Sharing occupied spaces: a biological garden

How did you started the project ?

We started with a group of six people looking for a garden, because we live in the city and we wanted to do some gardening and cultivate plants. There was a farm that got abandoned and we got notice of it. It was a former biological farm and there was still a lot of material in it, like tools and also seeds. The people who were there before, rented the place and it was a sort of social farm that worked with people that are excluded. But they moved elsewhere and they left a lot of things. So we squatted the place and collected all the seeds in May 2010 and we started to build things, such as an outside kitchen that we call the people’s kitchen and a system to collect rain water.

What is your project about ?

At the beginning we started with a collective garden and then we proposed to neighbours and people from the city to start and take care of some small individual gardens. Because there is a lot of land and actually there is a very long waiting list to access the city gardens – so we organised an open garden day. Some people started to come on a regular base. We share the material and the compost with the people who are coming. There is no cost but they can give some donation to buy material or for what is needed in the moment.

We also have social meals. Except during the winter, every Sunday there is a meal in what we called the people’s kitchen. We prepare it with the vegetables from the garden, with things we get from a local food collective and sometimes with food from dumpsterdiving. The meals are mostly vegan.

An other thing is that we made some juice together, because there were apple threes and other threes. We made more than 500 litres of juice. This is in the people’s kitchen, it is in free access for people that come or when they are working in the garden and there is a free donation for it.

In general, we function in an horizontal way. We meet in a regular base to discuss and we take decisions together. Also, we try to work as less as possible with money, we use it only for material, to pay electricity and we receive some free donations. But for the rest, we try always to find things, go to containers, ask people. There’s so much you can do with things that otherwise would get thrown away. Maybe I can add too that there is also a little freeshop – a place where people can put clothes they don’t use anymore and where others can pick ‘new’ ones.

And what about the house ?

We try to find people that were interested in gardening and wanted to sleep in the house. At the beginning we hosted people that did not have a home. The first ones were not so interested in gardening, so we asked them if it was okay when they found other places to stay that people more interested in gardening or more interested in the collective life came. This is what happened. Actually, the house works separately from the garden. They have a separate meeting with specific rules for the house and there is meetings and specific rules for the garden.

What problems do you face in the day-to-day ?

We have the issues of living together, sharing a kitchen, such as washing the dishes and sharing garden materials and so on. This at the end is addressed by talking and having some rules. A good communication is also very important if you organise something like this with no budget at all. Especially when you invite people who are not familiar with people’s kitchens and the do-it-yourself mentality that goes with it. So the issue is also to make sure that when things get broke, it is not always the same people that are fixing things or that clean up.

And concerning the fact that you are occupying the place…

At the beginning, we stayed there the first nights because we did not know how the owner was going to react. At the end, he reacted in a very positive way and has come to see what we do. Actually, he knew that the city was going to buy his land. The city had the plan to make there some football fields. After a while, we set at the table with the owner and the city that eventually bought the land but they were not interested in what was going on with the garden. It is weird because everything depends upon one person that is not interested in what we propose and does not recognise the social work we do – he simply refuses to talk with ‘thiefs’ of property. We still have problems with the city and are always in risk to be evicted. But more people is getting to know about the project and we have more support.

Who else is coming to your garden ?

Actually, there is a growing network. People get to know about the project. We organise “skill sharing”, where people come together to show what they can do and share they knowledge. It is like how to fabricate some materials, like rocket stoves, or for example how to make cheese. Workshops are always linked to ecological issues. We also want to teach others about what we have done in the garden. For example, we built a dry toilet in one workshop. It is also something free and there has been a lot of people for them.

Some events have also taken place. Most of the people that have come to do things have something to do with ecological movements but some are also more link to social and solidarity issues. There has been small festivals that have taken place, such as a project for Bolivia and another one for Mexico. We did not organise these events, we just host them. The idea is not to have the space for parties but more for this kind of projects. It’s important for us to give a positive image so that people don’t get scared and that it remains an open space that shows that another way of living is possible.

For more info on this project, you can click here:

Grow together for the future!

Great work! How many empty, abandoned, uncared for spaces in towns and cities that could bring so much more to inhabitants are there? Personally, I think theres’s a big difference between individual allotments that take 2 or 3 years to get in many cases and don’t necessarily offer any interaction with other growers or the local community and your project. And what’s with this concept of owning land (or the rights to land, like the many allotment tenants that never actually turn up) but preventing anyone to get any benefit from it?

The owner in your particular case also sounds like he should be congratulated (though for reaction rather than proaction!)

I wish you the very best of luck and I’d love to come and weed (I don’t know why I like that particular job so much) and share some food sometime… where are you?

How many people?

Hi John, I live in a space so far from the one you described it’s like Mars for me… but it sounds great! and easier than I’m sure it is to keep it and cope with authorities reactions.

Adding to the question of location that MarukomuC has asked, how many people are actually living in the house? How big it is ? I understand you’re not paying rent, and using the donations money to keep growing food and organize events?

Given that this is a truly collaborative effort and it brings social benefits, what do you personally do for a living? does this leave enough time to work to make a living?

Also, here is another contribution on Edgeryders about co-housing in Milan, about 12 families sharing a place and living as a big family,  I think you will find it superinteresting! Welcome to Edgeryders!

World Community Garden Movement

Hey John!

Your initiative is quite fascinating and it looks kie you guys have got yourself a strong movement. I bumped into this documentary movie called Edible City: Grow the Revolution. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. :wink:

"Edible City is a fun, fast-paced journey through the Local Good Food movement that’s taking root in the San Francisco Bay Area, across the nation and around the world.

Introducing a diverse cast of extraordinary and eccentric characters who are challenging the paradigm of our broken food system, Edible City digs into their unique perspectives and transformative work, finding hopeful solutions to monumental problems.

Inspirational, down-to-earth and a little bit quirky, Edible City captures the spirit of a movement that’s making real change and doing something truly revolutionary: growing the model for a healthy, sustainable local food system."

Embeded Video

Sorry, the Embed doesn’t seem to be working so here’s the link to the video!