Citizens of Thessaloniki and nearby areas are coming to learn how to grow their own vegetables only with eco-friendly methods.
The Urban Vegetable Gardens of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki is a project aimed at bridging the gap between the scientific and local community while reconnecting people to land and growing food, only with biological methods. It has been on for 8 years with success. There are 450 gardens of 100m2 which are distributed to civilians every year and they can keep it from 1 year to 3 years. In the beginning of the growing season the gardeners are able to attend some introductive seminars about gardening. Also, there are students of agriculture school to advise them. The products are strictly for their own use and not for sale. They can cultivate annual vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The fee is 120€ per year. Watering is free of charge, but they have to use it with care. In every garden there is the main grower plus one other person who they have access in the area. It is strongly forbidden to use any chemical fertilizers and any other plant protection substances. Every grower has the obligation to keep his garden in good condition, otherwise he will be expelled from the program, giving that way the opportunity to other citizens to attend it.
That makes it a win-win practice as everyone’s awareness about organic food production is raised and Greek local vegetable varieties can be grown and used in an environmentally friendly manner. Production is under strict control to be pest-free and plant residues are humified for further plant fertilization.
Human: 2 farm technicians to prepare the gardens, 1 plumber for the water damages, 1 agronomist to solve plant diseases, 6 students per month to observe the area.
Technical: 1 tractor, appropriate machinery, pump for irrigation, drilling, irrigation network
Investment: About 20.000 € per year
Evidence of success
The practice can be considered a success because it has been running since 2012, a sign for its demand by citizens and students. Around 450 families every year learn how to grow vegetables and how to produce their own food with organic farming. A handful of once hobby-farmers have now even become professional farmers who grow organic vegetables in their own fields. Also more and more people every year are coming to apply.
UVG is supported by the University. There are growers who are professors at the University. Also, many school classes have been toured in the area. The program has been presented in a conference that took place in Marseille 2017, with participants from other European countries too.
Potential for learning or transfer
The UVG could be of interest to all cities or Regions with universities or educational institutions. The allotment gardens are a great, useful tool to reach out to the local community, offer educational activities to both citizens and students and make education more practical. Students are coming to see the inflorescences of the vegetables or to catch insects for their lessons. They see plant diseases and learn how to heal them.
Any institution that wants to be more accessible for citizens and give them a chance to cooperate and work with soil. It is also a perfect psychological support for many people so they can deal with all the latest problems (economic crisis and pandemic).
Citizens then have the opportunity to produce vegetables for their families, get educated on organic production methods of vegetables, and to exercise and become physically active (improving their mental and social health by ‘getting their hands dirty’) – all with a fair fee.