Ecology & The City: A Guide to Community Gardens In Prague
Zaktualizowano: 13 maj 2021
We often think of the natural world and cities as existing in different spaces. The natural world, for example, exists in forests, lakes, and places without buildings or civilization. Conversely, the city is a place, so we tend to think, which is devoid of nature, or even unnatural, which is dirty, and which we should try to escape from if we want to experience nature in its fullest. This is a mindset that I am seeking to challenge in this series. To properly understand ecology and how humans fit into ecology, it is necessary to think of the natural world not as some other place, but as everything that surrounds us. Further, it is necessary to think of the city not as an unnatural space, but simply as another feature of the environment. I might even challenge you to think of cities as their own forms of ecosystems, with their own dynamic systems of nutrients, energy, waste, and exploitable niches.
So how best to demonstrate to people that the urban landscape we inhabit is actually much more natural than we typically perceive? A great place to start would be to illustrate all the ways that nature and ecology occupy our cities in ways that are both conspicuous and inconspicuous. And a perfect example of such a thing is the booming concept of community gardens. These are excellent examples of how nature can thrive in a cityscape, and how it can even bring people together in a way that only a city setting could offer. Remember, human social tendencies, like cities, are not something to consider unnatural, as humans are not unnatural. Our inherent social behavior is just as natural as the bees who tell each other where to find pollen, or the whales who communicate sonically. And it just so happens that the city has been an excellent medium for such social tendencies, another reason why you might think of the city as its own ecosystem.
So let’s talk about community gardens, what they are, and why they are important both ecologically and socially. A community garden is simply a space where people can rent a small patch of land or a planter box, and use it to grow whatever they see fit. They might grow herbs and leaves for teas and salads, small vegetal plants such as tomatoes or peas, or some flowers to improve the aesthetic of the garden, the air quality, or to benefit local pollinators. The community garden can really be whatever you want it to be. It can be a space for efficient and organic food production, a place of learning, or simply a way to meet people and feel a deeper connection to your community. To understand the significance of community gardens better, I reached out to some local organizers in Prague who are doing excellent work in making the city cleaner, greener, and friendlier.
I first spoke to Anna Černá at Kokoza. Kokoza is an excellent organization which began as a community composting project, and since then has become a network of community gardens and composting projects, workshops, festivals, and even a support community to those dealing with mental illnesses. Anna told me that she did some research and learned that “30-40% of the average dust bin is compostable material, and it’s just too much!” This is an excellent example of the ecological solution that community gardens offer to cities. At Kokoza, you can have your own garden where you may produce your own food, you can use the scraps to contribute to the community compost, and then you can use that to fertilize your crops for the next season, completing the cycle.
Anna helped me understand even further the ecological impact that a community garden can have on an individual, and on a city. In terms of ecology, its significance lies in the act of sowing seeds, watching them grow, and “feeling more in touch with the cycle of the seasons, thinking more about the weather and human ecological impacts of daily activities, and thinking about how you can influence the future of the Earth.” The very act of gardening in an urban setting has a massive impact on the way you perceive the environment around you.
But it’s important to understand that community gardens also have a very significant social feature to them. Anna tells me that “the social benefits of community gardens are probably greater than the ecological parts for people living in the big city,” due to the ability to get to know the people who pass through everyday, and develop relationships in a place where you might otherwise not have been able to. If you are living in Prague and don’t know many people, a community garden is an excellent way to build relationships, grow food, and feel a connection to nature.
To get a better understanding of the social aspect of community gardens, I spoke with Pavel Jantač at Prazelenina in Holešovice. This is a beautiful space filled with flowerbeds which sits along the river. Here, Pavel explained to me that while ecology is an important aspect, a sense of community really takes center stage at Prazelenina. “We concentrate more on social networking than gardening itself,” he explained to me. “Building relationships is the motto of our community. I want to stress the link between families, we support each other, we help each other in our normal lives.” Prazelenina features a cafe and bar which have been converted from old cargo units, as well as a space for community events such as workshops, music concerts, or professionals sharing advice on cultivation. Prazelenina is also unique due to its financial independence. They don’t take money from government organizations or companies looking for some advertisement. Instead, the members are working for free to make the space free of commodities and profit, cultivating a very wholesome community. If you were looking for a place to meet friends and enjoy a romantic atmosphere, you could do much worse than starting here.
I also visited Metro Farm in Stromovka to understand better how ecology and social interaction can inhabit the same space. Here I found dozens of beds being tended to by individuals and families. I saw food and flowers being grown, compost being produced, children running around, and adults sitting around a fire sharing stories. There were also dozens of chickens and goats, which you can adopt. By doing so you offer to cover their financial costs, and in exchange you can take home their eggs, milk, and cheese. To me, Metro Farm seemed like an excellent intersection of ecology and community. Here there wasn’t a greater focus on one over the other, they somehow went hand-in-hand.
I asked Anna and Pavel how they would recommend to a foreigner to get more in touch with nature while living in Prague. Both of them told me about how their gardens are filled with people from all over the world. Some people might speak your language and would be happy with the opportunity to practice with you. On the other hand, it might give you an opportunity to improve your second language by meeting someone who will be patient and willing to help. Above all, they suggested to start doing some research and finding places that seem right for you. Every community garden is totally unique, and the few I mentioned in this article are just the tip of the iceberg! Try visiting mapko.cz to find something near you which has the qualities of a garden that you’re looking for. Also be sure to have a look at Urban Creatives' map https://www.mapotic.com/urban-creatives which has a list of English-friendly community gardens, along with many other sustainable and eco-friendly businesses to help foreigners find their way better in the city.
Community gardens are just one way to get involved with your community and bring ecology and nature to your life and the city, and I will be discussing many more possibilities in future installments. For now, consider getting involved in a local community garden! It is truly one of the simplest ways to meet new people, learn new skills, and connect with nature. If you have a hard time finding an available space to rent, just ask if they need some volunteer help, and they will certainly appreciate a helping hand. In the meantime, the next time you walk around the city, start thinking of the ways ecology and the city mix; you may be surprised with what you see.