INCREASE – Intelligent Collections of Food Legumes Genetic Resources for European Agrofood Systems

Raising ambassadors for pulses and agrobiodiversity with the INCREASE Citizen Science Experiment – an interview with Carolina Campos from Centro Social de Bairro

Bairro, Portugal

Please, tell us a bit about yourself, your profession, and your workplace.
I am Carolina Campos, a Senior Technician in Social Education with specific training in Environmental Education and Sustainability, currently serving as the Technical Director of the Free Time Activities Center (ATL) for the 1st cycle, at the Centro Social de Bairro, V. N. de Famalicão. Centro Social de Bairro is a private institution of social solidarity that provides care for children from 5 months of age up to 10 years old. The centre has a 3.5-hectare pedagogical farm, providing students with access to this space for both recreational and educational purposes, including Environmental Education, Sustainable Development, Healthy Eating, and Citizenship, through various activities and workshops. In our pedagogical practice, we prioritise research, laboratory, experimental, and artistic activities, as they engage students in new learning processes, knowledge construction, and the development of skills necessary for responsible citizenship, both in environmental preservation and in choosing sustainable lifestyle habits.

How did you become aware of the INCREASE project?
I became aware of the INCREASE project through a television programme on the Portuguese channel RTP, where Prof. Marta Vasconcelos from the Catholic University of Portugal presented the project. It piqued my interest, so I conducted further research, contacted Prof. Vasconcelos, and enrolled in the project.

What motivated you to participate with your students in the Citizen Science Experiment of the INCREASE project?
There were several reasons that motivated me to participate: to collaborate in the European Citizen Science Experiment and learn new working methods, to innovate pedagogical practices by actively involving students in the preservation of beans and agrobiodiversity, to promote the consumption of legumes, which were once the basis of the Portuguese diet but are now rejected by young people or replaced by less healthy and sustainable foods, and to promote sustainable eating habits.

What do your students enjoy most about the Experiment?
The entire process of the Experiment arouses curiosity and great motivation among the students - from preparing the soil, sowing, eagerly awaiting germination, making graphic and photographic records, harvesting, threshing, sun-drying and preserving, conducting culinary experiments, to the phase of donating seeds to grandparents and parents - everything is exciting for the students.

What do you like most about the Experiment?
The involvement and commitment of my students to preserve beans, the change in eating habits that is taking place in our educational community, and the support, availability, and sharing of knowledge provided by the group of scientists from the Catholic University of Portugal, namely Prof. Marta Vasconcelos and Dr Elisabete Pinto, which is undoubtedly the key to the success of this project in our institution.

What are the biggest challenges in conducting the Experiment?
We face some challenges, such as having to use/share the teacher's personal mobile phone with students to input data into the platform, uncertainty in some responses due to technical terms related to plants, fear of making mistakes in measuring and weighing pods and beans due to lack of appropriate materials, and dealing with weeds, which grow excessively and occupy a lot of our time for their removal. We do not always have the time to remove them in a timely manner. It then becomes a very tough task, as the students are aged between six and ten years old. Ideally, we would install a screen, but economically it is not possible for us to acquire one.

Have you noticed any changes in the way students think and/or behave after starting the Experiment?
Definitely yes. Before the Experiment, there was a resounding "no" to legumes from some students. Currently, these same students consume some legumes. They are learning to eat legumes because they recognise their nutritional value. It is worth mentioning that the management of the Social Center has added more legume-based meals to the Institution's menus. Also, I would like to highlight that we started our INCREASE Experiment in a plot of land of 20 square meters, in the ATL garden. In the second and third rounds, we increased the plot to 90 square meters, in the pedagogical farm, provided by the management of the Social Center, and this year, in the 4th round, the plot will be doubled, approximately 180 square meters. It is with great joy that we can highlight that before the Experiment, beans were not produced on the pedagogical farm and now the production of INCREASE beans is established.

More than 250 school gardens throughout Europe have registered for the INCREASE Citizen Science Experiment 2024. What advice would you give to other teachers participating in the Experiment with their students?
It is difficult to give advice to other teachers without knowing their reality, but I can share that the success of our experience was to seek knowledge and collaboration at the Catholic University of Portugal, the national coordinator of the project, to actively involve students in building knowledge, communication, and project dissemination to the educational community, the management of the Social Center, parents, and even the local municipality. Communication and sharing of experience work are done in person and through social networks. Everything is communicated and grounded with civic and environmental responsibility.

You have organised numerous incredible activities besides the Experiment, such as the INCREASE Photo and Video Contest in which they participated (and won!) and exhibitions on World Pulses Day. And many others! Can you share some of these activities you have carried out to serve as inspiration for other teachers and even parents who want to motivate their children to consume legumes?
Our motto is "Learning through play", so we often resort to artistic expressions to raise awareness and inform, as playful yet serious messages captivate people. We use theatre and dramatic expression, singing and dancing, reading stories, and writing texts. Students are encouraged to collaboratively develop texts, build set designs and props, memorise texts, create dances and mimes, and organise shows for the educational community and the community at large. Embodying the character of a legume or presenting and promoting a song involves responsibility and information that leads to change. Inviting guardians to school to see their children's work also encourages them to continue this work at home.

Would you like to share anything else with us?
I would just like to share that the guardians of my students appreciate and value this project immensely and collaborate greatly with us. There is an effort within the family to continue this Experiment, both in terms of consuming legumes and in the production of legumes. Working with the Catholic University of Portugal awakens great importance among parents in this work, which makes us very proud. Thank you very much for enabling us to participate in this magnificent project that preserves legumes and teaches their importance for our health and the environment. Thank you.

Carolina Campos

Children of Centro Social de Bairro with INCREASE t-shirts

Preparing the soil for the INCREASE Citizen Science Experiment

Sowing INCREASE beans

Harvesting INCREASE beans

Processing the harvest of the INCREASE beans

Selection of INCREASE beans for World Pulses Day

Pulses face masks for World Pulses Day

Cooking lupins for World Pulses Day