there are all sorts of things. Big, small, in the periphery or in the centre. The urban gardens have made a name for themselves increasingly important in the cities, creating a green oasis which, according to the FAO can help the environment and boost the circular economy in a world where 55% of the population lives in cities, a percentage set to increase to 68% in 2050. The high levels of air pollution have generated however a debate, both in Spain and abroad, on the advisability of eating the fruits of these lands embedded in the cement.

In 2016, an article published in the journal Nature recommended to monitor constantly the food produced in urban gardens at the high pollution of the cities and the scarcity of studies on the subject. “I always recommend to know what has been the previous activity of the ground or grow in patches, because in an industrial area, next to a landfill or a mine, the concentrations are much higher,” explains Miguel Izquierdo, researcher of the Polytechnic University of Madrid and co-author of an analysis published this summer, which ensures that the products of the urban gardens of Madrid are safe to eat.

The main objective of these spaces is not leisure, but the social activities

Many of these spaces have been born, however informally, of the hand of initiatives and neighborhood only recently Municipalities have begun to build networks around them, which complicates the task of following the recommendations of the experts. “They started with a strong political component and the search of a space of self-management”, explains Ricard espelt dexterity, a researcher at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

“Here was an abandoned lot; the neighbors came in, washed and put gardens as an exercise of occupation,” says Christian Osuna, who leads along with his brother, a bicycle shop and a microTBOteca —a mobile library of comics— in the urban orchard This is a plaza in the center of Madrid, born in 2008 under the impulse that years later resulted in the 15-M. “The short time, the evicted and the neighbors asked the city Council a formal assignment that was granted,” explains Osuna sitting in a corner of the solar in front of a wooden table that he built himself.

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Something similar happened with the garden of the Miraflores park in Seville. At the end of the eighties, the neighbors organized to clean up this area which had become a repository of debris. His initiative was one of the urban gardens most iconic and award-winning of Spain. Ana Fernandez, who took 17 years to get a plot of land by lot in this space, ensures that endure so long it was worth it. “My potatoes taste like chestnuts, tomatoes are solid, and the gazpacho that comes out has nothing to do!”, account enthusiast this seville of 57 years.

This spring, the CSIC published a study where he alerted that some of the plots from the garden city of Miraflores contained lead levels above the maximum limits set, possibly because of the painting at the base of this element of the rubble of the area. The investigation added, however, that these results should not be a source of alarm, as the toxicity by heavy metals occurs after a continuous consumption at the time of contaminated products.

Raul Puente, a professor of the Pablo Olavide University in Seville (UPO), and linked since its beginning to the garden of the park of Miraflores, argues that these results only occurred in two plots of the 175 that comprise it. “In 20 years I have not known any case of poisoning by the eating of an urban garden, but it is true that studies are lacking,” he says. “We must also consider that these foods tend to represent 40% of the total vegetables consumed by the households; the main purpose of these spaces is not the consumption, but it is fun, social, and educational activities, and the products are dedicated to on-farm consumption family or donate”.

In 2008 there were barely 15 crops of this type, compared with the 900 today

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In the absence of official data, Bridge estimates that of the 15 urban gardens that he had in 2008 in Spain has now passed 900, for a total of 250 hectares distributed 25,000 parcels and 350 locations. “The crisis changed everything in 2008, there was a boom agrourbano and the claims linked to traditional environmental activism and the worker is incorporated other motivations, such as providing food to impoverished families, or promote the active ageing; then won the fashion of the healthy and other people began to come”, explains the teacher.

One of the last urban gardens that opened its doors in the capital it is The gas Station, a small square with four terraces built by the City in 2017, on what for years was a service station. Here we have given talks, have done concerts and activities with children, but it has also been explained how to take care of the plants. “One of the goals was to teach locals to cultivate in their homes, but the main idea was to make the neighborhood”, explains Ángel García, a psychologist, retired, who was in charge a few days ago to take care of the small vegetable garden that sprouted vegetables and aromatic plants. After having several disagreements with the new board, the neighbors decided in mid-October to leave this space, a situation that reflects the pulse, which exists in several cities between the management and the drivers of these initiatives.

Several studies suggest that the urban gardens not only provide environmental benefits by reducing the number of heat waves or the promotion of biodiversity, they also provide socio-economic benefits to be places of inclusion and learning. Angel Bridge, educator, agri-environment 65 years of age, form part of the network of universities has grown, the project aimed to train future teachers in the use of the gardens to “go green” which is then transferred to the school. Since more than a decade ago also is dedicated to teaching children in schools how to make compost at home, hidromacetas of pallés or humus of worms. “We estimate that the network of school gardens, there are a million students,” explains Bridge. “See the underground world and, by the way, they learn concepts of chemistry and botany”.

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