Urban Agriculture

  • Posted on: 8 December 2012
  • By: Georg Dürr


Agrecol-Letter Spring 2013 Göttingen, May 17, 2013


Dear Agrecol Community, dear friends,

A few days ago, we came back from Berlin, where our spring-family meeting took place, with 60 participants, and two film makers, one of the largest family meeting alltogether. And our age-structure has changed also. Relatively many children, if I counted correctly, 8 children under 10, 9 youths from 10 to 20, 4 early twens. Only, as one of the early twens remarked, hardly men at an age to be married (between 25 and 35). But we had older ones also: Helmut Gundert celebrated his 86th aniversary during the meeting. This much regarding statistics.

We found accommodation in a youth meeting centre (Jugendbegegnungsstätte) at Tunnelstraße, situated beautifully in a green area. The assembly room was a bit small for our group. Therefore, we were somehow lucky, that not everybody was present all the time. The weather was good, so we had not only rain, but could enjoy Berlin, and the garden behind the house, in sun shine.

The theme of the meeting was, as we all know, Urban Agriculture. Christine Martins, Susanne Hofmann-Souki and Verena Tigges prepared a very nice and interesting programme. They managed to convince 18 initiatives to receive us and present their activities. An enormous achievement.

We started off on Thursday with some introductory presentations. Christine (Martins) showed a powerpoint presentation by Arndt Zschocke – an overview from husbandmen through town-homegardens to modern forms of urban agriculture. Ann (Waters-Bayer) reported about her experiences during evaluating a programme for promoting urban agriculture in North America and Berthold (Schrimpf) about his respective work in South America.

On Friday, six small groups were formed to visit various initiatives. These were often multi-cultural (from the gay punk to the traditional turkish mother), often on industrial waste land, whereby, sometimes, the original soil was sealed off and new soil had been brougth in, for example on a concrete cover, or at least, the original soil had been exchanged knee deep, or cultivation was placed in crates and pots. Initiatives were more, or less strictly organized, individual plot sizes varied (often only 3 to 4 m²), and joint activities more, or less prevaling.

There were peculiarities, which can only be found in Berlin, such as the wall garden. When the wall was erected in 1961, it had to remain on East Berlin territory, and sometimes, there was a patch of no-mans land, directly at the wall. On one of these patches, a turkish family started gardening, and a wall garden developed, which is meanwhile being cultivated in the second generation.

Very recent initiatives developed on the Tempelhof airfield, closed in 2008, in the heart of the city. Since 2010, the Neukölln suburb initiative (Stadtgarten Schillerkiez), an intercultural initiative (Allmendekontor) and two other groups utilize a small part of the 300 ha large field. Also there, gardening is allowed only in structures above the ground, on smallest land for the inidividual, with great emphasis on joint actions and get-together. And always threatend by eviction, since the very expensive user contracts (one €/m²) are only concluded for one year. Despite this, there are waiting lists for interested gardeners.

Another specific case were formerly occupied houses, where, meanwhile, inhabitants have become members of a cooperative, and who have maintained many joint activities – shopping, occasional cooking, common rooms. Agriculture is rather a side line, two bee hives on the roof, a lawn of spring onions, else more leasure garden. A vertical reed-sewage plant is still in place, but out of operation – too much work. One back-yard has a special history, a former cow-stable (used till 1975), and a pig-stall (also not used any more as such) in the cellar. The time of milking farms (according to new paper reports formerly 5 000, with 50 000 cows) is now over in Berlin, but not yet in many developing countries. Can we still learn something from the old Berlin?

During the session of information exchange, Peter Neunhäuser presented the latest work of his wife Ingeborg about the topic of „Agre-Koller“ (somehow „agre-craze“) and urban agriculture. It was really worth listening. (The poem is attached in the German part of the web-site). Are we now entering the sphere of literature? A note of explanation: Already before the meeting, we had discussions whether what we planned to see should be called Urban Agriculture, or Urban Gardening. Ingeborg found some obsession with Peter (a gardener by his studies) regarding this question. During the visit of an initiative at Gleisdreieck, we found a sign „railway farming“ at the fence, which led, particularly with Peter, to new convictions.

