Community Gardens

There are community gardens all over the world. The idea of establishing communal gardens goes back to the community gardens of the 1970s, which were established in particular in New York City. At that time, the first community-driven projects were founded on vacant lots in various neighbourhoods, creating new green open spaces in the middle of built-up urban areas. These activities also led to a revitalization and activation of the neighbourhoods.
The so-called intercultural gardens in Germany represent a special form of community garden, which is based on the ideas and goals of the international gardens project in Göttingen. In the middle of the 1990s, women from Bosnia who were, due to the war, forced to flee their homelands, had the idea of looking after gardens again. The successful idea developed to a lighthouse project for many further intercultural gardens which, as a result, came into being in Germany and have recently also started to bloom in Austria. The reason for this overwhelming success and the rapid spread can be found in the nature of the idea itself: In our society, there are not many places where people with or without migration backgrounds share an everyday interest.


Urban gardening and intercultural community gardens – Places to gather
People seek places where they have the opportunity to experience nature and enter into a dialogue with their fellow citizens. Particularly in urban areas, our interactions with plants and soil as well as with our neighbours cannot be taken for granted. Urban areas are worth living and turn into a social city only when people revitalize public areas on their own initiatives. Urban gardening, small or big, can take place in the inner courtyard or on the vacant lot next door, be temporary or permanent, even mobile…
Green spaces in the city mean enhanced quality of life and a sense of community.
 
A community garden is as colourful as the neighbourhood itself!
A garden area, jointly looked after, allows for the mutual exchange of knowledge and skills, seeds and fruits, stories and experiences. Talks beyond vegetables are fruitful for any neighbourhood when it comes to people’s social and communal lives. The elderly make time for a chat with other gardeners during which they can reminisce past experiences. Young families enlarge their everyday areas of activity and rooms for gathering. The gardens offer attractions and opportunities for children, regardless of their origin, to acquire all kinds of practical knowledge and to experience nature. And these gardens help people with migration backgrounds to ”put down roots away from home”.
Taken with the idea of community gardens and intercultural gardens, the association Gartenpolylog - GärtnerInnen der Welt kooperieren (international gardeners cooperate) has been established.
 

WHAT ARE COMMUNITY GARDENS?
In community gardens it is not just about home-grown vegetables. A community is created – often quite automatically – where communication and integration processes are initiated in a social exchange.
There are community gardens all over the world. The idea of establishing communal gardens goes back to the community gardens of the 1970s, which were established in particular in New York City. At that time, the first community-driven projects were founded on vacant lots in various neighbourhoods, creating new green open spaces in the middle of built-up urban areas. These activities also led to a revitalization and activation of the neighbourhoods.
The so-called intercultural gardens in Germany represent a special form of community garden, which is based on the ideas and goals of the international gardens project in Göttingen. In the middle of the 1990s, women from Bosnia who were, due to the war, forced to flee their homelands, had the idea of looking after gardens again. The successful idea developed to a lighthouse project for many further intercultural gardens which, as a result, came into being in Germany and have recently also started to bloom in Austria. The reason for this overwhelming success and the rapid spread can be found in the nature of the idea itself: In our society, there are not many places where people with or without migration backgrounds share an everyday interest.

Community gardens are gardens that are taken care of by a group of people. But this is not only about gardening; other important aspects are working together, helping to shape the neighbourhood, offering opportunities for participation within a community, developing a sense of community through cooperation and last but not least being together and communicating in the garden. Community gardens are taken care of by people who live in the immediate vicinity. The main idea is having a little piece of green space in your own neighbourhood and being able to establish acquaintances in your district. Theme gardens, however, focus on certain target groups, such as elderly people, children or women with migration background, who get together in intercultural community gardens. Since there are also mixed forms, it can be said that community gardens are characterized by diversity.
Some common basics can, however, be stated: The lots where community gardens are established usually belong to public bodies, such as towns, local authorities, churches and foundations. The use of the lot by a group of gardeners is usually agreed upon in a contract. The gardens are divided up into individual plots for every gardener and communal areas. Community gardens can develop by grassroots initiatives as well as by top-down initiatives, e.g. social and cultural associations that first try to find suitable space, create structures and then hand the area over to a community garden. Social, cultural and ecological diversity is an important criterion of community gardens. This does not only refer to the concept of the intercultural gardens but also to neighbourhood gardens where people, who would normally not meet in another social environment, share space. The gardens are also accessible in different ways. Some gardens are open at all times, others are closed and public access to the gardens is limited to regulated opening hours or when a local gardener is available. With regard to water, insurance, waste disposal and so on, expenses are usually borne by the town authorities or organisations. In other cases, gardeners have to cover a share of the costs.
Community gardens as areas of political activities 
A community garden provides scope for political action en miniature. Within open, democratic communication processes, concerns with regard to the layout of the garden, everyday gardening and social interaction are negotiated and agreed upon. Participation and co-determination in the community garden project can give an impression and experience of participation, which can have a positive effect on both the community and the individual. A gardener from a community garden says in this context: 


I also see it as a political statement to say, o.k., let’s take our neighbourhood into our own hands now and make something beautiful of it which will meet our demands and ideas, and create it as we wish. (…) This is a process where we can participate and co-create. (Julia)



Spaces for social activities
Community gardens are places of social cooperation, communication, mutual (neighbourhood) support, and activity-based knowledge sharing. It is in particular in the big cities where the social importance of community gardens is obvious, as anonymity and the barriers that cause social segregation can be overcome.

This is where I find community. I am not alone when doing something. We all really do this together. Work together. It’s that simple! (Alexander) 




Spaces for pedagogical activities 

As a consequence, community gardens can also provide scope for pedagogical activities. A garden provides various opportunities to gain knowledge and make experiences with nature. This makes the potentials of community garden projects in the field of social education evident, as community gardens relate to both, the daily lives of the people involved and the common good around them. The gardeners will be given more individual responsibility, thereby fostering active participation and citizenship.

Subjective spaces of action 

Community gardens are venues where diverse opportunities for their gardeners are available. They build on existing structures but also bring new opportunities for orientation, education and action. The garden helps to get to know oneself better in a completely new context, to internalize one’s own view of the self and the world, and to find one’s own way in a self-determined and independent manner.

(The garden) grounds me (and) gives me a sense of who I am. Right now, I am the one who acts, a small-scale farmer. (Kristof)



Spaces for ecological activities

And last but not least, a community garden is also a space for ecological activities.
In an urban context, an ecologically sound everyday life is practised, which becomes part of the daily lives of the gardeners involved. Useful and cultivated plants, which have long been forgotten in the urban environment, are grown on city lots. Municipal land is reclaimed. Gardens in the city provide new natural habitats for insects, butterflies and birds. In urban habitats, community gardens take on social, cultural and ecological functions. They can provide citizens with key qualifications with regard to commitment, social competence, self-esteem, respect, tolerance and empathy, and/or support them in their efforts to acquire these skills. By understanding the environment and nature, community gardens can, by their own work and self-help, foster cultural capital and stimulate ecological initiatives. Strengthened in such a way, citizens can develop further without giving up on the cultivation of common good.