Urban Gardens: The Quiet Revolution

City vegetable gardens are here to stay. Find out how vegetables have taken root in our cities.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in urban agriculture, as we have become more aware of environmental issues and gained a greater understanding of what food sovereignty means. Urban vegetable gardens are both healthy and fashionable, and are springing up all over Spain. Neither the biggest cities nor the tiniest villages have been immune to this growing movement. In the words of Madrid city council's manual of organic urban gardening:

"Urban gardens bring us closer to a natural environment, right in the heart of the city. They are a window through which we can glimpse nature and its rhythms, and they invite us to join them, instead of isolating ourselves from them."

Victory Gardens (1943-04) by Gordon CosterLIFE Photo Collection

A little bit of history…

Grow More Food - Dig for Victory Leaflet, World War II (1939) by Ministry of AgricultureGarden Museum

Subsistence Gardens

Nerea Morán, of the Department of Town Planning and Land Classification at Madrid's Higher Technical School of Architecture, explains that the peaks in urban agriculture during the 19th and 20th centuries "were linked to economic and energy crises, forcing people to fall back on urban agriculture to ensure their own food supplies."

Victory Garden (1945) by MorleyOriginal Source: Food and Drug Administration

Coinciding with the world wars, "urban gardens took on a patriotic element as well as being a means of subsistence, of supporting the war economy, and of boosting the population's morale." Throughout those years, governments devised programs and campaigns to promote urban agriculture, such as the Victory Gardens in the USA. These were vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens planted in private residences to reduce the pressure resulting from the war effort on the supply of food to the population.

By Walter SandersLIFE Photo Collection

However, following World War II, rather than acknowledging the importance of those efforts, which had been crucial for people's survival, a reconstruction began that did not include this type of production. The model returned to one that was based around food being transported over long distances.

Urban farmers in New York (August 1973) by Suzanne SzaszOriginal Source: Environmental Protection Agency

The Resurgence of Urban Agriculture

From the 1970s, urban agriculture projects "were linked to self-management, local development, the improvement of derelict spaces, social integration, community empowerment, and environmental education." In the USA, the Green Guerillas were set up. This was a nonprofit organization that used vacant lots, which had been abandoned as a result of the financial crisis, to create community gardens.

Jefferson Market Garden, West Village (2008) by Corn Fed ChicksReal Academia de Gastronomía

In 1973 in New York, the Green Guerillas created the first community garden, the Liz Christy Bowery-Houston Garden, which is still in use today. "This movement was so successful that the city government created a Municipal Agency, Green Thumb, to manage the allocation of public land to be used as community gardens." Today, New York has over 700 community gardens.

Tomato plant in the Montecarmelo GardenReal Academia de Gastronomía

Following the success of the Green Guerillas, projects sprung up across the USA and Europe in several different cities, led by community and ecological organizations. However, despite these ground-breaking beginnings, urban gardens have scarcely survived, "becoming thought of as something to keep retired people or hippies amused, or at best, only for people who needed to be reintegrated into society."

The Montecarmelo GardenReal Academia de Gastronomía

Urban Gardens of the 21st Century

Making use of abandoned pieces of land in cities, several groups have begun developing community gardens, following in the wake of the projects of the 70s. "Recent social concerns, linked to food or environmental quality in cities, have led to a renewed interest from all sorts of people in these spaces, and we are definitely seeing a resurgence of this movement."

The Montecarmelo GardenReal Academia de Gastronomía

Just as in the rest of Europe, urban gardens started to appear in Spain in response to periods of instability. From the mid-1950s—years which saw large-scale migration to industrial cities—the outskirts of cities such as Madrid and Barcelona began to plant small vegetable gardens. It was not until the 1990s that the authorities started to regulate and encourage the use of municipal land for the creation of urban gardens.

Calle de las HuertasReal Academia de Gastronomía

Just as in the rest of Europe, urban gardens started to appear in Spain in response to periods of instability. From the mid-1950s—years which saw large-scale migration to industrial cities—the outskirts of cities such as Madrid and Barcelona began to plant small vegetable gardens. It was not until the 1990s that the authorities started to regulate and encourage the use of municipal land for the creation of urban gardens.

Madrid, like many of its neighboring cities, lay on raised ground on a river plain. As well as its defensive location, it also had a fertile plain that partly compensated its poor-quality soil. The city transformed and grew throughout the 20th century and many of those vegetable gardens disappeared. Today, there is very little left of that rural Madrid; of its landscape of gardens and groves. Only the faintest traces remain in its street names, such as Calle de las Huertas (Garden Street) in the Literary Quarter, right in the heart of the city.

The garden of Alambique Store and Cookery SchoolOriginal Source: Alambique Tienda y Escuela de Cocina

A few years ago, glimpses of nature began to appear in the capital's urban fabric. Growing numbers of people are getting involved with urban gardens, or have their own vegetable garden at home. Madrid's urban gardens are now located in the center of the city: in schools, care homes, and even on the roof terraces of hotels and businesses. Take a look at some of Madrid's urban gardens.

Huerto del RetiroOriginal Source: Huerto del Retiro

Community Urban Gardens in Madrid

This is a program coordinated by Madrid's city council. It aims to support citizen-led initiatives to develop community projects in sustainable urban agriculture, based on the premises of agroecology.

Huerto del RetiroOriginal Source: Huerto del Retiro

The municipal program of community gardens in Madridis aimed at not-for-profit organizations that come under the umbrella of the Network of Urban Gardens in Madrid (Red de huertos urbanos de Madrid). These associations practice sustainable outdoor urban agriculture in what were previously unused municipal plots. The association that manages the garden draws up its own participation criteria, with a series of conditions: free access must be allowed to the garden's facilities when they are in use, and any person interested in the community activities that they organize may take part.

