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Allotment gardens: where urban farming is old-school

During this gardening year, the allotment gardeners throughout Europe have once again shown how local fruit and vegetable cultivation works in urban areas. The more than 2 million allotment gardener families that are united in the Office International du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux have cultivated, harvested and used an enormous variety of fruit, vegetables and other horticultural products. Thus, allotment gardeners have been making their contribution to urban agriculture for more than 200 years, which has been increasingly discussed in Germany and throughout Europe in recent years and is gaining in importance.

The consequences of climate change and resource scarcity are being discussed worldwide. One of the approaches to safely supplying the population with food crops is the small-scale and regional cultivation of crops in the city. The advantages of the so-called urban farming are obvious. Food is produced where its consumption takes place and transport chains become shorter. In times of global networking, these have reached enormous dimensions and are, thereforeone of the major challenges with regard to the climate change.

 Locally produced food plants, on the other hand, are not only much fresher when sold or served on our own plate, but their rapid consumption also means that the storage costs are eliminated, which further reduces the ecological footprint, i.e. the CO2 balance of each individual.

The idea of growing food regionally is more modern than ever, because today the main focus in the allotment gardens is on the production of healthy food and vegetables in organic quality for one’s own consumption. However, gardening in the city has some additional effects. It improves the urban micro-climate and contributes to the preservation of biodiversity.  

For example, a study carried out in 2008 by the German allotment garden federation in cooperation with the federal ministry of agriculture (1) found that 59 species of fruit can be found in allotment gardens, but only 30 in productive horticulture as well as 114 vegetable species in allotment gardens and only 35 species in productive horticulture. However, the most important statement of the study was that more than 2090 cultivated plant species were found in German allotment gardens, whereas the even much greater diversity of varieties of these plant species has not yet been recorded. Allotment gardens thus make a major contribution to the genetic diversity of crop plants i.e. to biodiversity.

In Austria, a three-year biodiversity study on behalf of the Central Federation of allotment gardeners made in 40 gardens in the four most important climate zones of Vienna, was presented in 2019 (2). This study underlined that, depending on the climate area, between 172 and 250 plant species or genera from up to 82 plant families were found in these gardens.

As far as the plant pathogens were concerned, there was even a worldwide first description of a mildew (Peronospora Albugo Brevia) named the „Asteromella forsythia Bedlan“ which was found in the 14th communal district of Vienna. Additionally, there was a first finding of an already known fungal disease for Austria and several first findings in Vienna.

In Switzerland, in 2019 a survey concerning wild bees was made on the Wehrenbach allotment garden site in Zurich. 111 species were found, almost a fifth of the species known in Switzerland. About half of the found species are rare or endangered and some of them have so far only been found on this site in Zurich. Some of them were even thought to have already disappeared (3).

Additionally, gardening stimulates an integrated town development. It opens up new educational contents and sensitises for a sustainable life-style. In this context an allotment garden site in Turku in Finland received the Office diploma for social activities in 2020 for its project to sensitize children for a sustainable lifestyle (4). Additionally, a common garden stimulates meetings and the engagement for the urban quarter.

Sandra von Rekowski, Thomas Wagner, BDG,
Malou WEIRICH, Office International du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux

(1) Diversity of species – Biodiversity of cultivated plants on allotments  Bundesverband Deutscher Gartenfreunde, 2008 (German allotment garden federation)
(2) Study on biodiversity in the allotment garden in Vienna 2016 – 2016   Dr. G. Bedlan, Dr. S. Follak, Dipl. Ing A. Moyses
(3) Hyphen 71
(4) Hyphen 71

The pandemic has confirmed it: Allotment gardens are more important than ever


A real “urban park and green lung” for all.

I take you to the outskirts of Paris in order to discover the allotments of Ris Orangis, a “real garden park” in.

The allotment association of Ris Orangis is situated, as its name indicates it, in the town of Ris Orangis in the Essonne department. Numerous buildings are situated around the allotment gardens; they are the “green lungs” of this urban district.

An historical overview

The allotment site was created in 1998. At the beginning the allotments had 87 plots and one collective building. Following their great success and the increasing demand of the townspeople, the site grew bigger to town habitants.

Over the years, 170 new plots have been created as well as two new shelters. One technical shelter, where you can deposit the collective tools, as for example, tractors, shredders, lawn-movers, tillers and small shovels……..There is also a collective shelter where you find the kitchen and a big meeting room. This room allows the executive members to meet for their board meetings and to take meals. This shelter is of course open to all.


Four main paths form islands of gardens, divided into 8 triangular plots. Why triangular? In order not to repeat the rectangular scheme of the towers surrounding the allotment site.

The islands all have the names of flowers as you can see from the pictures.

The alleys got the name of public people and above all of one person you all know: Mr Jules-Auguste Lemire. A great honour for this person, founder of the French allotment gardens and of the Office International du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux, the seat of which has been in Luxembourg since its foundation in 1926.

