet.
It recovers and reinterprets the traditional Alentejo recipes of the grandmothers, with products produced in the Network of Collaborative Vegetable Gardens in Mértola, in an organic way and with strict water management. It involves different generations and partners, in a collaborative process of paradigm shift on food — from production to consumption —, rooting good eating health habits and sustainable practices in the community. The project also seeks to raise awareness of the need to recover and affirm the local, Mediterranean cuisine, as an essential part of the cultural identity of the territory.
This project is developed in Mértola, a municipality located in the interior of the Alentejo Region, in the south of Portugal, with a geographical area of 1292 km and with 6,205 inhabitants, which translates into a population density of 4.8 inhabitants per km2.
The project is promoted by Casa do Povo de Santana de Cambas (IPSS) under the Portugal Social Innovation Program, in partnership with Mértola City Council (Social Investor); the Associação Terra Sintrópica; the Parish Council of Santana de Cambas; the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Mértola (IPSS); the Moreanes Elderly Support Center (IPSS) and the Montes Altos Social Center (IPSS).
Within the scope of the “A Cozinha da Avó” Project, two new vegetable gardens were created, which form part of the Network of Collaborative Vegetable Gardens and Nurseries, which aims to supply public dining halls in the municipality with local, seasonal and organic products.
This Network integrates public and private gardens, in an approach of regenerative agriculture, applying good practices of soil management and water efficiency that favor the non-overload and the regeneration of the land.
As part of the project, a Culinary Experimentation Laboratory (Local Food Lab) was created, where new recipes are tried out based on traditional recipes and with local products, served in the cafeteria of Casa do Povo to preschool and 1st cycle children at the Center School of Santana de Cambas. A Cooking Academy was also created, which aims to train and sensitize children, young people, parents, professionals in the collective catering industry and the community in general for the appreciation of the Mediterranean Diet and for the adoption of sustainable practices for the production and consumption of foodstuffs. Within the scope of the Academia de Cozinha, children from primary schools in Mértola, Santana de Cambas and Mina de S. Domingos have a learning and practical session every week.
As a communication strategy for the project, the pop-up restaurant “A Cozinha da Avó” is held monthly, where a grandmother or grandfather assumes the role of “chef” and cooks a meal for the community. This action is being carried out in all parishes in the municipality of Mértola.
How the project develops
In the two vegetable gardens created under this project – Horta do Combral – Casa do Povo de Santana de Cambas and Horta da Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Mértola – vegetables and some fruits are grown, according to a syntropic regenerative agriculture approach.
The gardens are cultivated by two gardeners, one in each vegetable garden, and have specialized technical monitoring by the Associação Terra Sintrópica, thus guaranteeing the organic production method and food safety standards. These gardens produce, depending on the time of year, the following products: lettuce, different types of cabbage, spinach, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, garlic, leek, Swiss chard, herbs, melons, watermelon, between others.
Products from the vegetable gardens are used in the preparation of meals served in the home and kindergarten of Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Mértola and the cafeteria of Casa do Povo de Santana de Cambas, which serves meals to preschool and 1st cycle children.
Once a week (generally on Wednesdays) the Kitchen Laboratory “rehearses” a different meal inspired by the traditional recipes of the territory or the universe of the Mediterranean diet, introducing innovation factors so that the strict criteria regarding meals in school. The vegetable garden surpluses are distributed among the municipality’s IPSS network.
The recipes tried, as well as the recipes collected from the senior community throughout the project, can be consulted on the project’s website.
The project also created a Cooking Academy, which develops a diverse set of awareness-raising and training activities for the entire school community on healthy and sustainable food, based on the Mediterranean standard. Once a week this theme is worked on in the extracurricular activities of the Basic Schools of Santana de Cambas, Mina de S. Domingos and Mértola. Activities are also carried out in the garden-forest (complementary project), with the aim of raising students’ awareness of sustainable agricultural practices, for the knowledge of local products, their seasonality and characteristics.
There are also activities to raise awareness of traditional local cuisine, teaching children to identify the products and how to make “grandmother’s recipes” served that week in the school canteen.
Healthy cooking workshops were organized for parents and guardians, and thematic actions on healthy breakfasts and snacks have already been developed.
“A Cozinha da Avó” is a project financially supported by European funds In 2021, the project “A Cozinha da Avó” received the 1st Prize, in the People Category, of the Local ODS platform, which brings together national projects that contribute to the realization of the 17 Social Development Goals (SDGs).