Huerto del RetiroOriginal Source: Huerto del Retiro

No chemical weed killers, fertilizers, or pesticides may be used in the gardens. Drip irrigation systems must be used, and plant waste generated in the garden must be composted on-site. The fruit and vegetables grown here are not for sale to the public. Everything that is harvested is for personal consumption by those involved in the day-to-day running of the garden, or for use by charitable organizations.

Huerto del RetiroOriginal Source: Huerto del Retiro

El Retiro Garden

Madrid's city council offers support to community gardens and to anyone who wants to get involved with the work that they do, through the El Retiro Garden's Center for Environmental Information and Education (El Centro de Información y Educación Ambiental del Huerto del Retiro). The center offers an environmental education program that focuses on organic agriculture and gardening; understanding nature, the social and cultural values of Madrid's El Retiro park; and encouraging environmentally friendly behavior by residents.

Huerto del RetiroOriginal Source: Huerto del Retiro

The El Retiro Garden (Huerto del Retiro) is made up of several plots, including a residents' garden tended by 50 people who work, learn, and share their experiences in the garden throughout the year. There is also a family garden, a school garden, a garden for the Addictions Institution (Instituto de Adicciones), a scientific garden, and a garden for the educational project run by the Casa Encendida cultural center to transform an urban space.

The El Retiro Garden (Huerto del Retiro) is made up of several plots, including a residents' garden tended by 50 people who work, learn, and share their experiences in the garden throughout the year. There is also a family garden, a school garden, a garden for the Addictions Institution (Instituto de Adicciones), a scientific garden, and a garden for the educational project run by the Casa Encendida cultural center to transform an urban space.

Sustainable school gardensOriginal Source: Red de Huertos Escolares Sostenibles

Network of Sustainable School Gardens

This is an initiative launched by Madrid's city council with the aim of revitalizing sustainable school gardens in educational settings.

Sustainable school gardensOriginal Source: Red de Huertos Escolares Sostenibles

The Madrid-based project aims to encourage children to respect the environment through a network of sustainable school gardens. The project has been running for several years, and in the academic year 2019-20 had 170 sustainable gardens. The purpose of these school gardens is self-evident: to raise a generation of environmentally conscious people who will contribute to the sustainability of the planet.

Sustainable school gardensOriginal Source: Red de Huertos Escolares Sostenibles

School students tend the soil and grow their own food here. For many of them, it is their first regular contact with nature, without leaving the city. Working on the gardens has helped them to understand growing times and cycles, to understand where the food they eat comes from, and to learn the value of cooperation and teamwork.

Tomatoes in the gardenOriginal Source: Alambique Tienda y Escuela de Cocina

Vegetable Gardens in Care Homes

Care homes have also welcomed the addition of vegetable gardens to their sites. Several care homes in the community have therapeutic gardens to encourage healthy habits and environmentally friendly behavior.

Still life with garden produceReal Academia de Gastronomía

While the gardens in educational settings are a way of allowing the youngest members of society to connect with nature, gardens in care homes reestablish lost links between the elderly and gardening. Many elderly residents spent years growing their own gardens, while others helped friends or relatives with planting and picking what they had grown, either regularly or sporadically.

The garden of Alambique Store and Cookery SchoolOriginal Source: Alambique Tienda y Escuela de Cocina

The gardens that have been created in care homes serve a purpose that is both environmental and social. They aim to encourage environmentally friendly behavior in the elderly, as well as improving their quality of life by ensuring they are not isolated or stuck at home. The gardens have helped elderly people to learn new techniques and allowed them to enjoy quality produce that they have grown themselves.

The Montecarmelo GardenReal Academia de Gastronomía

La Huerta de Montecarmelo

The Montecarmelo GardenReal Academia de Gastronomía

The Montecarmelo Garden (La Huerta de Montecarmelo) is an initiative developed by the Carmen Pardo-Valcarce Foundation, in which a series of urban gardens were created in the center of Madrid. The gardens have been lovingly and professionally tended by a group of people with learning difficulties who have received specialist training in horticulture and gardening.

The Montecarmelo GardenReal Academia de Gastronomía

The gardens have allowed them to enjoy the benefits of a completely natural plot of land within an urban setting, via an allotment system.

The Montecarmelo GardenReal Academia de Gastronomía

To support and participate in these urban gardens is to contribute to the gradual recovery of cities' natural heritage, and to the improvement of the future and wellbeing of all those who walk their streets."

Credits: Story

Image: David de Luis, Red de Huertos Escolares Sostenibles (Network of Sustainable School Gardens), Huerto del Retiro (Retiro Vegetable Garden).

Thanks to Nerea Morán from the Department of Urban and Territorial Planning at the Higher Technical School of Architecture of Madrid (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid), for allowing us to quote from her article, A History of Urban Gardens: From Gardens for the Poor to Ecological Urban Agriculture Programs.

This exhibition is part of the Spanish gastronomy project, España: Cocina Abierta (Spain: Open Kitchen), coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and Spain's Royal Academy of Gastronomy (Real Academia de la Gastronomía). The section on culinary legacy was coordinated by María Llamas, director of the Alambique cookery store and school.

Acknowledgements

Lourdes Plana Bellido, president of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy and Carmen Simón, academic of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

www.realacademiadegastronomia.com
www.alambique.com

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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