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Of Humans and Plants: How gardening can connect city residents and help to build up a local community

YPARD Switzerland, Event 26.06.2013

Before the garden...“This is all about having fun together”, says Bastiaan Frich, initiator of the Permaculture-Community Garden Landhof Project in Basel while our small group of interested people is following him through the Landhof garden.

On a run-down concrete parking ground he planned and builds together with Dominique Oser the Landhof garden in the middle of a series of apartment blocks in 2010. Where before nothing but a miserable garage was, there is now a year round flowering garden planted according to the principles of permaculture (which means that the soil is planted with many different cultures providing habitats for countless insects as well as birds and small reptiles).

The aim of the project is to create a space, where people can meet and work together and where they can touch, see, smell and feel nature. The result is fascinating: The community-garden is an oasis in the middle of the city of Basel, where people meet and a local community has grown in the middle of the city’s anonymity.

YPARD Switzerland in visit13 people followed the invitation of YPARD Switzerland consisting of people from HAFL, ETH, Agridea but also of farmers and other interested people. They came to visit the Landhof project in Basel on the 26th of June. Besides seeing a project of the trendy topic “Urban Agriculture” the aim was to bring together people from different organizations and backgrounds in order to exchange and build a network of young professionals.

Bastiaan was starting the event with an introduction to the association Urban Agriculture Basel (UAB). UAB acts as the umbrella organization, holding together 31 independent projects around the topic of sustainable production and consumption of local food and urban agriculture, such as the Landhof project. Among these 31 projects are examples such as “mensa 2.0”, a project in which students cook together seasonal local vegetarian food at their homes or “UniGärten Basel” which encourages students to work together in a garden in order to not only work with their brains but also with their hands. For UAB it is important to have regular contacts and exchange with similar projects and organizations of the two neighbouring countries France and Germany.

food basketAfter the introduction, Bastiaan talked about the history of the Landhof garden which started in 2010. At that time he was looking together with UAB for a place in Basel to start a community garden. Thanks to contacts to the local authorities he heard about the Landhof area and went into action. While the local authorities were rather sceptical, Bastiaan and Dominique just started off and soon proofed the viability of their project idea.

“But it is still difficult”, Bastiaan says. There is presently no legal basis for the use of public areas for projects such as urban agriculture in Switzerland. On one hand this leaves a lot of space for improvisation, spontaneity and creativity for UAB but on the other hand there is also little means to protect the garden on the public area and since there is no political mandate on such projects, it is difficult to get support from the local authorities. Thanks to the direct contact with the authorities the garden is still there and more and more people stand behind the project and are ready to fight for “their” community garden.

“Since many city residents don’t know a lot about gardening, we provide them with to do lists and assist them twice a week in the gardening tasks”, explains Bastiaan. While there is a lot of room for individual wishes and ideas, it is also important, to plan the crops in the garden as well as the main tasks to be done. For this reason Bastiaan and the other main workers of the garden meet regularly to discuss on the garden project.

Urban farmingOnce a year there is a big meeting, on which the new crops are planned together. It is very important for Bastiaan, to work in a participatory manner and give a certain rhythm to the project. Every season a big party is celebrated with the community members. They come together to cook and eat the food they’ve produced, as well as to exchange.

Although the garden is producing food, the legal framework prohibits the official sales of food items from own production. The only way to “sell” the food produced in the community garden is through donations and voluntary payments. But this is also not a problem for Bastiaan. He finances his engagement in the garden as well as the inputs needed to plant and work in the garden through workshops or guided tours as we had with YPARD or through solidarity contributions of visitors.

Creating profit is not an issue for Bastiaan. For him it is important to have a prospering community and work together with motivated people. “It is important to accept also ideas that fail in the garden. We don’t expect eternal growth; stagnation and decline are also part of it. We don’t work with pressure; this is a social space which allows everybody to be creative and innovative.”

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