Urban Gardening–Sofia is a citizen initiative and cooperative that promotes urban and solidarity gardening and offers alternative consumption in Sofia.
Urban Gardening–Sofia was found in 2012 by a handful of enthusiasts to pioneer city gardening in Bulgaria. Nowadays it accommodates the largest network of community gardens in Sofia spread out on 6000м2 and 100 gardeners. ‘Gradina zaDrujba’ (‘A Garden for Fellowship’) is the kick-off site launched by the initiative in 2015 and is the oldest operating garden in Sofia. With a completely flat governance the garden has no coordinators and power pressure to drive activities. Decisions are taken to cohere diverse motivations (e.g. search for solitude vs making friends), foster exchange (seeds, seedlings, knowledge) and set free debate space via digital tools. It is also Sofia’s most multifunctional garden with widest range of users.
Since 2018 ‘Gradina zaDrujba’ assigned part of its plots for 2 solidarity gardens, where cooperators and volunteers can grow fruits and vegetables for the solidarity kitchen of ‘Food Not Bombs-Sofia’ for people in need. A volunteers’ digital platform and an artist run platform for social and urban change are also partners in solidarity actions. The garden holds team building campaigns for companies, where employees can work in the solidarity plots and contribute to the food production.
By demonstrating social impacts and joining efforts with other civic groups, Urban Gardening-Sofia fostered inclusion of urban gardening in the 2050 strategy of the Municipality of Sofia (‘Vision for Sofia’).
Volunteers to turn neglected land plots into solidarity gardens.
Suitable land (at least 2000m², sunlight) to rent at low cost or cultivate for free within the city, fence, renewable water and energy sources , security cameras, good access.
Community engagement e.g. open door days, social media.
Evidence of success
Urban Gardening-Sofia has enabled over 100 people to grow their own food in 56 gardening plots, and offers a community without vertical structures or financial burden. Following its success, two more community gardens in Sofia: garden “Iztok” and “Autonomia” were set up, as well as several small demonstration vegetable gardens.
Together with other civic initiatives, they managed to include urban gardening in the long-term strategy of the Municipality of Sofia (‘Vision for Sofia 2050’).
- Lack of formal policy framework and support measures for urban gardening to foster access to land, water, infrastructure, lower rents, etc.
- Need to change perception of policy makers, who often take urban gardening as hobby activity, not as growing social trend.
Potential for learning or transfer
Urban Gardening–Sofia has social, economic, ecological and political impacts relevant to all cities and communities. It has built a community and integrated urban gardening into long term strategy of Sofia Municipality. It also enables local food production, cultivates abandoned plots, preserves traditional plant varieties and eco-friendly practices and offers education on pro-environmental, more responsible food consumption, if children join parents in the garden.
For transfer, a flat hierarchy structure, democratic and inclusive decision making, rules to regulate all aspects of urban garden sustainability (resources, responsibilities, production methods, biodiversity) are important. A similar initiative can be self-sustained by voluntary work of its members. If available, public/private support in all forms can foster scale up of its activities.
It should also work on social initiatives and solidarity projects to build and sustain strong ties with local communities.