Arcènia Notilija Vilanculo
Arcènia Notilija Vilanculo came from Mozambique to Syracuse to study food science and works with the Syracuse Urban Food Project.


Help the Syracuse Urban Food Forest Project decide what to plant this year at 4 p.m. meeting Thursday, Feb. 2, at the Dunbar Center on the city’s South Side

By Arcènia Notilija Vilanculo
Guest Column for The Stand

There is a saying in Portuguese that goes, “para ser imortal, plante uma árvore, escreva um livro e tenha um filho,” which can be translated as “to be immortal, plant a tree, write a book and have a child.” That way your deeds will be a mark to be shown to several generations ahead of you.

This article is also an invitation to the Souths Side community to the Community Meeting on Food Forest Plantings on Thursday, Feb. 2. We meet 4 to 6 p.m. at the Dunbar Center, 1435 S. State St. Help us decide what edible trees, shrubs, and herbs to plant and where to plant them this Fall and Spring of 2023.

This saying, “para ser immortal,“ is not about planting trees, writing books, or having children. Instead, in my Mozambican tradition, it is about the freedom to access spaces that are rightfully yours, owning one’s history, and having a community to call yours without any restraints. It may seem too pretentious to compare immortality to books, plants, and children. However, the Mozambican-derived analogy reiterates the importance of acts that reproduce autonomy and self-determination in construing the world around us.

Since arriving in Syracuse as a graduate Food Studies student at Syracuse University in August of 2022, I have worked with the Syracuse Urban Food Forest Project (SUFFP). When I participated in the SUFFP tree-planting events on and near the Onondaga Creek Walk this past October. I witnessed the commitment of the South Side community to have a holistic food system that is sustainable and self-regenerating.

Arcènia Notilija Vilanculo
Arcènia Notilija Vilanculo came from Mozambique to Syracuse to enter Falk College’s Food Studies program. She also works with the Syracuse Urban Food Project.

As a Mozambican born and raised in Maputo (the capital of Mozambique), I grew up having access to all the food the community could offer; the rainy season – which goes from November to April used to be and still is my favorite season, mainly because I could forage in my neighborhood my favorite fruits, mangos, and Jambalão.

The easy access to the fruit of the season gave me not only the knowledge of what we were eating but also a sense of the abundance of what was available within the community whenever I felt hungry on my adventures exploring the neighborhood with my friends.

That may be why I have decided to work with plants, food, and communities. I have received so much from my Mozambican community, and those spaces where I could be nourished with food and knowledge represent so much that I also wanted to give back by working on what I loved to do.

Arcènia Notilija Vilanculo home country of Mozambique is in red on Africa’s east coast.

Focus Group Discussion with the community living at Gorongosa National Park, central Mozambique

Living in Syracuse gave me a different perspective on what I consider an everyday experience. I realized that similar safe spaces to those I had while living in Mozambique, where the community could feed themselves and their children, interact and share knowledge, are not as accessible as I am used to in Mozambique.

Nevertheless, the South Side residents has shown interest in having spaces where they could teach their kids about food trees and forage a diverse range of fruits and nuts. Through heavy participation in community engagement and planting events and denouncing any form of vandalism of the planting sites to the Syracuse Urban Food Forest Project, the South Side community members support the Syracuse Urban Forestry Project in creating safe spaces inside the community.

The October planting event caught several curious eyes, with over 80 volunteers from the community from Syracuse University (SU), the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), and local organizations engaged in planting three hundred and three trees and bushes. And all the while, Mercedes Jones, owner of the Soul Food Extension, dishing up delicious food like fried fish and grits and the famous bang bang lemonade.

Owning the spaces where the community can bond in similar ways is also part of the process of what I believe to be reclaiming their history and spaces. However, for community strategies to take effective ownership of their spaces to be implemented, the engagement of communities is crucial in the participation process of planning to address concerns effectively.

The next opportunity to engage in a similar discussion is on Feb. 2 at the Dunbar Center, 1435 S. State St., from 4 to 6 p.m., where the Syracuse Urban Food Forest Project and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation will hold a community meeting on food forests in the Southside community. Again, community members’ participation and contributions are crucial to creating spaces that reflect the needs and priorities of the community.

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