Jordana Carlos de Mendonça grew up in an agricultural state, Goiás, in a city in central Brazil called Goiânia, known for its green spaces.
“It’s a big city, but it also feels like a small one,” she said. As a kid, Mendonça—USC MARSHALL SCHOOL OF BUSINESS MASTER OF SCIENCE IN SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP (MSSE) PROGRAM (MSSE) student—would visit her family frequently in the countryside, harvesting food from the land, cooking and dining together around a big dining table. “These memories are written in my mind and heart.”
Her parents taught her to be pragmatic. Earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in law, Mendonça achieved a steady career—in many ways the “Brazilian dream.” After five years working as a judge’s assistant, Mendonça began to wonder if what she was doing was fulfilling her. “I had a job, my own car, my own house ... But honestly, I was feeling empty and sad, asking myself ‘Is this all there is?” Mendonça was really interested in doing something close to the earth given her upbringing. “Food is a really powerful tool to connect people and create a sense of community,” she said.
Following her gut, Mendonça enrolled in a weeklong program hosted by the United Nations called EMPRETEC that exposed her to the building blocks required to create a business from scratch. From there, she knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. “I was hooked,” she said.
Mendonça started delivering organic produce. At the same time, encouraged by her mother to explore new locales, she began traveling from Peru to Bolivia to the US. One volunteer experience with community garden project HUERTA DE VALLE in Ontario, California opened her eyes to how you can build a strong community through gardening. “The founder, Maria, started it because her kid needed to have access to organic food and she couldn’t afford it,” she said. Inspired, Mendonça returned to Brazil hoping to create a program that similarly provided access to good, nutritious food in her hometown.