After the annual members-meeting on Saturday morning, we organized a „Market“. Each group had put together the essential experiences from their visits to the initiatives in words and/or pictures and presented them briefly. During the presentations, several things popped up: for one, that also people, who work as moderators, sometimes have difficulties in keeping time limits, but also, how well our young participants make presentations. The youngest presenter was 13 years old. The presentations showed the mulitude of initiatives in urban gardening / agriculture in Berlin, and the relevance mainly of its social dimension.

Almut Hahn had sent some information about an intiative in Senegal. There, it appears, a middle sized town plans to expand and needs land for construction. The land taken into consideration, however, is being utilized by farmers, who, in turn, don’t have secure land titles. Almut asks for support. Urban agriculture is, other than in Berlin, largely or excusively the basis for living for the affected families. Her letter is attached in the German part of the web-site.

Already during the introductory sessions on Thursday evening, Gerda Münnich, head of the organisation Intercultural Gardens in Berlin and Brandenburg, was present. On Friday and Saturday, she received our groups at the Almendekontor at the former Tempelhof airfield and told us much about the history of urban agriculture. Every visitor to Berlin should, by all means, visit this astonishing area and admire its size and vividness.

On Saturday evening a young couple of the University of Arts showed us the film „Sprechende Gärten“ („Speaking Gardens“) – Regie Teresa Beck (teresbeck@gmail.com), and camera René Reichelt. The film is still in development, is already now very impressive and reflects very well our impressions gained during the weekend. An earlier film by Teresa about an urban gardening project of arts students at the University can be seen under: http://vimeo.com/48128934.

On Sunday – unfortunately, many participants had already left – Lea Forster and Marta Stuckenschmidt reported about their internships in Bolivia. Last year, we could not sent any students to Senegal, the political situation was too tense. The technical aspects of the internships were good, but organisationally, there were some shortcomings. At first, both felt to be left alone, but, since they had already some experiences in Bolivia, they could absorb some of it. Then, again, there was no real work programme for their stay, and particularly Maria often felt more to be a casual worker rather than a partner in the work of Agrecol-Andes. In the end, in both cases, some reasonble results were achieved, but it appears to be a matter of balance. On the one hand, students should primarly gain experiences, on the other side, an organisation who wants to host students, should contribute something. Payment for accommodation, travel and food by the hosting organisation should be possible. But then, there is no budget for it.

During the annual meeting the report by the chairperson, an overview over finances, the report of the audit and others were presented. Members will receive minutes and attachements by seperate mails. Of interest to all, however, will be the planning of future meetings:

Autum meeting 2013 (18. – 20. Oct.): Supporting the adaption of smallholders to climatic changes. Altes Forsthaus Germerode near Kassel.

Spring meeting 2014 (May 29 to June 1st ): Eco-Wine production at river mosel

Autum meeting 2014 (date not yet determined): Social sustainability of ecological agriculture, in Bergisches Land.

Spring meeting 2015 (May 14 to May 18): Farmer led research and innovation on the suebian Alb.

At last, again many wholehearted thanks to Christine, who carried the main burden regarding logistics, to Susanne, who was more active in the conceptual orientation (to which Christine also contributed a lot), and to Verena (a former stipend), who does not study agriculture any more, but theology, who kept herself more in the background, but who was always there when need arose. Also tanks to Jochen Currle and Tommy Becker for the moderatiom during the weekend, to Sibylle Pich for the accounts, to Gudrun Soergel and Ute Schneiderat for the audit, and to Georg Duerr for writing minutes of the annual meeting. The hosts in Tunnelstraße – Mr. Thomas and Mrs Burkhardt – made an extraordinary effort to make us feel comfortable – a very warm Thank You to both!

Pictures from the meeting can be placed on the Agrecol web-site through Tommy Becker (thomas.becker@agrecol.de). Who would like to see the pictures, should look them up on the German part of the web-site (www.agrecol.de/?q=VergangeneTreffen).

With agrecol-ic greetings from Wolfgang Bayer, Sibylle Pich, Jochen Currle, Tommy Becker and Ann Waters-Bayer