Grow­ing city gar­dens

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECOWATCH - By YAN­NICK PASQUET

Toma­toes, veg­gies and herbs are sprout­ing from Ber­lin parks, a shop­ping mall rooftop and even a for­mer air­field in com­mu­nity gar­dens that pi­o­neer farm­ers say add green spice to ur­ban life.

Per­haps the best-known Ber­lin city gar­dens are on the for­mer tem­pel­hof air­port, al­most the size of New York’s Cen­tral Park, which hails from the Nazi era. In the shad­ows of its grand ter­mi­nals, be­tween cracked run­ways and dis­used tow­ers, the green-fin­gered now lov­ingly tend to or­ganic ru­cola, chilli pep­pers and bean sprouts grown in el­e­vated wooden crates.

In sum­mer, cu­cum­bers, cel­ery and basil grow in the shade of sun­flow­ers in th­ese vast ur­ban com­mu­nity gar­dens. a bee­hive set among the plots re­cently pro­duced the first batch of honey stamped “tem­pel­hof air­port”.

Dur­ing the day, the hobby farm­ers work with wheel­bar­rows, shov­els and gar­den hoses. at sun­set, their mud-caked hands grasp cool cans of beer to cel­e­brate the col­lec­tive spirit of their grass­roots move­ment.

the move­ment has spread far across the once-di­vided Ger­man city. In the dis­trict of Wed­ding, a group is now plan­ning to grow car­rots and straw­ber­ries on the roof of a su­per­mar­ket, the lat­est of the Ber­lin rooftop gar­dens.

“the idea is to grow veg­eta­bles but also to join in a group project, do some­thing to­gether, it’s a place where ev­ery­one takes part,” says Burkhard schaf­fitzel, one of the founders of “Rue­bezahl Garten”. the ur­ban gar­den­ers, he said, “are de­lighted to pro­duce some­thing for them­selves rather than to fill their shop­ping trol­ley at the su­per­mar­ket”.

Plants are grown in above­ground con­tain­ers be­cause the city does not al­low per­ma­nent plots, but also be­cause grow­ers want to avoid po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nated city soil and even un­ex­ploded ord­nance from the war. While rough ply­wood boxes are stan­dard, other gar­den­ers opt to rear their fruits and veg­eta­bles in more un­usual set­tings, in­clud­ing cook­ing pots, old shoes, a hik­ing back­pack and on an old of­fice chair.

at the gar­den in tem­pel­hof, a “town square” has sprung up where a bi­cy­cle re­pair­man has set up shop in a bat­tered old car­a­van and gar- den­ers en­joy their home-grown fare with bar­be­cued sausages.

“the kitchen gar­den is not just a place for self-sub­sis­tence but also to learn about com­mu­ni­ca­tion with ur­ban plan­ning ser­vices and the neigh­bour­hood,” said so­ci­ol­o­gist Christa mueller, who has edited a book on ur­ban gar­den­ing.

Com­mu­nity gar­dens grew up in big cities, in part, as an anti-poverty tool in blighted neigh­bour­hoods and have swept the globe as the world’s pop­u­la­tion grows more ur­ban. While the en­thu­si­asm for them is not spe­cific to Ber­lin, it has mush­roomed here since the 1989 fall of the Ber­lin Wall blessed the city with scores of derelict spa­ces and va­cant lots.

For many, cre­at­ing a com­mu­nity gar­den is also a mis­sion in so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“It feels a bit like a lit­tle town. It’s about par­tic­i­pa­tion and col­lec­tive de­ci­sion-mak­ing. this small piece of land that I cul­ti­vate is a small piece of the city that be­longs to me,” said Gerda muen­nich who, hav­ing spent her ca­reer in front of com­puter screens, has opted in­stead for plant­ing pump­kins and cabbages.

mueller, the so­ci­ol­o­gist, said the guer­rilla gar­dens are a coun­ter­bal­ance to fast-paced mod­ern so­ci­ety where peo­ple “claim pub­lic space for the com­mon good”.

at the same time, they show that they want to eat and con­sume dif­fer­ently and nur­ture not just veg­gies but also so­cial, cul­tural and bi­o­log­i­cal diver­sity. — aFP

Com­mu­nity gar­den­ing nur­tures not just derelict open spa­ces, but also hu­man con­nec­tions.

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