Reduction of the carbon footprint

At the exterior of the sheds you find piled up wood. This wood comes from the tree cutting. It is used to feed the stove, keeping the sheds warm. It is also sold and the profits serve the association.

In the Ris-Organgis allotment gardens (as in most of the gardens) each gardener makes his own compost.

Compost, an organic material, helps to reduce everyone’s carbon footprint. It enables carbon to be stored in the soil and contributes to the absorption of carbon by plants, i.e. formation of humus.

What is compost made of? Green waste! Bark, dead wood, rotten fruit or vegetables, peelings, leaves, grass, straw, eggshells….

The gardeners respect an environmental charter and encourage natural gardening. The practice of natural gardening avoids the use of chemical or artificial fertilisers. This practice limits soil pollution, but also limits dependence on products, the manufacture of which generates a significant quantity of greenhouse gases.

Natural gardening also means reducing tillage and the use of agricultural machinery.

A real mixture of cultures, a social diversity, mutual help and the exchange of good practices……..Gardening is a real pleasure!

These gardens of 6.8 hectares unify 257 plots! As you can imagine the families and the gardeners are extremely diverse. There is a real mixture of cultures, a social diversity, mutual help and the exchange of good practices which rhythm the life in the gardens.

Duran and his wife are two young gardeners of the allotment site of Ris Orangis.

Tomatoes, parsley, courgettes and peppers are cultivated on their plot. Duran explains that his wife mainly does the gardening on the plot, while he sometimes helps and looks after the garden when she is not present or if she needs help.

They also come with the whole family to the plot to get fresh air, to have a walk and to breathe the good smell of the kitchen gardens.

Having this plot also contributes a pleasure enabling them to discuss with other gardeners and to exchange ideas. It is also an opportunity to stay outside with the family.

Both his wife and himself often have breakfast in the garden, when the day is rising.

It is so nice to stay in the fresh air and to hear the nature awake. What they like in this garden: community, the other gardeners and being together. Gardening is a real pleasure!


A real microcosm of biodiversity

Each plot shows a real microcosm of biodiversity. The president Gil Melin counted not less than 28 species of birds in the gardens, namely heron, carrion crow, magpie, jay, starling, blackbird, wood pigeon, rock dove, nuthatch, short-toed tree creeper, chiffchaff, chaffinch, robin, great tit, blue tit, long-tailed tit, goldfinch, wren, blackcap, black redstart, swift, green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, house sparrow, song thrush, mistle thrush and sparrow hawk.

Eating healthy products, cultivated by himself.

Luis has been a gardener in the allotment gardens of Ris Orangis for 19 years. He is also a member of the association’s executive board.

Before working on this allotment plot, he had another smaller plot situated not far away. Two years later he wished to get a bigger one, as he wanted to work more. Meanwhile the plot is starting to become too big. Gardening is hard, but it is an occupation. The plot allows him to be in the fresh air, to stay in nature. It is a pleasure for him. He would never for any reasons abandon his plot. As long as he can deal with it, he will cultivate it.

Having the chance to cultivate a kitchen garden, is a chance to eat healthy products, which one has cultivated oneself. It is a chance to benefit of some privileged moments with nature and with oneself.

Gardening is a possibility to both get strength and to escape.

Allotment gardens are good for the moral and health

Philippe, one of the executive board members of this site and his wife are two old gardeners in the allotment site of Ris Orangis.

They look carefully after their plot. For them it is a space of sharing and advising, and a space full of life. Here they get new strength. What a great thing to be able to stay outside!

Working the soil and harvesting vegetables, are good for the person! This garden plot also allows them to meet with friends and gardeners. They are always ready to help if work has to be done in gardens, and above all, when work has to be done to lay out common spaces. Philippe is the king of manual work.

Working the soil, innovating and learning from the elderly, especially about natural gardening, gardening brings a certain tranquillity and peace. The garden is relaxing and tiring at the same time. Attention it is a good tiredness, gardening is a sport activity!

Gardening is good for our moral and health!

Place of relaxation and evasion …

For the allotment gardeners in Ris-Orangis, their garden is a place of heaven. Here they get more strength, they meet friends, they relax and they can escape the stress of everyday life.

What does your garden and gardening bring you?

Sandra Bèle

Activity programme for the protection of insects

Nearly three quarters of all animal species in Germany are insects among which you find bees, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, ants and flies. Numerous studies have proved that both the total number of insects and the diversity of insect species in Germany have decreased a lot.

In order to stop this decline and to safeguard the diversity of species in the long term, the Federal Government adopted an activity programme for the protection of insects on September 4th, 2019. This programme comprises nine areas of activities, among which are the protection of insects, their habitats and biodiversity. Parts of this programme should be fixed in laws during this legislative period.

Insects contribute very much to biodiversity. In addition to this, many insect species also generate vital ecosystem services, as for example: the pollination of plants, a basis for the nutrition of other insects and animal species, the decomposition of organic mass, the biological control of pests or the maintenance of the soil fertility. The decline of these insects and their ecosystem services has, therefore, direct consequences not only on the environment, but also for us humans.

