2015 | Dec
There is a limited tradition of urban agriculture in Greece, while the term was completely unknown until very recently, even among urban planning experts. Urban farming started to spread as a concept across social strata, groups of citizens and local communities after 2010, at a time when the crisis deepened and civil protest and social solidarity movements acquired special dynamics.. Livelihood, quality of life, agro-environmental education and food supply to cities, particularly in times of crisis, were some of the key themes emerging out of those movements.
Municipal gardens are the most widespread form of collectively managed gardens in Greece. They were launched in 2012 and multiplied rapidly across the country since then. It seems that the growing problems of social and economic deprivation, alienation and degradation of the urban environment, have led several Municipalities in the country to include such initiatives in the framework of their social policy. Municipal authorities promote them in order to support vulnerable groups (the unemployed, pensioners, low-earners, single parents and families with many children, etc.), strengthen social solidarity and tackle mental health issues. Landscaping and environmental management (greening of the city, composting of organic waste, etc.) also have their place among the social benefits of urban gardens.
The organisation of municipal vegetable gardens is almost identical everywhere. The Municipality allots fenced municipal / community areas (urban allotment gardens), where it has enriched the soil and has provided water supply. Only organic farming is allowed while, in most cases, part of the production (10-15%) is allocated to the Municipality’s social grocery.
The main incentive to apply for an allotment in a municipal vegetable garden, as recorded by an on-site survey in northern Greece (Ανθοπούλου etc. 2013), is food production itself; namely the need for fresh, organic, healthy food to make sure that “I know what I eat”. Another important incentive is the need to trim household budgets for food expenditure, which mainly concerns households with lower incomes. To some, it is also a way to reconnect with the earth, the nostalgia for their village, the experiences of childhood. As growers say, when using the vegetable garden, the first harvests often bring new experiences and unexpected emotions: the joy of creativity amid the depression of the crisis, companionship and new “neighbourly relations” in the field, entertainment with small celebrations and collective kitchens, meditation and strengthening of social solidarity. These motivations can be found across age groups; primarily pensioners , but also younger generations that have to deal with unemployment and its psychological impact. They find a creative outlet and a network of mutual social support. “The main reason to get involved with the land was to learn a few things, to get moving, because I was unemployed for some time; I wanted something to hold on to… work therapy let’s say, what else could I do? Watch TV all day and go for coffee with my friends (…)? Even if I do find a job, I will not leave the vegetable garden. I spend my time pleasantly, I make friends, I can see that I create something… that I succeed somehow” (Sofia, Municipal Organic Field of Alexandroupoli).
In this context, since the crisis has decreased the interest of investors in the construction industry and the real estate market, the initiatives for municipal vegetable gardens multiply and occupy unused parts of the urban fabric in major cities. This trend has become very important in the case of the Attica basin, where the degradation of quality of life and the depletion of outdoor open spaces reinforce the need to restore the contact of residents with nature and rural environments. Given the general drop in construction activity in the metropolitan area of Athens, an opportunity has arisen in unplanned city areas for vacant lots and unexploited municipal land to become municipal vegetable gardens, serving as oases of greenery and social activity.
The case of the municipal vegetable garden of Maroussi, launched in 2012, in the area Neo Terma-Palaio Psalidi, is an interesting example of municipal land used for a productive social purpose. Maroussi has undergone intense transformations due to a building boom that started in the 1990s and was followed by the erection of huge shopping centres during the period of the “Athens 2004” Olympic projects. It is in this context that an abandoned plot, no longer attractive for real estate development, has been re-incorporated into the neighbourhood fabric as a vegetable garden.
- Ανθοπούλου Θ, Παρταλίδου Μ, Νικολαΐδου Σ, κ.ά. (2013) Αστική Γεωργία. Κοινωνική ένταξη και Βιώσιμη Πόλη. Μελέτη δύο αστικών δημοτικών αγροκηπίων (Δήμοι Θέρμης και Αλεξανδρούπολης). Αθήνα.
- Anthopoulou T, Kolokouris Ο, Nikolaidou S, et al. (2015) Aux arbres citoyens ! Le mouvement d’agriculture urbaine, une forme participative d’appropriation de l’espace public. In: Paoli JC, Vianey G, and Requier-Desjardins M (eds), Accaparement, action publique, stratégies individuelles et ressources naturelles : regards croisés sur la course aux terres et à l’eau en contextes méditerranéens, Options Méditerranéennes : Série B. Etudes et Recherches, Montpellier: Montpellier : CIHEAM, pp. 339–349. Available from: http://om.ciheam.org/om/pdf/b72/00007151.pdf.
- Partalidou M and Anthopoulou T (2015) Urban Allotment Gardens During Precarious Times: From Motives to Lived Experiences. Sociologia Ruralis, Wiley Online Library: 18.
Related internet sites
Information on the municipal vegetable garden of Maroussi: