Major Croatian cities are starting to see an expansion of the urban gardening movement, as people want to enrich their social lives and improve their family's diet.
By Kruno Kartus for Southeast European Times in Osijek -- 12/12/13
Ante Vujčić, a retiree from Virovitica, manages his garden. [Kruno Kartus/SETimes]
Authorities in several Croatian cities have approved the use of public land to grow vegetables, which has raised the interest of a growing number of citizens.
Ante Vujčić, a retiree from Virovitica, manages his garden near his family apartment in the residential area of the city. During the year, he harvests potatoes, zucchini, herbs, corn, cucumbers, peppers, and even grapes from the few vines he planted around the shed where he keeps his gardening tools.
"My greatest satisfaction comes when I pick healthy fruits that I grew during the year. The important thing is that I can be in the fresh air and hang out with friends who are close to me, also gardeners," Vujčić told SETimes.
A few years ago, Virovitica's city government ploughed land, prepared the soil and marked 17 parcels for urban gardening. This year, there were 21 parcels available, and the city plans to increase the number.
"As the interest for growing gardens increases, we decided to expand them to other parts of the town and established gardens in other residential areas where citizens live in apartments and do not have their own garden. The initiative has been a big hit, and people even came to the city government to boast about their yield," Virovitica Mayor Ivica Kirin told SETimes.
In Zagreb 400 new gardens opened in six different parts of the city. The plots measure 50 square metres, and are free of charge for three years of use. Priority is given to the unemployed and socially disadvantaged people who live near the gardens.
Ines Vrban, president of the Common Path trust, which helps the poor and disabled elderly in Zagreb, said their users are happy with the project.
"It is vital that this project include as many people as possible. Many of our members and users have said that gardening makes them happy, when something grows and they pick it. So this is important from sociological, health, psychological and economic aspects," Vrban told SETimes.
Belišće Mayor Zvonko Borić plans to attract funds from the EU to expand the Belišće Urban Gardens, which include 150 gardens covering 60 square metres each.
"We wish to allow to all interested Belišće residents, without compensation, to use land of former Belišće famous 'school gardens.' The land will be parcelled out, regulated and allocated to those who want to grow their own food, and to have opportunities, which could significantly improve health and their lifestyle," Boric said.
The European Commission funds urban gardening projects through its European Urban Garden Otesha project, which gathers six organisations in five European cities to connect through urban gardens by sharing practices and building the innovative Otesha gardens.
Urban gardening is also successful in Varazdin. The Gredica Association won an award from Austrian Foundation Unruh Privatstiftung, which judged the Varazdin Gardens as one of the best projects of social innovation in the region.
This year, Gredica, which manages the public land, recruited 108 new gardeners and assigned them 50 square metres of land.
Another reason for the expansion of the trend is the high cost of food. The Central Bureau of Statistics reported in October that citizens in Croatia spend almost 50 percent of their annual income on food, nearly 3,000 euros annually, on average.
Vrban said urban gardens are particularly important to pensioners whose income is traditionally low.
"Some can afford quality food from their pensions, but some unfortunately do not. These projects are really important to fix the budget and the quality of food. What is more, retirement is a major social shock, because suddenly one receives less revenue, and has more free time, but less family. Because of that, gardening is a great project," Vrban told SETimes.
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