So, for example, the pollination by insects is essential not only for the maintenance of wild plants, but also for the safeguarding of crop yields and the crop quality of many useful plants. Especially, allotment gardeners know how essential insects are for a successful crop. On a larger scale also agriculture and horticulture would face enormous economic risks by the decline of the pollination services.

The “Kasseler Runde” (an association of actors from the leisure horticulture sector, among which as well the German allotment federation), aims at accompanying this political process and dialogue for the protection of insects. In fact, private and allotment gardens do not only have a high cultural value: with their structural diversity and their biodiversity they are, especially in urban area essential for the ecosystems and the presence of insects. The federation, as representative of the private and allotment gardeners, can support the activity programme for insect protection with its longstanding gardening expertise.

Thomas Wagner, BDG

This problem is the same throughout Europe. Remember to do your personal contribution to the protection of insects by a nature friendly gardening.

Have you made your personal contribution?
2020 is the year of plant health

Without plants there is no life. They do not only produce vital oxygen, but they also provide the basis for nutrition, supply important raw materials and contribute to biological diversity. Therefore, it is all the more important to protect the plant world and to take preventive measures to insure its health. The United Nations general assembly has declared 2020 to be the International Year of Plant health in order to sensitise society to the enormous value of plants and raise awareness of their importance. The campaign focuses in particular on avoiding the spread of pests and diseases that endanger plants in a globalised world with its international flow of goods.

Leisure gardeners also want healthy plants and yields. Allotment gardeners have known and practiced this for decades: There are no marketing regulations for the cultivation of food and vegetables for personal use. A certain degree of manual work is gladly accepted, maximum yields are not requested and defects in the plants’ and fruit’s external quality are more easily accepted.

The integrated crop protection offers a modern concept for this. It combines biological, biotechnical, plant breeding or cultivation techniques in such a way that the use of chemical synthetic pesticides is no longer necessary. This is also how it is formulated by the “sectors-specific” guidelines for integrated plant protection in the home and allotment garden sector, which was elaborated by the “Kasseler Runde”, an association of various players from the home and allotment garden sector, which also include the federation of German allotment gardeners (BDG). The guideline promotes conscious and responsible plant protection in private gardens and provides the framework for sustainable gardening. The guideline can be viewed on the BDG website:


N. B.: The Swiss allotment federation is official partner of the International Year of plant health.

Exchange of experiences with experts from the SPD-state parliamentary group, NRW, in the school of the regional allotment gardeners

• Presentation of the research project “FEW-Meter”

• Healthy nutrition from allotment gardens

Werner Heidemann, director of the regional federation from Westphalia and Lippe

What is it about? Within the framework of the research project "FEW-Meter" (Food, Energy, Water), studies are being conducted in Germany and France, Great Britain, Poland and the USA, which are assessing the efficiency of "urban agriculture".

This is what the members of the state parliament Annette Watermann-Krass, Inge Blask and André Stinka, are interested in. As members of the Technical Committee for the environment, agriculture, nature and consumer protection – they want to address the subject areas of "healthy nutrition, fair and regional cultivation" in the future. The experts met for a first kick-off meeting in the school of the regional allotment gardeners on August 7th 2020.

Urban farming is a generic term for the food production in urban areas. Worldwide, the small-scale cultivation of fruit and vegetables in the cities is increasing. Urban agriculture takes many different forms: These include community gardens in New York City and London, , but also roof farms, aquaculture, kitchen gardens and therapy gardens are conquering the cities. Allotment gardens have always been places of self-sufficiency, which have been experiencing a renaissance at the turn of the millennium. Allotment gardens belong to the social and ecological network of a city, they are in many ways part of the “good climate” in the urban district and places of nature experience. It is clear that allotment gardens are also part of urban agriculture.

Project coordinator Runrid Fox-Kämper, Institute for Regional and Urban Development Research (ILS), presented the overall project.

How efficient and sustainable is urban farming?
How much is harvested over the year?
How much water and energy is used?
Questions upon questions, to which the researchers want to find reliable answers.

But biodiversity, the gardening experience, the use of harvested products, fertilisation and plant protection are also topics that are being investigated.

In cooperation with the research partner ILS (Institute for Regional and Urban Development Research) and the regional association, allotment gardeners from Bochum, Dortmund, Münster and Lünen will record their harvested products in 2019 and 2020 and document their horticultural and ecological activities. They are supported and advised on site by our gardening expert and assistent at our regional school in Münster, Stephan Grote.

Under the leadership of Wilhelm Spieß, chairman of the regional federation, a constructive exchange of views with the members of parliament, the scientific assistant of the parliamentary group, Leonard Wessel, the project manager Runrid Fox-Kämper and the project experts Stephan Grote and Werner Heidemann followed. We would like to see more politicians and decision-makers support "healthy nutrition, fairer trade, regional cultivation, self-sufficiency and allotment gardens". That was an encouraging kick-off.

More information on the project:

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