Camino Abierto, for a sustainable way of life connected to food

In Argentina, the Camino Abierto Foundation cares for disadvantaged children through a personal development programme in which agriculture and cuisine are combined as a way of connecting and learning.

It all started in 1995 when Susana Esmoris and Hugo Centineo became tired of their “comfortable” lifestyle, and as their children had grown up they left their careers to launch the Camino Abierto Foundation, through which they welcome, care for and educate abandoned children, aged 7 to 21, who are reassigned to them by the juvenile courts. Over time, the number of children increased, and with this their desire to do something special was also multiplied.

One day, one of the neighbours gave the children a couple of geese. This episode triggered a major change. Susana and Hugo suddenly envisaged the next step. On 3 hectares of land located in the town of Carlos Keen, 70 km from Buenos Aires, they set up a self-sufficient local production scheme connecting a farm, a vegetable garden and, since 2005, a restaurant, called Los Girasoles. It also has an area with cabins to accommodate visitors, as well as a shop selling the artisanal products made there.

“What started out as five tables, in time, became more than 300 with the love of those who make it possible, and it allowed the work with children to spread to their town to work with the whole community”, said the Argentinean journalist, Raquel Rosemberg, who is sponsoring the project.

Camino Abierto has managed to provide 30 children with a suitable framework to develop their skills, working on the farm, breeding animals, in the kitchen and front of house, without neglecting their respective schooling. The oldest members work as waiting staff at Los Girasoles, while the younger members cook in pairs. This helps them to understand the value of food, and to find themselves.

“From a very young age, for me the kitchen was a meeting place, where true alchemy takes place, not only on the outside but also inside each of us”, explained Susana Esmoris. The place she created with her Foundation, which she sees as “connecting children with something magical”, has attracted the attention of Argentinean chefs like Narda Lepes and Dolli Irigoyen, who helped design the restaurant menu.

Rosenberg sees it as much more than mere charity; she defends it as a valuable social project, because once the children become adults they decide to stay on and work at Camino Abierto for a salary. According to the journalist, the best part of the initiative is its capacity “to connect young people to working the land and food, reconnecting them with the country's principles”.

Its achievements include Joan Roca's visit last year, after which one of the boys, Nahuel Navarro, went to Spain on an internship at El Celler de Can Roca. Esmoris is keen to mention that other restaurants in Argentina have also opened their doors to them.